Is the mission accomplished?

Published 3:09 am Tuesday, May 30, 2006

By By Tray Smith
Thirty-eight months ago, American forces began their invasion of Iraq. Since then, we have overthrown a brutal dictator, removed a national security threat, and established a democratic government at a cost of 2,454 casualties, 17,648 wounded soldiers, and, along with the war in Afghanistan, $251 billion.
Whether or not the benefits of our military efforts were a rightful trade off for the cost and whether or not we should have invaded Iraq in the first place will be the subject of a long historical debate. That debate will be influenced by the performance of Iraq's newly elected leaders, the actions of the Iraqi people, and the effect that a democratic government in the center of the Middle East will have on the Arab world. But for now, we must focus on forming the right strategy for preserving our own security, protecting our soldiers, and stabilizing Iraq as quickly and effectively as possible.
For months, a ferocious political debate about our Iraq strategy has dominated Washington, D.C. Along the way, President Bush has committed himself to a policy of "staying the course." This is a policy which a majority of Americans, myself included, have supported. It would have been wrong for us to pack up and leave the Iraqi citizens in a state of chaos before they had a viable government in place. It was important that we aided the Iraqi people in their efforts to lay the foundations of a democratic government.
But last week, that democratic government was formed. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced his cabinet selections that included members of all of Iraq's ethnic groups. The selections where overwhelmingly approved by the democratically elected members of Iraq's Parliament, which now must work together with the cabinet to address Iraq's problems. Thus, I see no need for a large scale deployment of Untied States military forces to remain in Iraq. Iraqi security forces have already begun to take the lead role in several situations, and their status is upgraded almost daily. Fewer and fewer American service men and women are being attacked, and those that are have increasingly become victims of sectarian conflict instead of terrorism. Because such conflict is a result of Iraq's deep ethnic divisions, our presence will do little to end that type of violence.
While President Bush would tag any massive troop withdrawal as a "cut-and-run" strategy, the President would be wise to adapt such a policy himself. Leaving Iraq during the peak of violence before their leaders had formed a government would have been "cutting-and-running", and our nation would have been painted with the scars of defeat. But violence in Iraq has gone down and the Iraqi people have elected leaders they trust to solve their problems. We have achieved our goal of a free and democratic Iraq. Leaving now would not be an act of cowardice; it would be a result of victory.
Granted, the Bush administration has changed its reasoning for the Iraqi invasion several times. But there is nothing left we can do for that country. We have remained in place as they have voted for and instituted a government, and if a democracy elected government cannot control the country an outside military force will not be able to. Instead, our presence will continue to add to the violence because the Iraqi people resent the deployment of our forces.
Keeping our soldiers in Iraq will also harm our security more than it will help it. With a global war on terror, a continued presence in Afghanistan, and new assignments along the border, both the National Guard and the military are overstretched. We have lost a substantial amount of credibility in our current crisis with Iran because the Iranian government does not believe we will attack their country while being tied up with their Middle Eastern neighbor
We must continue to have soldiers train the Iraqi Security Forces, especially its officers. We must also continue to provide logistical support for the fledgling Iraqi Army, and we must remain a presence sizable enough to maintain order in case of any disturbing development.
Instead, we should seek to remove half of our forces (about 65,000 soldiers) by the first of September. From there, we would work with the new Iraqi government in order to analyze the total force they need to assist them in what will now be there task: securing Iraq. We could continue to draw down our total presence over the course of the next five years, thus leaving behind a stable Iraq and building a more secure America. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a freshman at Escambia Academy. He may be reached for contact at His column appears weekly.

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