Jul 24 2007

We Must Go Forward in Iraq

Oped published in South Carolina newspapers beginning July 24, 2007

I understand people are frustrated with the war in Iraq as we have sacrificed much as a nation.  People ask whether Iraqis are capable of doing better than the current situation.  Will they reject extremism and embrace tolerance?

Please remember Iraqis continue to train and work alongside American forces and they have suffered casualties at three times our rate.  This is not meant to minimize the sacrifice of our own soldiers, but to demonstrate the willingness of Iraqis to fight and die for their country.  

No matter the reasons we went to Iraq and regardless of mistakes made along the way, I passionately believe Iraq is part of a global struggle affecting our national security.  Iraq is the central battlefront in the War on Terror and we must prevail.  

President Bush understands these facts and is committed to a successful outcome.  I know he looks forward to sharing that message today at Charleston Air Force Base with our brave men and women in uniform.  

I visited Iraq for the seventh time over the Fourth of July holiday.  On previous visits, I saw the security environment steadily decrease and sectarian violence increase.  Our old strategy was defensive and relied on staying behind compound walls while we focused on training Iraqis.  It didn’t work.
We now have a new general, new strategy and additional combat power on the ground to carry out a counter-offensive.  Our new plan provides a much more visible round-the-clock presence on the streets and cities of Iraq as American troops live and work with their Iraqi counterparts.  There is no doubt in my mind, or in the mind of our military leaders, the new strategy is working.  The morale of our troops is high.  They are gaining momentum and as a nation we must continue to push ahead.

For the first time in months, we have Al Qaeda in Iraq on the run.  The surge has allowed us to capitalize on mistakes made by our enemy.  Al Qaeda overplayed their hand by engaging in incredible acts of brutality and barbarism against Iraqis living under their control.  In turn, Iraqis are breaking free and joining forces with us.  

There has been a dramatic turnaround in Anbar Province.  Six months ago, Anbar was dominated by Al Qaeda.  Now, it has now been liberated by our joint efforts.  The only thing that would allow Al Qaeda to make a comeback would be to withdraw troops too soon.

Last week, the Senate debated and came close to passing an amendment by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) which would have done that by mandating American troops begin to withdraw from Iraq beginning in 120 days.  All Americans would have needed to be out of Iraq by May 2008.  

This approach would spell disaster for our national security interests both in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.  It would have been international news and a major propaganda coup for Al Qaeda to claim victory in forcing the United States to withdraw.  
The effects of a withdrawal would also have a major impact beyond the borders of Iraq.  It would tremendously embolden the Iranian government which is fiercely anti-American.  Iran continues in its efforts to destabilize Iraq and increase its influence throughout the Middle East.  In weeks past we have captured and killed many Iranian terrorist cell members.  Now, thanks to the surge, we are beginning to see a rejection of the Iranian influence similar to that of Al Qaeda in Iraq.  

Fortunately, the Senate rejected the ill-advised Levin-Reed amendment.  

After this defeat, the Democratic Senate leadership decided to pull the entire defense authorization bill from the Senate floor because of our disagreements on Iraq.  This is a short-sighted move.  

The defense bill is vitally important to our men and women in uniform as it contains provisions, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, to increase pay and benefits to our troops.  It also makes available better equipment and training.  These provisions improve the lives of our soldiers and their families.  

We also address problems of sub-standard care provided at military hospitals such as Walter Reed.  Our wounded soldiers deserve the best and it is obvious they have not been receiving it.  The defense bill provides better health care services, more patient rights, and less bureaucracy.  

The failure to pass this bill is another example of how partisanship and short-term political thinking prevent us from doing what is necessary to move our country forward.  

I’m embarrassed for the Senate because we failed to focus on areas of agreement providing for the welfare of the troops.  Instead we focused on the politics of the next election.  

This practice has become far too common.  For the sake of our nation, it must cease.  I will try to do my part in making sure it does.