Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander August 26, 2007

“Report from Iraq”

Posted on August 24, 2007

This week Senators Corker, Voinovich, Vitter and I returned from a four-day trip to Iraq, Kuwait and Germany where we met with top American and Iraqi leaders in and around Baghdad. We went inside the Green Zone and outside the Green Zone, including places like Camp Victory and a U.S. combat outpost near Taji and visited with Tennesseans serving there. We were all impressed by the professionalism and capability of the men and women of the U.S. military. I said in January and I still say today that we need a new strategy in Iraq; we should move our troops out of the combat business and into the support, equipping and training business. I think – even more after being there – that our government needs to speak with one voice on Iraq. We need to stop having partisan votes on Iraq. Our troops deserve it and the enemy needs to hear it, and I think our best chance for that is to support a plan based upon the recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report. My legislation in the Senate to do this has already garnered the support of 8 Democrats and 7 Republicans and I’m hopeful more will join us. Democratic governments don’t form easily. There are long traditions of division in Iraq based upon religious and ethnic backgrounds. There is a long tradition of loyalty to tribes and neighborhoods instead of to the central government, especially outside of Baghdad. If you look at our own country and other countries in the world, they generally have built up from the bottom. In the United States we had communities with militias for 160 years before we had a central government at all. So I think the lesson we’re learning in Iraq, especially over the last few months, is that progress will be slow in Baghdad and will come more rapidly province by province. They are building from the bottom up community by community, not from the top down from Baghdad. But there is good news. What I saw the last few days that I had not seen before, although I have read about it, was the success that we’re having in some of the provinces working with Iraqis who are fed up with extremists and terrorists killing their children and kidnapping their family members and ruining their lives. That hadn’t happened before in wholesale numbers, but where it is happening now produces remarkable change. A great example of this is in the large western province of Anbar. The local sheiks finally said “we’re tired of extremists and terrorists and we have the support of Americans here in sufficient forces to help work with us” and they have begun to send their sons to the police academies and to work the checkpoints. All of a sudden, when that happened, the number of incidents dropped dramatically. That’s what I saw and that’s what I believe the American people would welcome seeing, and that’s what I believe may form the basis of a new strategy that will permit us to finish the job in Iraq responsibly. I’m enormously impressed with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and with what they are accomplishing militarily, and I’m looking forward to their report this fall. If they can report a Petraeus plan based upon the lessons of the last few months and the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, then I think that is our best hope for Congress and the president to unify and speak with a single voice, putting us on a path to finish the job in Iraq.