Matt's opinion

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Presidential Address on Iraq

First of all, for those of you who did not watch the address last night, please click on the title of this post and either watch or read the transcript of the President's address. Don't just listen to what you're friends are saying about it. Watch it and form your own opinion.

I also want to acknowledge how difficult this issue is for everyone involved. This isn't just a policy issue, there are people's lives at stake and we should all take that into account when discussing this situation. This realization was evident on the President's face last night and in the tone with which he spoke. I know the President's position and actions in Iraq reflect his sincere desire to democratize the Middle East and provide for the security of the United States and our allies.

Having said this, I must disagree with the President's position and the escalation of the war effort. I disagree with the President because I feel that increasing the number of troops in Baghdad will only add to the dependence of Iraqi troops on American forces. Training Iraqi troops and national police has been one of the primary goals since ''major combat" in Iraq ended. During the last few years trained Iraqi soldiers have accompanied U.S. forces on patrols, raids, and other counter-insurgent exersizes with the understanding that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down. It is time for U.S. forces to begin standing down. This does not necessarily mean immediate troop withdrawal but does mean that if Iraqi forces prove to be proficient enough to stabilize their own country we should start redeploying troops throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, it must be recognized that stabilizing Iraq is not solely dependent on trained Iraqi military forces. A far more important factor is the secession of sectarian violence in the form of warring militias and death squads. The only solution to these complicated problems lie with reconciliation between religious and ethnic groups within Iraq. Nothing in the United States' arsenal can solve the religious and ethnic divides within Iraq, and so far Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has proven unable and unwilling to start the reconciliation process. Until this process is well underway and sectarian violence slows dramatically U.S. troops in Iraq will be stuck in the middle of a civil war.

This is why the President's plan is so troubling. The President has ordered roughly 17,000 more troops into Baghdad to accompany Iraqi forces in patrolling the streets of the city. While the hope of stabilizing the city is a noble one, I believe it is bad policy to allow U.S. military forces to patrol foreign nations as if they were local police forces. The trained Iraqi military and national police should be forced to use their new training and get out on the streets to stabilize their country. American forces can only provide so much training, and so much support before they unintentionally hold back the Iraqis from doing what we trained them to do.

While I have many more problems with the President's plan, in the interest of everyone's attention span, I will only discuss one more. I think the biggest problem of this plan is that there is no end in sight. I was watching the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grill Secretary of State Rice this morning on C-SPAN 3 (give me a break, i start my new job in a week) and this issue came up repeatedly. I want to specifically mention the line of questioning from Sen. Barack Obama. His questions revolved around a previous SFR Committee meeting when the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq was being interviewed back in Dec 2005. During that meeting Obama asked the Ambassador what will happen if the proposed plan to win in Iraq did not work in 6 months like the Ambassador had suggested earlier in the meeting. The Ambassador went on to say that the plan will work and that if it didn't we would be in trouble. In reality there was no plan on what to do if that plan in Dec 2005 did not work, and we are suffering the consequences of that lack of planning right now.

During the Senate hearing this morning Sec. Rice was asked by Obama the exact same question he asked the Ambassador about a year ago, what do we do if this plan fails. Sec. Rice answered by saying that this plan will work, it must work, or we will be in more trouble.

My point is that there are no consequences for the Iraqis not carrying out their end of the deal. Obama is correct in his proposition that the only leverage we have in Iraq is our military forces. If the Iraqis don't perform we need to start sending the message that we will not hold them up in perpetuity, giving the current plan the weighted consequences it needs to actually provide results one way or the other.

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