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Deadlines or Milestones
Column by Sen. Trent Lott     Filed 6/24/06 GCN

Two resolutions in the United States Senate that would have set a date or a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq have failed.  And it’s a good thing.  As my colleague Senator John McCain told Mississippians in Jackson last week, it’s not when we leave Iraq, but how.  We should be focused on milestones in Iraq, not deadlines. 

One withdrawal proposal offered by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts set a specific date for a U.S. pullout.  It failed dramatically, garnering an abysmal 13 votes.  The second proposal offered by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan established a phased, time frame for withdrawal.  It also fell far short of passage, going down 60 to 39.

Regardless of how Americans may feel about things leading up to the Iraq war, these votes illustrate that a majority of Americans and a majority in the Senate understand that we must persevere in Iraq.  Most Americans believe it would be highly counterproductive for us to tell the terrorists when we’re going to leave. 

Think about that.  All that the bad guys would have to do is sit back and wait for us to vacate.  Then they’d take over and establish a fundamentalist, terrorist state, subjugating millions of innocent Iraqis in the process.  Does that reflect American values?  Of course not.

Do a majority of Iraqis want a terrorist state in Iraq?  Apparently not.  They’ve voted multiple times in favor of freedom and democracy.  They’ve even risked their lives to vote.  How many Americans would do that today?  You have to wonder when you consider that under eight percent of voters turned out in Mississippi’s most recent Congressional election.

Right now the Iraqis have a good defense minister and a minister of interior who are working hard toward Iraq’s being able to shoulder its own security burden.  The Iraqi police are becoming more self-sufficient and getting stronger and tougher every day.

As the Iraqi security forces improve, U.S. and coalition forces are working to ensure that Iraq’s infrastructure, from oil fields to schools, are being rebuilt and able to meet demands.  As these goals are met, America can gradually relax and reduce our presence in Iraq, but not before we see these milestones pass.

As Americans, we need to keep in mind that our own democracy took the better part of two decades to implement.  It was a long road between our own Revolution’s beginning in the mid-1770s, until our Constitution was formalized in 1787.  We went through a lot of losing battles and ups and downs before our victory at Yorktown.  After that, we even experienced the collapse of our first attempt at democratic government, the failed Articles of Confederation which were eventually replaced by our Constitution.                        

Iraq is a nation which emerged from being a colonial outpost and turbulently evolved into a dictatorship, finally ending with Saddam Hussein’s fall.  It has no history of democratic self-government, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

All people want freedom, but liberty has never been secured easily, cheaply or quickly for any nation.  Iraq is no exception.  Most Americans know that.  Most Iraqis know that, too.  Most of us don’t want to set deadlines.  We want to see milestones passing in Iraq, goals being met.  We don’t want to see freedom withdrawn, but a democracy won.

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email

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