Sep 18 2007

General Petraeus Shows the Way Forward

The following oped appeared in South Carolina newspapers beginning September 18, 2007.

Our soldiers and military commanders are not politicians.  When politically attacked they are virtually unable to defend themselves.  Therefore, it is incumbent on our civilian leadership, particularly Members of Congress, to come to their defense when their patriotism and integrity are questioned. 

I am obviously referring to the full-page ad taking out by in the New York Times titled ‘General Petraeus or General Betray Us?’  The ad was a sickening and disgusting attack on a distinguished military leader.  It also came at a time when America cannot afford to allow the political discourse to reach a new low.

It was my hope that all political leaders would come together to condemn this outrageous attack.  Those hopes have not been realized.

To suggest General Petraeus would lie to the American people and not give us his honest assessment of the situation in Iraq is a baseless attack on his character.  It is also important to note it was not General Petraeus’ idea to testify.  He was compelled to by law. 

After watching and listening to two grueling days of testimony before four congressional committees, it was abundantly clear General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are the right men with the right policies to carry out this important mission.  Both were candid and didn’t pull any punches when providing a realistic assessment of the challenges that lie ahead. 

Among the important points made by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker during the hearings:

  • The surge of troops into Iraq has clearly worked.  Iraqi civilian deaths, excluding natural causes, have dropped over 45 percent since December 2006.  In Baghdad, the figure is even higher, 70 percent.  Deaths from ethnic and sectarian violence are down 55 percent and we have already cleared 4,400 weapons caches -- nearly 1,700 more than discovered in all of 2006.


  • General Petraeus made clear that he thinks we can bring some American troops home in the spring.  This is good news, but as he noted, it should be done on a military, not political, timetable.


  • Al Qaeda is on the run.  They have been driven out of Anbar Province which was declared ‘lost’ just months ago.  In Anbar, attacks are down about 80 percent from October 2006.  The Iraqis have turned against Al Qaeda and aligned themselves with U.S. forces.  Thus far in 2007, over 12,000 Anbar residents have joined the police force compared to 1,000 in all of 2006.  Ridding Anbar of terrorist sanctuaries is an important event for the future of Iraq and our own national security.


  • National political reconciliation is lacking, but local, community-based reconciliation is growing.  The Iraqi people are war-weary and ready to move on.  They do no want to be dominated by Al Qaeda or Iran.  Internal political pressure in Iraq is building which increases the pressure on Baghdad politicians to reconcile their differences.  This is the most effective type of pressure that can be applied to the democratically-elected Iraqi central government. 


  • A failed state in Iraq would be catastrophic to our national security.  They spoke chillingly of Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq by killing coalition forces.  The Iranian President has also publicly stated he stands ready to fill any vacuum created in Iraq, an event clearly not in our interests.  In addition, Al Qaeda could reemerge and use Iraq as a base of operations for future attacks.  We need a stable, secure Iraq.

General Petraeus made it clear victory in Iraq is still achievable, but the price in blood and treasure remains enormous.  The troops understand this yet they continue to reenlist and serve. We should expect 60-90 American troops to die each month and expenditures of $9 billion monthly on operations.  Any realistic scenario for stability will still require at least 100,000 troops to remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The price of defeat – a resurgent Al Qaeda using Iraq as a base for terrorist operations, a strengthened nuclear-armed Iran dominating its neighbor, and sectarian civil war spreading throughout the region – is unimaginable.

Congress has a choice.  Congress could micro-manage the war by drafting nonbinding resolutions that are more political face-saving measures than military strategy.  Or we can reinforce General Petraeus and our troops by giving them our full support for the important missions that lie ahead. 

The new strategy and surge have provided a reasonable chance of success.  The old strategy gave us no chance to avoid defeat in Iraq. 

I will vigorously oppose congressional efforts to micromanage the war.  Congressional armchair generals in Washington shouldn’t be drawing up new game plans but giving General Petraeus the support and flexibility he needs to execute his own.