Sunday, October 15, 2006

Skelton offers thoughts on Iraq situation

The following column, written by Congressman Ike Skelton, was distributed this week:

Fourth District Congressman

In 1926, Sir Gerald Ellison published "The Perils of Amateur Strategy," a book about the disastrous allied campaign at Gallipoli during World War I. In 2006, we find that the Bush administration's strategic mistakes during the opening years of our misadventure in Iraq have provided ample material for its sequel, "The Perils of Amateur Strategy II." Now the once-high hopes of bringing stability and democracy to that country are fading quickly, unless responsibility can quickly be shifted to the Iraqis.
Before the war began, the Bush administration failed to persuade Turkey to allow passage of our troops through that country. Flowing forces simultaneously from north and south might have stifled the subsequent chaos and prevented the situation turning from good to bad.

That failure was exacerbated by a rapid series of bad calls: the inability to quickly put an Iraqi face on the interim government; the de-Baathification policy, which combined with the disbanding of the Iraqi Army put thousands of disaffected Iraqis on the street; and the failure to secure the many weapons caches around the country has plagued our forces as a seemingly unending supply of munitions for roadside bombs is finding its way into the hands of our enemies.

Through it all winds the thread of consequences emanating from not sending enough troops to do the job right- not enough to control the chaos, to guard the caches, and most of all, to hold the ground they had paid dearly to take. Too often, our valiant forces defeated the enemy, only to move to the next fight, and the enemy returned when they had gone.

This is the simplest lesson that histories of counter-insurgencies teach us: Control territory and protect the population to allow civil society to take root within an umbrella of security. In this way, Iraqi confidence will grow and Iraqis will invest themselves in the future of their country. But sadly, this lesson seemed lost upon our amateur strategists haunting the administration's ranks.

Now we are in the midst of the Battle for Baghdad. In August, in a letter to the president, I predicted this would be the decisive battle of the war. Sadly, two months later, the sectarian violence rocking Baghdad has not slackened. Instead, Baghdad is coming apart at its seams. Those seams run along the divides separating the Shi'a and Sunni communities. Each is killing the other with increasing abandon in a struggle for control of Iraq.

Despite increasingly capable Iraqi Security Forces, there is no reduction in demand for U.S. forces, and no reduction in enemy activity. In fact, the opposite is true ? we've had to hold units beyond their scheduled redeployment to raise our own force levels, and enemy attacks are at an all-time high.

Here is the quandary. Our military is stretched so badly and so many of our non-de ployed units are unready that we approach the point of unacceptable strategic risk for the next conflict we may fight. Additionally, the American people are increasingly wary of what seems to be an unending conflict with little to show for the effort.

Former Secretary of State James Baker has spoken of developing alternatives for U.S. military action in Iraq that the American people might support something beyond "stay the course" and "cut and run." Iraqi progress is ultimately in the hands of the Iraqis, but creative options are needed to ensure that we can lessen the burden on American forces as quickly as possible. We should consider good ideas from any quarter.

My own view continues to lean toward the redeployment of some number of American forces, however small, before the end of the year. This would demonstrate that Iraqi security forces were taking at least small steps toward self-sufficiency.

Three and a half years into this war, with more than 22,000 dead and wounded U.S. service members, and at a cost of more than $350 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars, asking for a return on our considerable in vestment is not unreasonable.

That return should come in the form of the Iraqis bridging the gulf between their ethnic divisions, disarming the militias, and standing up their security forces to quell the violence wracking their neighborhoods. They must provide for all their citizens the resources needed for full and productive lives.

Americans are a giving people, but our generosity and creativity must be matched by an Iraqi good faith effort as well. Time is short to make changes. The final chapter of The Perils of Amateur Strategy II has yet to be written.

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