Thursday, June 09, 2005

Some Excellent Advice on Iraq

This letter to the President from Congressman Harold Ford is spot on. I only hope that someone in the White House bothers to read it.

June 3, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I just returned from a two day trip to Iraq with several colleagues, including U.S. Senator Joe Biden and Vice-Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Curt Weldon. We spent Memorial Day weekend meeting with our troops, military leadership and Iraqi government officials, lending our support for their collective efforts to bring stability and democracy to Iraq. On a patriotic note, it felt good being with the bravest and finest fighting force in the world on Memorial Day.

I was pleased that morale was high among our troops. Every soldier we encountered was proud of the progress being made by the military and the Iraqi people. Moreover, the Iraqi government officials we met were deeply appreciative of our efforts from the Prime Minister to the Speaker of their Parliament to the Chair of the Constitutional Drafting Committee to the new Defense Minister.

However, there were concerns expressed by many. First, it appears, contrary to Secretary Rumsfeld's and your assertions, that the training of the Iraqi military and police forces and the restoration of basic services, including electricity and water, is moving at a slower pace than projected. Second, the pernicious influence of Iran and Syria in encouraging and sponsoring terrorism in Iraq is on the rise. Third, the tension between the Sunnis and Shiites is not lessening, which is detrimental to the efforts to draft an acceptable constitution. And finally, U.S. credibility and stature still lag in the Middle East, despite the noble efforts and sacrifice of our military and the generosity of the American people.

These are not easy times as you know Mr. President. Your steadfastness and tenacity in fighting terrorism should be applauded. But, support for your administration's policies in Iraq is below 45 percent, meaning more Americans disagree with your handling of it. This is combined with a 40 percent approval rating for your handling of the U.S. economy. If I might be so bold, let me make a few suggestions.

First, you and Secretary Rumsfeld should stop overstating our success in Iraq because it overshadows and diminishes actual progress being made in Iraq.

For example, the Pentagon has repeatedly, and now I know erroneously, told Congress and the American people that Iraqi military and security forces are being trained at a rapid rate. The facts are different. Only 3 of the 107 battalions that have to be trained for Iraq to be able and ready to defend itself are up and standing. The misrepresentations by your administration undermine the American people's confidence in our efforts in Iraq, damage support for the war and make it harder for those of us in Congress who support staying and finishing the job in Iraq to maintain our support.

In short, a big part of the answer to this challenge is first to allow the military leadership on the ground in Iraq to offer assessments of our military progress, not civilian suits at the Pentagon. Furthermore, serious thought should be given to sending Iraqi police trainees to training academies in Europe and the U.S. This could slow down even more the process, but I believe it could improve the training and ensure that forces are ready upon completion of the training. And, more assistance is needed for our Army and Marines who are charged with cleaning the streets and sewer systems so that essential services, like water and electricity, can be delivered. In many ways, the delivery of these services is the only tangible measure the Iraqi population has of our success since the capturing of Saddam Hussein. Much work needs to be done on that front.

Second, an honest appraisal of Iran and Syria's influence in Iraq is needed. Every senior Iraqi government official we met assailed Iran's growing involvement in fomenting insurgent activity in Iraq. However, to my surprise, U.S. intelligence and military officials in Iraq flatly rejected the Iraqi government's position on the matter. I trust you know this, but somebody is wrong here. It is not in the interests of U.S. national security for Iraq and the U.S. to be so far apart on this subject. Frankly, I am inclined to believe the Iraqi Defense Minister and Speaker of the Parliament. Something as fundamental as reconciling intelligence and analysis between us and the Iraqis requires immediate attention. Your intervention with your administration is warranted on this point, Mr. President.

Third, the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution must involve Sunnis and Kurds for it to be accepted as the nation's guarantor of freedom and fairness for all, like our own Constitution is. Sending an international team of legal scholars from America and other leading democracies to assist and consult with the drafting committee would help greatly. Our Constitution's endurance is due largely to its unyielding protection of basic freedoms for all, especially the minority in this country. We have to export that concept to Iraq.

And last, U.S. credibility and our moral authority need rebuilding. Mr. President, with all due respect, if you devoted one-third of the time you did trying to convince the country to privatize Social Security to traveling the world to promote this nation's time honored values and urging a re-engagement with the world community, America would win back a great deal of her prestige and moral authority in the eyes of the global community. I recognize and support our nation's responsibility to act when our security interests are threatened even when others won't join us. Yet, there is tremendous value in being engaged with the world.

It makes it easier to win international support for U.S efforts to sell U.S. goods around the globe, fight terrorism, expand political reform in Africa and reduce the spread of HIV and other diseases in corners of the world crying out for help. Moreover, a re-engagement with the world led by you will make foreign travel to the United States more attractive, which would bolster our economy, and simultaneously create safer conditions for international travel by Americans.

Again, thank you for your time and attention Mr. President. You remain in my prayers.


Harold Ford, Jr.