Leading up to President Bush’s speech outlining the new strategy for Iraq, I was appropriately skeptical. There was a lot of preliminary talk about sending more forces to Iraq in a “troop surge.” Given that Mississippi’s active military and guard members have made a large contribution to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, I feel it my duty to carefully scrutinize the proposal. It would have been inappropriate either to adopt or dismiss the pending plan before it was presented to the nation. I talked to the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, the Defense Secretary and other officials, asking questions and raising concerns.
The plan recognizes something I’ve said for months: The status quo in Iraq is unacceptable, and we’ve got to dramatically change the dynamics there. This new approach has the capacity to do that.
The plan calls for more than just additional American soldiers in Iraq. The President also outlined a strategy for changing the rules of engagement that our troops follow which would lessen restrictions on them, enabling them to be more aggressive and less like a police force. He’s also outlined an approach for putting more pressure on the Iraqi government and security forces to take more responsibility in suppressing insurgents and restoring their infrastructure and economy.
We’re not just talking about 21,000 additional American troops in Baghdad. The plan is much larger than that. We’re also adding almost 30,000 Iraqi troops, increasing Iraqi police involvement and using Iraqi money to create jobs that give people a chance to improve their lives.
It’s important for Americans to put aside politics and personalities. Whether you like President Bush or not, whether you supported going into Iraq or not, both are irrelevant at this point in the Iraq effort.
As you know, I’ve had my disagreements with President Bush and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Every American should hope that this plan and our broader War on Terror, is successful. I do, as do an overwhelming majority of Mississippians. Those in America and around the world who don’t hope for success in Iraq should not forget the sacrifices of our military nor the millions of Iraqis who voted in their nation’s first real election.
Make no mistake, this is the last chance for Iraq to become a stable, free and democratic nation. Anything short of that will embolden terrorists to attack civilian targets around the world, including here in America. A terrorist state in Iraq would ultimately be the Iraqi government’s political failure, certainly not the fault of America’s uniformed men and women who have consistently performed well, taking on one mission after another and achieving them with few flaws and little fanfare.
Mississippians have asked me how this will impact our National Guard and Reserve units which have played such a large role in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. The answer is: It reportedly won’t this year.
As of this writing, there are about 250 Mississippi National Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two dozen in Kosovo. The 172nd and 186th airlift wings fly back and forth to support operations there. Mississippi’s bootprint in Iraq is small right now, but we’ve already left a lot of tracks there. Mississippi contributed many units to the War on Terror at its onset, but most of them have rotated back home. Should our increased presence in Iraq continue into 2008, we must remain appropriately skeptical – especially when American lives are at stake – but always confident in America’s cause.
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