Congress Must Take the Lead in Iraq
Last Thursday’s election for the Iraqi parliament is an important turning point in Iraq â€“ but also for U.S. policy as well. We should applaud this opportunity for self-governance but now insist that Iraqis and countries in the region take up their responsibilities. It is now possible for the Congress to move the U.S. to a concerted new policy that leads to a re-deployment of our forces in 2006.
After 3 years, over $200 billion spent and more than 17,000 American lives lost or wounded, I believe Americans now understand all too well that the Bush administration cannot be relied on to get the Iraq war right any longer. Whether it was exaggerating WMD intelligence early on, inflating the number of Iraqi battalions trained, or his ongoing readiness to cover up waste, profiteering and incompetence, the president has chosen to mislead the country at every point in this conflict. As such, the responsibility falls to the Congress to take the lead on Iraq.
Indeed, that process has already begun. While there is no question that Congress has been delinquent in its oversight responsibilities in the prosecution of the war, writing blank checks to the Administration with no requirements for accountability, it is clear that momentum is building within both chambers for a new direction and new policies that deliver results. The Senate is now demanding regular status reports from the Administration. More recently, Congressman John Murtha, a 37-year Marine veteran from Pennsylvania and longtime supporter of the Pentagon, opened a dialogue on how we can be successful in Iraq and begin a process to bring our troops home. Even though the president has refused to budge from his direction for Iraq, had Congressman Murtha not come forward, who knows how much longer it would have been before the president realized he needed to begin acknowledging our mistakes in Iraq, as he has in recent
Despite the diplomatic and intelligence failures in Iraq, our troops have done a magnificent job. But they need more than apologies for past mistakes. They need leadership and a new direction. Insurgent violence incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. And with 80 percent of Iraqis strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops and about 45 percent of the Iraqi population believing attacks against American troops are justified, it is all too clear that a significant U.S. troop presence after Iraq’s elected government has been established will not decrease violence and the terrorist threat there but increase it. And that, in effect, would not only compromise our mission to bring stability to Iraq but also, as we have seen, further hurt our nation’s moral standing throughout the world.
That is why a new policy for Iraq is needed in 2006. I have not supported a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq because I want to make sure our actions increase our security. But with the completion of elections on December 15th and with almost three years of investment in training Iraqi troops and police, it should be the policy of the United States to reduce troop levels and redeploy American forces.
Indeed, during congressional testimony at the end of September, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that troop reductions were needed to “take away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency, that of the coalition forces as an occupying force.” But to ensure these concerns are heard by the White House, Congress should require the following as of January 1st.:
- First, expand the training of Iraqi Military and police and mandate that the expanded number of units is linked to the reduction of American forces. I support a proposal of my colleague Ike Skelton of Missouri, that for every three Iraqi battalions certified by the Department of Defense as battle-ready, we draw down one US battalion — were that policy already instituted, we would already have 5,000 fewer troops in Iraq.
- Second, require the creation of “contact group,” as we did in Bosnia, but this time, the key powers in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan — to be more actively involved in security and reconstruction. U.S. military involvement has to give way to diplomacy and the increased role of Middle East countries. Ensuring Iraq’s neighbors understand they have a stake its success will enable us to further reduce our troop presence in a determined way in the next year.
- Third, redeploy the U.S. National Guard to help with homeland security efforts at home. Indeed, one-third of Louisiana’s National Guard was in Iraq during Katrina, slowing relief efforts with deadly consequences. In coping with natural disasters, a potential bird flu outbreak or another terrorist attack, our National Guard must be prepared.
And finally, redeploy American troops to strengthen our effort in Afghanistan. Indicators tell us that the Taliban is resurgent since US troops were diverted to Iraq. In 2006, 900 Connecticut National Guard troops are expected to mobilize for duty in Afghanistan â€“ because the regular army remains in Iraq in large numbers.
This new policy will produce a minimal U.S. troop presence by end of 2006 — but is flexible enough should changes be necessary for security reasons. In my opinion, that is how we maintain a strong military while making America more secure.
That effort not only must start in the Congress, it will also require the engagement of both parties. Frankly, with so much on the line in Iraq and a clear need to change direction, it is disheartening that Democrats thus far have been the only ones offering serious solutions. Some are advocating for disengagement over six months or by the end of 2006; a few others have suggested increasing rather than drawing down troop levels to achieve our goals. Others, like myself, favor linking troop reductions to intensified training, readiness of Iraqi troops and participation of countries in the region — with the goal of achieving a minimal U.S. troop presence by the end of 2006. Yet all of us agree on one thing: the current course cannot continue.
2006 will be a pivotal year for America and Iraq — and forging a new direction there should not be a matter of partisanship, but of patriotism. The president is right about one thing: the American people want a Strategy for Victory. But unless Congress seizes this historic moment and changes course in Iraq soon, they are likely to get only a blueprint for failure.