Politics & Policy

Duty, Honor … Reelection?

Conduct unbecoming senators.

Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor for an all-night pajama party of antiwar slogans and calls to bring our troops back home. What’s discouraging is not the spectacle itself, but the short memory — and even shorter vision — of the senators of both parties now calling for an immediate — and dangerous — withdrawal from Iraq.

In January, the Senate voted 81-0 to confirm Gen. Petraeus as commander of Multi-National Forces in Iraq. Petraeus had a new counterinsurgency strategy (which he developed himself) and an overwhelming Senate mandate. Congressional leaders agreed to give him the time to implement his strategy. He, in return, agreed to provide Congress a midterm progress report in September. 

However, only three weeks after the fifth and final brigade arrived in Baghdad and two months before the agreed time for the progress report, Congress is already judging Gen. Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy as a failure — when, in fact, it has only begun.

The strategic logic of the “surge” is this: If the United States disengages in Iraq, then the chaos will become exponentially worse. This logic is supported by many general officers, security-policy experts, and service members who have served in Iraq — including myself.

If the United States legislates a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, then shortly thereafter the United States will face a critical question: Do we have a national-security interest and moral responsibility to re-intervene in the overwhelming bloodshed that would most certainly occur. We must have that debate now. 

Elected officials who are advocating for a timeline for withdrawal should be forced to answer the following question: what is their strategic plan when the sectarian violence becomes genocidal and the conflict crosses borders? 

Moreover, it is not as if we are debating whether or not we should commit military resources to a potentially failed state; we’re already there. And it is not as if we are debating whether or not we should intervene in a potentially genocidal conflict, most experts agree that will occur. Thus, the debate we are having is moot — and the impetus for continuing our full commitment is already in play.

Petraeus has given Congress and the American people with his blueprint for success. He has studied the situation in Iraq carefully, resulting in his publication of the Army counterinsurgency manual. He has led soldiers on the ground — in the fight. In short, he fully understands the stakes. Also, he has made clear his view of what the consequences would be for future generations of Iraqis and the greater Middle East if we do not stabilize and underpin the democratically elected government of Iraq. 

Now serving in his third critical leadership role in Iraq, Petraeus is only a couple of months into implementing his counterinsurgency strategy. During this short time, he has substantially reduced sectarian murders, found arms caches at three times the rate of last year, and fostered and environment to encourage young Sunnis and Shiites to join the Iraqi security forces, which they are doing in record numbers.

Furthermore, Petraeus has shared his concern about the tension between the timeline of the politicians in Washington and the realities on the ground. As he put it recently: “I can think of few commanders in history who wouldn’t have wanted more troops, more time, or more unity among their partners. However, if I could only have one item at this point in Iraq, it would be more time.” The nation and congressional leaders must commit to providing Gen. Petraeus, as well as the service members on the ground, the time to stabilize Iraq. Simply put, the stakes are too high.

If lawmakers truncate Petraeus’s mandate, they will effectively break their contract with him, the service members in Iraq — not to mention, the Iraqi people. While no single individual holds the key to solving all of Iraq’s problems, I strongly disagree with the concept of sending a soldier on an important mission, giving him the appropriate resources to complete his mission, and then second-guessing his ability to carry out that mission — immediately after leaving the base. Congress committed to Petraeus’s mission and strategy when they unanimously voted to confirm him in January. 

Lawmakers who support an immediate withdrawal must give us their strategic plan to handle a failed state and a sanctuary for al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East. I hope that our elected leaders recommit to supporting Petraeus, his mission, and the men and women of the Coalition forces who are determined to bring stability, safety, and hope for the future to the Iraqi people.

 – Alex Gallo is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and served as an infantry officer in Samarrah, Iraq, in 2004. Currently, he is a masters in public-policy candidate at Harvard University‘s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a member of Vets for Freedom.

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