“Iraqis must step up for plan to work”

Posted on January 12, 2007

The situation in Iraq is worse, and the time has come to change our strategy. So I listened carefully to what President Bush had to say Wednesday night. Sending 21,500 more American troops temporarily into Iraq to try to stop sectarian violence is not by itself new or a strategy for success. If the President is finally requiring Iraqi forces to take the lead with American forces in support, that would be different – and should allow us to start bringing troops home sooner. Our troops in Iraq need to get out of the business of combat, and into the business of supporting Iraqi forces. That means embedding more American troops in Iraqi units and, in the next year, drawing down our combat forces there. Special operations against Al Qaeda and other training, support and intelligence missions would continue. The hard truth is that the United States will have some presence in Iraq for a long time, but it ought to be in a limited, supporting role. At this point in the Iraqi conflict, that’s the best way to defend United States interests and honor the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands who have fought for us. In 2002, when I ran for the United States Senate, I joined most Americans in supporting the President when he said Saddam Hussein had to go. The initial war was a stunning success – Baghdad fell to American and coalition forces in a matter of weeks. We captured Hussein and killed his two sons in battle. Tennesseans have answered the call to serve in this war – more than 10,000 of the brave men and women in our state’s National Guard have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since 9-11. The 101st Airborne has been deployed to Iraq twice. When I visited Iraq in March of 2005, Lt. Col. Don Dinello, who commanded the 844th Engineer Combat Battalion from Knoxville, told me that “no place here is entirely safe.” It is less safe there today than it was then. I am reminded of the price of war for those who fight whenever I visit Tennessee soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. Looking back, we know now that it would have been better to go in with more troops to be better prepared for the occupation and reconstruction that followed our initial military success. Over the last few months, our nation has stepped back and looked for a new direction. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group put forward its best recommendations, acknowledging that there is no single strategy to guarantee success. The President re-organized his leadership team, starting with a new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and now a new commander for our forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who led the 101st Airborne so successfully in their first deployment to Iraq in 2003. I hope the President’s new strategy succeeds, but Iraqis must show that they are ready and willing to make the tough decisions to bring peace and democracy to their own people. Absent that Iraqi commitment, no strategy we can fashion will succeed.