As your Congressman, it is sometimes my duty to travel to far off, exotic places in order to inform myself on the issues of the day.
As you may know, these trips usually involve strenuous and exhausting activities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten sunburned from brutal rounds of golf played in Caribbean sun or pruned hands from spending too much time in the resort swimming pool. But as your Representative, I feel it necessary to bear any burden and pay any price in order to familiarize myself with issues on which I will have to vote in your name.
Just recently, I returned from a very different kind of fact finding mission. I would like to report on my visit to Iraq and what I think is going on there was well as inform you of how I am likely to vote next month on whether to continue funding the war.
First of all, as fact finding missions go, I found out a lot of interesting facts. Did you know that it gets very, very hot in Iraq? So hot it “feels like a hair dryer on the back of your neck.” And I found out that wearing a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet when going outside the green zone is not very flattering from an aesthetic standpoint but looks terrific on television and in the newspaper photos. Oughta be worth 10,000 votes next election.
Of course, the highlight of the trip was the very pleasant “nice napkin lunch” with General Petreaus. He certainly sets a fine table and I particularly approved of his wine selection. Then the General showed us all sorts of charts and graphs with incomprehensible acronyms and even more puzzling numbers that he said pointed to the surge giving our troops “tactical momentum.”
What kind of momentum can be considered tactical? I wish I had thought to ask him at that point but I was on my third glass of Pinot Blanc and really wasn’t in any shape to ask that kind of probing question. I guess it has to do with a drop in violence in some areas of Iraq as well as some interesting political developments in Anbar Province and other parts of the Sunni Triangle. It seems a lot of the Sunnis in those areas are switching sides and joining us in our fight against the terrorist from al-Qaeda in return for arms and help in reconstructing their infrastructure.
Now I hate to be a worry wart about these things but considering the fact that until recently, many of these same Sheiks that we’re now embracing were trying to kill us, giving them arms might seem to be something of a risk. After all, just because they’re buddy buddy with us doesn’t mean they’ve gained any great love for their Shia masters in Baghdad. And if we’re seen as allied too closely with Prime Minister Maliki and his sectarian mob, they just might have another change of heart and start using those guns on us again. Especially after we start drawing down our forces, which we are going to be forced into doing in March when many of the units face the end of their deployments. If the Shias take advantage of that by upping the pressure on the Sunnis by escalating sectarian warfare, anything is possible.
All of this is fine as far as the surge goes. It is doing what the President said it would; improve the security situation in order to give the government of Prime Minister Maliki the time to try and effect a reconciliation with the Sunnis. But then I talked to Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Shia, who told me “There’s not going to be political reconciliation by this September; there’s not going to be political reconciliation by next September,” and I thought if this is true, why bother? If the Shias aren’t interested in living in a free, united Iraq with their Sunni countrymen, what possible reason is there to continue to prop up such a government?
But then, there is the “bottom up” reconciliation being carried out in many areas and you have to say to yourself “Here are a people worth helping.” For all their faults, their petty jealousies and hatreds, there may be just enough Iraqis – both Shia and Sunni – dedicated to trying to heal their country and bring it together that it makes sense to continue with the surge as long as we are able to maintain it.
What happens when we’re forced to draw down our forces? Given the change in many places in Iraq over the last few months that the surge has been fully operational, anything is possible – anything except movement toward peace by the Maliki government. There’s only so much our soldiers are able to do. But what is possible (and beyond), they are doing.
General Petreaus and the troops have earned the opportunity to carry on with their mission – at least until we start bringing the boys home in March. And that’s why I will vote to continue funding the mission as it currently stands.
Iraq will be a wretchedly violent place for many years to come. But if by our actions we can start them firmly on the path to peace and reconciliation, we should try. It may take a change at the top of the Iraqi government to begin the process in earnest. It may not. But whatever happens, much of the history that will be written in Iraq in the future will be penned by Iraqis and not Americans. Of this there is no doubt.
No doubt this issue will be revisited again. And circumstances might very well change – circumstances that would cause me to reverse my vote that I will be making in September. But as long as we are making progress, however small or even ephemeral, we should continue.