Appleton Post Crescent
Rep. Steve Kagen column: Iraq trip showed it’s time for troops to leave
August 3 , 2008
I just returned from an official mission in Iraq to evaluate the status of military, political and reconstruction efforts, which are being paid for with your tax dollars and carried out by many of your sons and daughters.
A formal report will be delivered soon to Congress, but as your representative, I wanted to give you a quick overview first.
What I saw was that we have the finest servicemen and women in the world. They are serving with courage and incredible skill, and we are fortunate to have Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in charge.
Gen. Petraeus explained that many factors contributed to the recent decrease in ethnic killings: the increase in U.S. troops and a simultaneous increase of approximately 140,000 Iraqi forces, the long-awaited truce with Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and recent military successes by the al-Maliki government in suppressing violent Shia militia in Basra.
The result? A fragile order and barely controlled chaos.
During my discussions with Gen. Petraeus, I learned that, to secure the 2.5 million Iraqis living in Baghdad’s Sadr City, it was necessary to surround the area with a tall, concrete barrier, keeping the citizens in and violent extremists out.
Even so, the day after we visited, several suicide bombers killed scores of innocent people. Concrete walls and more soldiers aren’t enough to secure peace in Iraq. A lasting peace requires a political solution.
Strong leadership, not terrorists, should determine who lives and who dies, and Ambassador Crocker offered a glimmer of hope.
The week before we arrived, Sunni and Shia legislators voted together, something they have not previously done because long-standing ethnic differences.
This is a rare and precious moment in time, an opportunity to work together. Only time will tell if they make the most of it.
We’re spending $400 million every day in Iraq, building schools, medical clinics, water treatment facilities, electric power plants and other critical infrastructure. Yet, when we met with U.S. inspectors in Baghdad responsible for keeping track of our tax dollars, they reported that they’re unable to travel to many of the new construction sites to examine facilities firsthand due to security concerns.
Instead, they rely on satellite images of the worksites. Oversight has become overflight.
Our soldiers have done everything we’ve asked of them, working in 140-degree heat and sandstorms that pump debilitating debris into their lungs. They are worn out — and so are U.S. taxpayers.
The reality is that we’re in the middle of an endless civil war that has no military solution, only a political one, according to those who know it best — our political ambassadors and military generals on the ground.
We’ve done what we can for the people of Iraq, while deferring our own needs here at home.
Rather than spending more of our hard-earned tax dollars rebuilding their country, it’s time to invest our money in our own communities again.
The Iraqi people can pay for their own construction projects. After all, they have a budget surplus from their windfall oil profits, while we’re paying record prices at the pump and sinking further into debt, due to our dependence on foreign oil and the administration’s failed borrow-and-spend economic policies.
It’s also time to move our brave soldiers away from Iraq. We should refocus our efforts on our real enemies — Osama bin Laden and his followers — and bring the rest of our soldiers, including those in our National Guard, home to the heroes’ welcome they’ve earned.
I heard it directly from our top military commander during my visit to Iraq: Our troops are stretched thin and can’t continue to tolerate the strain of an open-ended involvement in a never-ending religious civil war on the other side of the world.
Let’s move from "bring ’em on" to "bring ’em home." Then, we can redirect the resources we’re spending over there to what matters most — higher-wage jobs, access to affordable health care, comprehensive services for our veterans and their families, better public schools and more affordable colleges, cleaner air and water, and a stronger economy for all of our Wisconsin communities.