Mar 17 2008

Iraq – Back from the Brink

Five years ago, our nation removed Saddam Hussein from power.  We have made plenty of mistakes and suffered much heartache in the intervening years, but are now finally getting it right.


I recently completed my eleventh trip to Iraq, the sixth since President Bush announced the surge strategy.  To fully comprehend its success we must remember why it was necessary. 

In January 2007, Iraq was a country with widespread violence, economic stagnation, and paralyzed politics.  Due to insufficient coalition troop levels, it became a central battlefront for Al Qaeda which controlled regions of the country.  American casualties rose as sectarian strife expanded.  The possibility of a failed state was increasingly real.  Iran’s president openly talked about filling the vacuum. 

The decision facing President Bush in January 2007 was between timetables for withdrawal or surging combat troops.  The American people were reluctant to send additional troops into a difficult situation.


The need was real, but the political popularity for a surge of troops was low.  Everyone understood a military solution alone would not allow us to win. 

The withdrawal option was popular, but in my opinion, wrong.  The surge option carried political risks for those who embraced it, but has proven to be the proper course. 

In my view, Al Qaeda had to be defeated and timetables for withdrawal would have been the equivalent of surrender.  Iraqi extremists would have been emboldened and moderation doomed.  Withdrawal would have split Iraq into warring campaign and sectarian conflict would surely have exploded. 

Only through better security could we hope to stabilize and reconcile Iraq.


One year later the surge of combat power has produced significant results.  The security, economic and political successes are stunning.  The whole force, military and civilian, have done an outstanding job.



The surge has become a nightmare for Al Qaeda.  Repelled from Anbar Province, they have been greatly diminished though are not yet defeated.


Coalition troop deaths are down 70 percent in the past year.  Sectarian deaths and attacks in the Baghdad security district have decreased 90 percent.  Iraqi civilian deaths are down 75 percent and monthly attacks have dropped 60 percent since June.  500,000 members of Iraq’s Security Force have assumed responsibility for 9 of the 18 provinces. 

In turn, the crippled economy is showing signs of life. Oil production has risen nearly 50 percent and revenues have doubled in the past year.  Inflation nosedived from 66 percent to below 5 percent. 

This war is an ideological struggle between extremism and moderation.  With Iraqi Muslims rejecting Al Qaeda and aligning with coalition forces we’re on the verge of winning a major battle in this ideological war.  The more Muslims who reject Al Qaeda, the more our national security is enhanced.


Political Reconciliation


The Iraqi government, once on the verge of breaking down, has used the improved security situation to pass several important pieces of benchmark legislation.  They include a de-Baathification law allowing former low-level members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to serve in government, a limited amnesty to detainees in custody, and a $48 billion budget. 

There remains disagreement over a provincial election law, but I expect it to be finalized in the coming months.  Elections should occur in October.  The odds are good the Iraqi government will come to accommodation on a hydrocarbon revenue sharing agreement, a long-sought goal.


The political breakthroughs, both national and local, are real and should be celebrated. 



There are still many serious challenges facing us in Iraq – spectacular Al Qaeda attacks, growing tensions between the Kurds and Turks, ministries incapable of delivering basic services, a judicial system struggling for independence and susceptible to sectarian intimidation, an unstable south where militias wield enormous power, and uncertainty over the role controversial figures like Moqtada Al Sadr will play in the new Iraq.


The Path Forward


American troops are returning home due to success on the ground, not 2008 election politics.  By the summer we can draw down to pre-surge levels.  However we must remain mindful the gains achieved are not yet permanent.


Our presence in Iraq will require a heavy price, but the dividends from success are enormous.  Winning is possible if we will continue to support the model created by General Petraeus.


Our own nation is more secure with a peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq respecting the rights of women, enforcing the rule of law, living at peace with its neighbors, and aligned with us in the War on Terror.  History’s judgment and our national security will not be determined by when we leave Iraq but by what we leave behind. 

The only way to go backwards now is for Congress to undercut what is working.  Unfortunately, that is what many in Congress continue to do by pushing withdrawal plans.  I hope they fail. 

Simply put, our Iraq plan is finally working, don’t fix it.