Redefining the U.S. Role in Iraq

(By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)

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By James S. Gilmore III
Monday, June 18, 2007

Dear Mr. President,

As you know from my public statements, I have supported your increase in troops in Iraq in the belief that a new initiative was necessary to bring the Iraq war to a successful conclusion. It has been my position that this troop increase should be given an opportunity to work. Increasingly, however, reports show that attacks on our troops, Iraqi police and civilians are not abating.

It is clear from the statements previously made by your administration that there was never any intention to become embroiled in a guerrilla war, urban or otherwise. American power is not advantaged in such a situation. Trying to fight a guerrilla war in the cities and towns of Iraq has opened opportunities for terrorist enemies such as al-Qaeda and fostered an environment for a Shiite-Sunni civil war in which we have no stake. We were led down this path in part by those who said, "If you break it, you own it." This statement asserts a responsibility to contain, control or resolve the centuries-old conflict between competing interests in the Middle East. We did not create these competing interests, and we do not own their conflict. I assert that where and what we fight for must be strictly measured by the interests of the United States.

Like you, I reject the Democrats' policy of an immediate withdrawal or a withdrawal on a timetable. Unfortunately, they are playing to the polls to obtain political advantage at home, to the detriment of the United States. But I also believe we cannot continue our present policy. We must find a third way.

First, I urge that we stop thinking it is our responsibility to solve the Iraq conflict. It is not. We behave as an occupier, defining what the future of Iraq will be. We suggest their troop strength. We dictate to their parliament. Some politicians even suggest we partition their country. Worst of all, we are starting to suggest that we will define "benchmarks," which gives us an excuse for withdrawal if Iraqis cannot perform the impossible.

I urge that we define our goals in terms of America's national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army I believe we cannot just abandon Iraq. I believe the only realistic alternative -- the least bad option, if you will -- is a limited deliberate drawdown of our military men and women and a redeployment of the forces remaining in the region to areas where they can more efficiently and effectively carry out a clearly defined mission.

I believe that the American military is on target when officers ask for a mission that includes maintaining -- either at bases in Iraq at the request of Iraq or in bases in Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- a military force powerful enough to launch special operations missions against al-Qaeda or Sunni insurgents in Iraq; train Iraqi troops to defend their own country; and guarantee the security of the Iraqi government, if so desired by Iraq.

This approach of drawing down our forces while maintaining the military presence needed to preserve democracy in the country and launch special operations missions against terrorists would save U.S. lives and tax dollars as well as prevent Iraq from becoming a base of operations for foreign jihadists and buy valuable time to train Iraqi forces.

This policy I suggest entails risk that the political or military process inside Iraq may not come out as we hope. But we are already at risk in the Middle East.

American interests come down to protection of our national security, protection of Israel's right to exist, and averting, if possible, a general war in the Middle East, nuclear or otherwise. Our present conduct in Iraq distracts from or is detrimental to those goals. I urge you to refocus American policy toward Iraq to further these strategic goals.

The writer is a Republican candidate for president.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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