Our Troops Must Stay
America can't abandon 27 million Iraqis to 10,000 terrorists.
BY JOE LIEBERMAN
Tuesday, November 29, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST
I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and
can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but
the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the
primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing,
self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has
given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.
Progress is visible and practical. In the Kurdish North, there is
continuing security and growing prosperity. The primarily Shiite South
remains largely free of terrorism, receives much more electric power and
other public services than it did under Saddam, and is experiencing
greater economic activity. The Sunni triangle, geographically defined by
Baghdad to the east, Tikrit to the north and Ramadi to the west, is where
most of the terrorist enemy attacks occur. And yet here, too, there is
There are many more cars on the streets, satellite television dishes on
the roofs, and literally millions more cell phones in Iraqi hands than
before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is growing. And Sunni
candidates are actively campaigning for seats in the National Assembly.
People are working their way toward a functioning society and economy in
the midst of a very brutal, inhumane, sustained terrorist war against the
civilian population and the Iraqi and American military there to protect
It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to
live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000
terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or
al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back
if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping
this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq
to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are
fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is
critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the
terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again and to
further undermine the growing stability and progress in the Middle East,
which has long been a major American national and economic security
Before going to Iraq last week, I visited Israel and the Palestinian
Authority. Israel has been the only genuine democracy in the region, but
it is now getting some welcome company from the Iraqis and Palestinians
who are in the midst of robust national legislative election campaigns,
the Lebanese who have risen up in proud self-determination after the
Hariri assassination to eject their Syrian occupiers (the Syrian- and
Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias should be next), and the Kuwaitis,
Egyptians and Saudis who have taken steps to open up their governments
more broadly to their people. In my meeting with the thoughtful prime
minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, he declared with justifiable pride
that his country now has the most open, democratic political system in the
Arab world. He is right.
In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million
Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10
million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in
October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for
a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have
been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for
self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000
terrorists offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni
community, which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution,
registered to vote and went to the polls instead of taking up arms and
going to the streets. Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous
political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations
and newspapers covering it.
None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition
forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in
Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are
withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the
The leaders of Iraq's duly elected government understand this, and they
asked me for reassurance about America's commitment. The question is
whether the American people and enough of their representatives in
Congress from both parties understand this. I am disappointed by Democrats
who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in
Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about
whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than
they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the
months and years ahead.
Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public
opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing
pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi
universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off
than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their
lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a
colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership
to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous
phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.
The leaders of America's military and diplomatic forces in Iraq, Gen.
George Casey and Ambassador Zal Khalilzad, have a clear and compelling
vision of our mission there. It is to create the environment in which
Iraqi democracy, security and prosperity can take hold and the Iraqis
themselves can defend their political progress against those 10,000
terrorists who would take it from them.
Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in
Iraq? Yes we do. And it is important to make it clear to the American
people that the plan has not remained stubbornly still but has changed
over the years. Mistakes, some of them big, were made after Saddam was
removed, and no one who supports the war should hesitate to admit that;
but we have learned from those mistakes and, in characteristic American
fashion, from what has worked and not worked on the ground. The
administration's recent use of the banner "clear, hold and build"
accurately describes the strategy as I saw it being implemented last week.
We are now embedding a core of coalition forces in every Iraqi fighting
unit, which makes each unit more effective and acts as a multiplier of our
forces. Progress in "clearing" and "holding" is being made. The Sixth
Infantry Division of the Iraqi Security Forces now controls and polices
more than one-third of Baghdad on its own. Coalition and Iraqi forces have
together cleared the previously terrorist-controlled cities of Fallujah,
Mosul and Tal Afar, and most of the border with Syria. Those areas are now
being "held" secure by the Iraqi military themselves. Iraqi and coalition
forces are jointly carrying out a mission to clear Ramadi, now the most
dangerous city in Al-Anbar province at the west end of the Sunni Triangle.
Nationwide, American military leaders estimate that about one-third of the
approximately 100,000 members of the Iraqi military are able to "lead the
fight" themselves with logistical support from the U.S., and that that
number should double by next year. If that happens, American military
forces could begin a drawdown in numbers proportional to the increasing
self-sufficiency of the Iraqi forces in 2006. If all goes well, I believe
we can have a much smaller American military presence there by the end of
2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our presence will need to be
significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.
The economic reconstruction of Iraq has gone slower than it should have,
and too much money has been wasted or stolen. Ambassador Khalilzad is now
implementing reform that has worked in Afghanistan--Provincial
Reconstruction Teams, composed of American economic and political experts,
working in partnership in each of Iraq's 18 provinces with its elected
leadership, civil service and the private sector. That is the "build" part
of the "clear, hold and build" strategy, and so is the work American and
international teams are doing to professionalize national and provincial
governmental agencies in Iraq.
These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on the
ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about
their future--and why the American people should be, too.
I cannot say enough about the U.S. Army and Marines who are carrying most
of the fight for us in Iraq. They are courageous, smart, effective,
innovative, very honorable and very proud. After a Thanksgiving meal with
a great group of Marines at Camp Fallujah in western Iraq, I asked their
commander whether the morale of his troops had been hurt by the growing
public dissent in America over the war in Iraq. His answer was insightful,
instructive and inspirational: "I would guess that if the opposition and
division at home go on a lot longer and get a lot deeper it might have
some effect, but, Senator, my Marines are motivated by their devotion to
each other and the cause, not by political debates."
Thank you, General. That is a powerful, needed message for the rest of
America and its political leadership at this critical moment in our
nation's history. Semper Fi.
Mr. Lieberman is a Democratic senator from Connecticut.