OUR EXIT STRATEGY IN IRAQ IS VICTORY ~ SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN
November 5, 2003OUR EXIT STRATEGY IN IRAQ IS VICTORY ~ SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, Nov 05, 2003
“For thirty years, Vietnam has been a lens through which all American foreign policy is viewed. El Salvador, we were told in the 1980s, would become a new Vietnam, as we debated whether it was acceptable to deploy more than 55 U.S. combat advisors to help a democratizing ally battle a communist insurgency. Our stunning victory in the First Gulf War, many said, exorcized the demons of Vietnam. America and our coalition allies won decisively and ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. But it was only a partial victory because it did not alter the underlying regional instability caused by Saddam Hussein’s continuing rule. And it did not end the hold of the Vietnam syndrome over our national consciousness.
“Some of my colleagues invoked the specter of Vietnam as an argument to stay out of the Balkans in the 1990s, lest we be drawn into a mountain quagmire among allegedly ancient ethnic feuds. An exit strategy became more important than a victory strategy in the eyes of many, as if the most important goal were to minimize U.S. exposure rather than maximize the protection of U.S. interests and the promotion of American values.
“Many opponents of the war in Iraq, and even some supporters, worry that the deserts of Iraq hold the same quicksand as the jungles of Southeast Asia. When our Secretary of Defense says that it is up to the Iraqi people to defeat the Baathists and terrorists, we send a message that America’s exit from Iraq is ultimately more important than the achievement of American goals in Iraq. We send a signal to every Iraqi – ally, neutral and adversary – that the United States is more interested in leaving than we are in winning.
“Iraq is not Vietnam. But if we are to avoid a debate over who “lost” Iraq, as we debated who lost Vietnam a generation ago, we must act urgently to transform our early military success into lasting political victory. The United States can and must win in Iraq. Iraq’s democratic future, American credibility, and American security require it. An exit strategy is more than a date certain. It’s more than a timetable for building an Iraqi army. It must be a victory strategy that recognizes U.S. vital interests at stake in Iraq and the good our nation can do when we are committed to serving the cause of freedom in a violent, dangerous place that can, in the end, only be made less threatening and more stable by the success of our political ideals.
“The American people understand the need to build a new Iraq from the ashes of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime. Americans can be proud of the role every American in Iraq is playing to put that country on a course in which freedom and decency, rather than terror and fear, guide daily life. Our citizens are understandably upset by the daily death toll in Iraq. We must explain to the American people what our soldiers are dying for in Iraq, why their sacrifice matters, why we must win, and how we will win – not how quickly we can get out and leave the Iraqis to their fate.
“Iraq is not Vietnam. There is no popular, anti-colonial insurgency in Iraq. There are killers who prospered under the tyranny of Saddam and seek its restoration. Unlike in Vietnam, the Iraqi Baathists and terrorists who oppose us are not guerrilla fish swimming in a friendly sea of the people. Our opponents, who number only in the thousands in a country of 23 million, are despised by the vast majority of Iraqis. The vast majority of Iraqis share our goal of defeating the remnants of Saddam’s regime and their terrorist allies.
“Unlike in Vietnam, the Iraqi insurgents do not enjoy the kind of sanctuary North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos provided. They do not have a superpower patron that sponsors, supplies and sustains them beyond the reach of our power for geopolitical reasons. These murderers cannot carry the banner of Iraqi nationalism, as did Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam for decades. Their return to power offers the Iraqi people the promise not of self-rule but of mortal danger, not of a better future but of a return to a hated and fearful past. Iraq is not Vietnam because our ally is not a corrupt government unwilling to defend itself, but a newly-freed people that desperately want to build a new future. Most fundamentally, Iraq is not Vietnam because the United States and the Iraqi people share the same goal of building a free, prosperous, and secure Iraq.
“Our defeat in Vietnam nonetheless holds cautionary lessons. We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting, and because we limited the tools at our disposal. Tet in 1968 was a massive battlefield defeat for the North but a strategic defeat for the United States – because the American press and the American public saw our leaders talk about a light at the end of the tunnel that did not exist. We can win the war in Iraq, but not if we lose popular support in the United States.
“The United States will fail in Iraq if our adversaries believe they can outlast us. If our troop deployment schedules are more important than our staying power, we embolden our enemies and make it harder for our friends to take risks on our behalf. When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule, then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude. When in the course of days we increase by thousands our estimate of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it sounds like somebody is cooking the books. When we do this as our forces are coming under increasing attack, we suggest to friends and allies alike that our ultimate goal in Iraq is leaving as soon as possible – not meeting our strategic objective of building a free and democratic country in the heart of the Arab world.
“Friends and adversaries across the Middle East are watching us closely to gauge our will to win. Let’s be honest: many of them do not want us to succeed. I don’t think the Baathists in Syria, the mullahs in Tehran or Arab despots from Riyadh to Tripoli are cheering for the United States. The expectation that we may leave Iraq before we have achieved our security and political objectives will cripple our ability to achieve them at all.
“Politics at home has handicapped our progress. Only a few leading Democrats have demonstrated the kind of bipartisanship Bob Dole showed when, only two months before the 1996 New Hampshire primary, he supported President Clinton’s decision to commit American forces to Bosnia despite the political risks he faced in doing so. Today, some Democrats who supported the war in Iraq oppose spending the money required to win the peace. Others blindly criticize the Administration without proposing an alternative policy that preserves American interests. With the exception of Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, who are committed to victory in Iraq, it is unclear what the other Democratic presidential candidates would do differently to ensure an American victory – or how they would handle the consequences of the early American withdrawal some advocate. Governor Dean has expressed ambiguity about the justness of our cause in Iraq. I hope he will learn that partisan anger is no substitute for moral clarity.
“I was heartened to hear the President say that we cannot cut and run in Iraq. To sustain the credibility necessary for victory over the long term, the Administration needs to strive at all times to ensure that its assessment of the course of events in Iraq is candid and reflects the situation on the ground as best it can see it. Administration officials must be careful not to adjust our military posture in Iraq for political reasons. The only legitimate reason to adjust our posture is to improve our ability to accomplish our mission or respond to our successes in stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.
“There can be little political or economic progress in Iraq until the United States creates a stable and secure environment there. Prematurely placing the burden of security on Iraqis is not the answer. Hastily trained Iraqi security forces cannot be expected to accomplish what U.S. forces have not yet succeeded in doing: defeating the Baathists and international terrorists inside Iraq. It is irresponsible to suggest that it is up to Iraqis to win this war. In doing so, we shirk the responsibility that we willingly incurred when we assumed the burden of liberating and transforming their country, for their sake and our own. If the U.S. military, the world’s best fighting force, cannot defeat the Iraqi insurgents, how do we expect Iraqi militiamen with only weeks of training to do any better?
“President Bush speaks frequently of the need to take the offensive in the war on terror, but in Iraq we too often appear to be playing defense. The simple truth is that we do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to meet our military objectives. I said this in August, after I returned from visiting Iraq, and before the security situation deteriorated further. It is even more obviously true today.
“It was clear during the summer that we did not have sufficient forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations within the Sunni triangle, secure necessary facilities, guard the borders to prevent foreign jihadists from flooding across, or respond to an upsurge in violence if it occurred. In early September, the U.S. commanding officer in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, admitted that his forces could not handle any new eruption of conflict in Iraq. “If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt,” he said, “... that would be a challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for.”
“Since then, attacks on American forces have doubled, to over 30 a day, and their increasing sophistication has made them more lethal. American military commanders have acknowledged that the Iraqi resistance shows signs of being centrally planned and coordinated. Yet the number of American forces in Iraq has not increased. Given the large support tail required of such a force, it is estimated that the number of American troops on patrol in Iraq at any given time is under 30,000. This is an insufficient number of troops to even play defense, much less take the fight to our enemy and create the conditions for the lasting peace that will enable Iraqis to assume full political authority and Americans to go home.
“Our overall troop level in Iraq does not reflect a careful assessment of what it takes to achieve victory. It reflects the number of American forces who were in Iraq when the war ended -- minus the Marines who were sent home. Simply put, there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives. It makes even less sense to defend a troop ceiling that has been in place since April as American forces and our Iraqi allies come under increasingly savage attack.
“U.S. military forces have sealed off the town of Tikrit. This is a welcome step. It is a hotbed of resistance. It would make sense to pursue the same strategy in Ramadi, Fallujah, and other Baathist strongholds within the Sunni Triangle. But we do not have the forces in place to do that. To win in Iraq, we should increase the number of forces in-country, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. I believe we must deploy at least another full division, giving us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni Triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts search and destroy missions, and holds territory. Such a strategy would be the kind of new mission General Sanchez agreed would require additional forces. It is a mystery to me why they are not forthcoming. We cannot achieve our political goals as long as a strategic region of Iraq is in a state of fundamental insecurity. The transformation that matters is in Iraq and the Middle East, not in some abstract conception of military reform.
“Security is the precondition for everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. We will not get good intelligence until we provide a level of public safety and a commitment to stay that encourages Iraqis to cast their lot with us, rather than wait to see whether we or the Baathists prevail. Local Iraqis need to have enough confidence in our strength and staying power to collaborate with us. Absent improved security, acts of sabotage will hold back economic progress. Without better security, political progress will be difficult because the Iraqi people will not trust an Iraqi political authority that cannot protect them. By all means increase the number of Iraqis involved in security – as the Administration is suggesting we will do by standing up an Iraqi paramilitary force drawn from the security forces of the former regime and the militias of Iraqi political parties. But given the time it will take to train and deploy sufficient numbers of Iraqi forces and the competence required to root out a hardened foe, for the foreseeable future, Iraqi forces aren’t a substitute for adequate levels of American troops.
“Our adversaries in Iraq seek not merely our military withdrawal but the defeat of our enterprise to construct a new and democratic Iraq. What threatens them most are not American forces but the prospect of a progressive, popularly elected Iraqi government that rejects everything the Baathists stand for and holds them accountable for their crimes. More American forces and a commitment to keep them in Iraq as long as it takes are required to defeat our adversaries, so that Iraqi democracy is not stillborn. As we learned in Vietnam, if we do not defeat them before we leave, our enemies will continue to fight until any government we help establish is destroyed.
“While Iraqification will not solve our immediate security problems, I believe we must move more quickly to transfer meaningful political authority to Iraqi leaders. The Coalition Provisional Authority continues to make a fundamental mistake in the way it interacts with the Iraqi people. The CPA seems to think that all wisdom is made in America, and that the Iraqi people were defeated, not liberated. For all the comparisons of post-war Iraq to Germany and Japan in 1945, the examples of Italy and France, liberated countries whose people were largely on our side, may be more instructive. The United States is treated as an occupying force in Iraq partly because we are not treating Iraqis as a liberated people.
“Sometimes, Ambassador Bremer’s office appears as inclined to criticize the Iraqi Governing Council as to work in partnership with it. It is astonishing to many friends of Iraq that the United States created the Governing Council but has not worked sufficiently to help it succeed. Too often, the Governing Council finds itself on the receiving end of orders from the CPA, rather than working in partnership with the CPA to improve daily life in Iraq. The United States will not succeed in Iraq if the Governing Council fails.
“The Turkish troop deployment highlighted the gulf between the CPA and Iraqi leadership. A historic vote in the Turkish parliament, despite the opposition of Turkish public opinion, committed our ally to deploy 10,000 troops to Iraq in response to a long-standing American request. When Ambassador Bremer announced the Turkish deployment to the Governing Council, they proceeded to voice their strong opposition to it, resulting in a formal vote by the Council and an American request to Turkey to stand down its forces. Effective diplomacy in Ankara worked but was not matched in Baghdad. This embarrassing sequence of events was yet another reminder of the CPA’s self-imposed distance from the Iraqi leadership.
“Ultimately, Iraqis should decide how to form a constitutional commission and when to hold national elections. The Iraqification of Iraqi politics should be accelerated, even as American military forces continue to play the central role in hunting down Iraqi insurgents. We are aggressively training Iraqis to perform security functions. We should be equally aggressive in training and advising political parties, transferring more authority to Iraqi leaders, and establishing a framework and timeline for a political transition. It is our responsibility to help create the security in which Iraqi politics can flourish. We can leave it to the Iraqis to decide what kind of tax code they should have.
“Iraq’s transformation into a progressive Arab state could set the region that produced Saddam, the Taliban, and al Qaeda on a new course in which democratic expression and economic prosperity, rather than a radicalizing mix of humiliation, poverty, and repression, create a new modernity in the Muslim world that does not define itself in ways that threaten its people or other nations. Failure to make the necessary political commitment to secure and build the new Iraq could endanger American leadership in the world, put American security at risk, empower our enemies, and condemn Iraqis to renewed tyranny. It would be the most serious American defeat on the global stage since Vietnam.
“The United States can and must win in Iraq. Doing so will require the Administration to remain committed to a policy of transformational change in Iraq. It will require a renewed American commitment to the principles of Iraqi freedom and Middle East transformation the President articulated earlier this year. It will require the President’s deep involvement in his Administration’s decision-making in Iraq. As Lincoln and Truman demonstrated, American presidents cannot always leave decisions on matters of supreme national interest to their subordinates. It will require a commitment to do what is necessary militarily, to deploy as many
American forces for as long as it takes, to ignore the political calendar, and to trust Iraqis with a greater degree of authority to manage their own affairs.
“Let there be no doubt: victory can be our only exit strategy. We are winning in Iraq – but we sow the seeds of our own failure by contemplating Winning will take time. But as in other great strategic and moral struggles of our age, Americans have demonstrated the will to prevail when they understand what is at stake, for them and for the world. If we succeed in Iraq, a new generation of Americans will take pride in their country’s sacrifice, and American credibility in the world will be as enhanced as it was harmed by our defeat in Southeast Asia. Our success in Iraq will change the way the Middle East is governed and deter a host of threats that will prey on our weakness if we fail.
“We must succeed in Iraq because every bad actor in the Middle East – Baathist killers, terror’s sponsors in Iran and Syria, terror’s financiers in Saudi Arabia, terror’s radical Shiite and Wahabi inciters, the terrorists of Al Qaeda, Ansar al Islam, Hamas, and Hezbollah - has a stake in our failure. They know Iraq’s transformation would be a grave and perhaps fatal setback to them. Iraq must be important to us because it is so important to our enemies. That’s why they are opposing us so fiercely, and why we must win.”