Jan 14 2007

The Path Forward in Iraq

The op-ed appeared in newspapers across South Carolina beginning January 14, 2007.

The battle for the future of Iraq is not about the political moment. It’s about the next decade and the decades to follow. It’s about securing a peaceful future for our nation. We have a lot on the line and it’s important we do everything possible to achieve Victory in Iraq. It is clear to everyone from President Bush on down that our old strategy has not led to a secure Iraq. Ever since al-Qaeda bombed the Golden Mosque, a Shiite holy site, the level of sectarian violence has escalated. The new plan introduced this week is controversial and has many critics and skeptics. I hope they will listen to the man who will carry out the new mission, General David Petraeus, when he testifies before Congress. He is an impressive leader and I’ve spoken with him about the path forward. He has confidence we can be successful. Unfortunately, some leaders such as Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have already suggested we take a completely different tack and begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. My question to them and others who support withdrawal and redeployment of American forces is, ‘What happens if we leave Iraq?’ A United States withdrawal or redeployment from the battle would leave Iraq in shambles. In all probability it would trigger a full-blown civil war encompassing the large parts of Iraq that are currently stable. It could lead to a wider regional conflict involving neighboring nations including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey and create a new safe haven for terrorist groups capable of striking the United States and our allies. We would face massive humanitarian disasters stemming from widespread revenge killings to ethnic cleansings. The extremists in the region, who already view the United States as a paper tiger would be emboldened. Withdrawing or redeploying from Iraq is not a sound, long-term policy for the national security of the United States. It is a recipe for defeat. We must change strategy or we are going to lose Iraq. We have made many mistakes and from the start we never had enough troops on the ground. We’ve paid dearly for allowing the security situation to steadily decrease and making political reconciliation by the Iraqis more difficult. For some time I have been calling for additional American troops, even though I know it could result in more casualties and sacrifice, to help in efforts to establish a democracy. While we have won every engagement against the insurgents our Clear, Hold, and Build strategy has not worked because we could not ‘Hold’ areas after they were ‘Cleared.’ Once we left, areas fell back into the insurgent’s control and violence escalated. You cannot establish democracy where you have militias stronger than the central government. You cannot have security when citizens don’t have faith in their central government to protect them. The five new brigades assigned to Baghdad will double our combat capability. They will assist the Iraqi forces in bringing about security and give the political leadership a reasonable chance to bring about stable government. One of the key political efforts is to reach agreement regarding the fair distribution of the oil revenues among the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. A sharing of the wealth would give disenchanted Iraqis something to fight for, not against. President Bush has made it abundantly clear both the American and the Iraqi people are running out of patience. No amount of troops will change the future outcome unless Iraqi political leaders are willing to reach political accommodation. After five trips to Iraq, I believe many Iraqis are tired of the violence and seek a better way. Many have given their lives because of their willingness to serve their fellow citizens. Others remain afraid to come out of the shadows because chaos reigns. Over the coming weeks, Democrats and Republicans should be united around the fact that what happens in Iraq is directly tied to the future security of our nation. Do we want an Iraq at peace with its neighbors and an ally in the War on Terror? Or do we want an Iraq that is a safe haven for groups hostile to the United States, wracked by internal conflict and bloodshed, and a source of constant friction among neighboring nations? A final note, one of the highest reenlistment rates in the military is among those who have served in Iraq. I hope Congress and the American people will take this into consideration and ask themselves why their fellow American citizens – in the line of fire and in harms way – are so committed to this fight? They know history will not judge us on when we leave Iraq, but by what we leave behind. #####