U.S. can set timetable in Iraq without risk of collapse
OUR objectives in Iraq have not yet been made clear: Is it our goal to occupy Baghdad, and if so, for how long? A rush to battle without a strategy to win the peace is folly."
That quote, from a speech I delivered in October 2002 on the floor of the U.S. Senate, has proved tragically prophetic. At that time, I joined with 22 of my Senate colleagues to oppose invading Iraq. I believed then, as I do now, that it was wiser to wait, but ours was not the prevailing sentiment. Today we find ourselves mired in a war that has not yet brought about the peace that both Iraqis and Americans so desperately want, a war for which both our countries have paid too dear a price.
In a recent editorial, the Star-Bulletin quotes my primary election challenger, Ed Case, as now saying that had he known in 2002 what he knows now, he would not have supported the resolution to go to war (until last week, Case has consistently said he would have supported the invasion).
I believe that in matters of such tremendous magnitude, leadership requires the wisdom of foresight, rather than the easy clarity afforded by hindsight.
Last month, I again voted with a minority. Sen. Daniel Inouye and I were among 13 senators who voted to support legislation introduced by Sens. John Kerry and Russ Feingold that would end the Bush administration's aimless, open-ended course in Iraq and create a specific timetable for the withdrawal of the majority of U.S. troops. We also voted in support of legislation introduced by Sen. Carl Levin to begin a phased troop withdrawal.
Sadly, the Bush administration has made it painfully clear that it will utterly ignore any checks or balances, from both Congress and the courts, that it finds inconvenient. Such arrogance can be addressed only with legislation that speaks the language of detailed specifics and clear deadlines.
While the Star-Bulletin says a timetable for withdrawal would risk Iraq's collapse, in the days since we voted for a phased withdrawal, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has unveiled a reconciliation plan that includes a drawdown of American troops, and the Bush administration's own head of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey Jr., revealed he too has a plan for troop withdrawal.
The Star-Bulletin editorial quotes Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, as saying that Iraq's goal is to have full control of the country by 2008, and that progress will be charted not by a series of dates but on the achievement of set objectives for restoring security. When I spoke with Dr. Rubaie in my visit to Iraq last month, he told me that the removal of foreign troops would legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people. A phased withdrawal does not abandon Iraqis nor diminish the progress our soldiers have made.
Far from risking Iraq's collapse, setting a timetable for a phased withdrawal signals America's clear intention to the Iraqi people and gives Americans a measure of certainty about ending a war that the majority of this nation no longer supports.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka is ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support and co-chairman of the Senate Army Caucus. He visited with U.S. and Iraqi troops and officials last month in Iraq.