I told you about this letter on Friday and this morning I’m going to share the contents.
Dear Mr. Swartz:
Knowing of your interest in ensuring America’s success in Iraq and war on terrorism, I wanted to share with you some thoughts concerning our long-term strategy.
As you know, in late 2003, US and Coalition forces swiftly ousted Saddam Hussein from his brutal dictatorship. Disbanding Saddam’s military was decided necessary in dismantling Saddam’s power hold. However, in the process, this unleashed a brutal power vacuum that thrives today along religious and cultural lines. Over time, security conditions have dramatically deteriorated in much of Iraq to the point where Iraq’s society, unfortunately, is coming apart at its seams.
I regret that we were unable to formulate a post-Saddam strategy that anticipated Iraq’s complete social and political collapse and the onslaught of violent conflict, but these are the conditions we face today. And while our military continues to make heroic sacrifices, Iraqis have failed persistently to make the necessary compromises needed to unify the country and stop the bloodshed.
The nation has received a new assessment on Iraq from the Administration that is a mixed, but generally not positive assessment of our progress. There are, however, clear and present dangers that confront our current strategy in Iraq. Cycles of violence and bloodshed continue to escalate while the stress on our military mounts. As asserted by our commanders and military experts, troop levels under our current policy cannot be sustained past March of 2008. These critical variables remain at odds with our current strategy and are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to sustain the long-term solution that is needed in Iraq.
Clearly, we need a new direction in Iraq, the Middle East, and our general fight against international terrorism. The war against violent extremism, unfortunately, will have to be fought much longer than a “surge” in troops can last. Exhausting our force policing Iraq’s civil war leaves us too vulnerable on other fronts.
This new direction should be based on the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), and include a redefining of the mission for our troops, a deliberate and strategic withdrawal from central Iraq, and new and strengthened diplomatic efforts with Iraq’s neighbors and the international community. I am pleased that the President is beginning to quietly implement some of these recommendations under the direction of Secretary Gates, a former member of the ISG, including intensified campaigns to enlist constructive efforts from Iraq’s neighbors and the international community and acknowledging our forces cannot police an indefinite civil war.
My vote on July 12, 2007 on HR 2592 was part of this effort to introduce a new strategy. It must be made clear that the bill does not require a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq, it does not affect funding, and it allows the President to determine the troop levels for this redefined mission. The bill, however, does encourage the administration to redefine our mission in Iraq, away from policing the civilian warfare, redirecting our troops to critical missions like fighting terrorist groups as al-Qaeda, training Iraqi troops, securing Iraq’s borders and providing security for our military and diplomatic missions in the Middle East. Moreover, it will serve to ensure our allies in the region that our mission is to support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq, but also enforce the notion that we are not a permanent occupier.
Immediate withdrawal is not an option – the consequences unknown, and quite possibly catastrophic. That is why I have voted against measures in the House, including HR 2237 on May 10, 2007, which would seek a complete withdrawal of US troops within 180 days of enactment and prohibit any funds from being used to continue critical missions that our troops are engaged outside the civil war. That is also why I continue other critical assistance to Iraq, including measures to increase funding for economic and reconstruction assistance programs for Iraq under the FY08 Foreign Operations bill; this was the President’s request and is consistent with the ISG recommendations, but not included in the bill under the Democrat leadership.
The troops are doing a magnificent job under difficult circumstances. They have my unequivocal support. I would never vote to cut funds for their mission, but i think it is important to support a mission which is politically, economically, and militarily sustainable. I cannot support a combat mission that fails to recognize the long-term and sustainable efforts needed in this vulnerable region.
I appreciate your taking the time to express your thoughts on the crisis in Iraq. Please remain in touch.
Wayne T. Gilchrest
Member of Congress
First of all, Wayne misspoke on the bill number he voted against on July 12, it’s HR 2956 and I’ve linked to the version passed by the House. The problem I have with that bill lies in two areas: it mandates a “reduction” of troops beginning within 4 months of passage and speaks about a “limited presence” of troops after April 1, 2008. So al-Qaeda and its Iranian allies (who we’re fighting by proxy in Iraq) would have a date certain to shoot for and ramp up their efforts to secure safe areas for them that we’re forced to abandon.
I’ve talked about having a permanent presence in Iraq like we have in Germany or Japan, not as conquerors but as a forward deployment for the region. I may concede on that if it can be proven to me that the base I think we have in Bahrain (it’s either there or Qatar) can be effective enough to do that task.
But a look at history shows that it usually takes several years to establish an effective republican government. In the case of the United States it took 11 years to go from Declaration of Independence to Constitution, meanwhile fighting the British forces trying to subdue our fledgling government for the first seven years. (It’s astute to note that we didn’t fight alone, either, we had some measure of help from France.)
Not only is maintaining Iraqi security important, but let’s not forget that the larger goal is to defeat the forces of radical Islamic fundamentalism. The strategy that led to deposing Saddam was to deny the enemy a base of operations while ridding the world of a supplier of WMD’s to those who would love to use them on us. And I’m not convinced that some of the WMD’s Saddam claimed to have aren’t sitting in a country allied with his former government, such as Syria.
In the last Democrat administration, it was thought important enough to place our troops in Bosnia to combat what was then reported to be ethnic cleansing of an Islamic population. In general, while Republicans may have argued the validity of the mission, they allowed the Commander-in-Chief to command as he saw fit. Unfortunately, over the last 4 years we’ve seen the Democrats not extend the same courtesy to a Republican president, which is shameful on their part.
Very few questioned the need to respond to the attacks on 9/11 at the time. Thus far, we’ve escaped a further terrorist attack thanks in part to the leadership of a President who said from the start that this would be a Long War. Unfortunately, our Congressman has chosen to break ranks from a party that seems to understand that victory over this foe wasn’t necessarily going to be easy, quick, or follow the normal course that wars have in the past.
I say while the strategy may have to shift here and there, the eventual aim should be nothing less than wiping out the threat we face. By voting in the manner he does, I have little confidence Wayne Gilchrest shares my view.