ASPEN, Colo., July 7--Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the Bush government should be in talks with Syria and Iran as part of an overall strategy to reduce troop levels.
Powell advocated a smaller US force in Iraq, strategic redeployment of troops in the region and intense diplomatic efforts.
"I think we should be talking to Syria and Iran," he said. "You have to talk to people you dislike most in this dangerous world."
The former secretary of state predicted that Bush could be forced to drastically alter his Iraq policy by the end of 2007.
Political pressure will force the president to "face the situation on the ground" and acknowledge that conditions aren't what he would like them to be, Powell said.
Powell said he supported Bush's decision to send troops to Iraq as the only sure way to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
He claimed Saddam had the ability and intent to develop and use weapons of mass destruction.
But Powell stressed that the Bush government's policy has been largely flawed since Baghdad fell and Saddam's regime was toppled April 9, 2003.
The Bush administration wasn't properly prepared to occupy an Arab country with its deep-seeded and ancient animosities among its people, he said.
"It was the lack of planning for these later phases and the things that got out of control that got us to this point," he said.
Clearly, support for an ongoing US military presence in Iraq at current levels doesn't exist, Powell said.
He pointed to the sweeping Democratic victory in November's election, Bush's dismal approval ratings and recent calls by key Republican senators to change the Iraq policy as evidence that support has waned.
Politics aside, the volunteer army cannot maintain the existing presence in Iraq, according to Powell, a retired four-star general who also served as chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Even with 100,000 additional troops, it would be tough to continue its present mission in Iraq.
But he warned that a change in policy will require great care. The U.S. cannot "blow a whistle one morning and (have) all 180,000 American forces just leave," Powell said.
Powell's assessment of Iraq followed an intense panel discussion on Iraq policy among US Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Gen. Jack Keane, retired; and former US Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, which recommended policy.
Feinstein said congressional support for the war in Iraq might fail before year's end.
"What's happening is patience has worn thin," she said. "I do believe there's going to be a bellwether that changes this fall."
She drew loud applause from the audience when she noted the troops that are dying are so young and declared, "The time has come for us to challenge the mission."
Keane claimed there is progress happening in Iraq that is going unreported.
Sectarian violence is on the decline, he said, and support for Al-Qaeda is drying up.
Hamilton cited the comments by Feinstein and Keane to point out that the military and political timelines are at odds.
The military seeks an extension; the politicians have reached the end. Some how, they must be reconciled, he said.
Hamilton proposed a centrist position that attempts to salvage the situation in Iraq.
"I do not agree with people who say it's too late in Iraq," Hamilton said.
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