Defense & National Security

Troops Deserve Credit for Iraq Progress

In January 2007, the situation in Iraq was grim. The evening news was dominated by horrific accounts of indiscriminate violence—torture, kidnapping and killing—that had left millions of innocent civilians desperate and defenseless against a ruthless terrorist enemy. 

Our men and women in uniform had fought bravely and forcefully for years, but the future remained bleak. Calls for withdrawing our troops were increasing, and the patience of the American people was waning.

When President Bush announced the troop surge, it was widely viewed as our last chance to prevent Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent towards chaos—an outcome which would have given terrorists a safe haven to plan attacks against the United States and our allies and to directly threaten our national interests in the region.

It was our last chance—and the only option—to turn around the security environment. That’s why I and my fellow Republicans stood on principle and supported the new strategy in Iraq, fortified by a surge of U.S. troops.

Not everyone was convinced, however. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) claimed that the strategy had failed just weeks after it had begun. Her views were echoed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), who declared in April 2007 that “this war is lost.”

Then-Sen. Barack Obama, who campaigned on his opposition to the Iraq war, flatly declared that the troop surge would not work: “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

I’m sure glad our troops proved them wrong. And I’m sure glad President Obama didn’t listen to Sen. Obama.

On August 31, the U.S. mission in Iraq will shift from a combat role to an advisory mission to support the Iraqi government and its security forces. Our troops have already begun performing these roles in many parts of the country. While the administration continues seeking credit for “ending the combat mission” in Iraq, it is important to remember that this transition was made possible by the very surge that President Obama and Vice President Biden opposed.

With all due respect to them, our troops who have served so courageously in Iraq deserve the credit for the success of the surge and, along with the Iraqi people, the turnaround in Iraq.

The success of the troop surge is undeniable. By taking the fight to al Qaeda, other terrorist threats, and the insurgency, our men and women in uniform succeeded in providing greater security to the Iraqi population and giving the government the time to build capacity to more effectively meet the needs of the Iraqi people. As a result, the drawdown of U.S. troops that began in 2008 has been able to continue. I commend President Obama for listening to our commanders in the field and working closely with them, the Iraqi people, and the Congress to ensure that we continue making significant strides there.

We know there is much difficult work that remains. The United States, having invested blood and treasure in Iraq, must maintain an active role in helping the Iraqi government build, foster, and sustain institutions that build national unity within the country. Iraqi political parties and leaders must end the political stalemate that has stalled the formation of a new government in Baghdad. Iraq is critical to our immediate and long-term national security interests, and we must protect the economic, political, and security progress that has been made.

This discussion wouldn’t have been possible, however, were it not for the courage and sacrifices made by our troops, as well as their families. It is with great pride and profound gratitude that we reflect on all that our men and women in uniform have done, and all that they continue to do, to advance freedom abroad and strengthen our security here at home.

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