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Retreat In Iraq Is Not A Policy

Orrin Hatch

Mr. President, today we face a growing movement for the political abandonment of the will to succeed in the biggest conflict we face to date in the 21st century.

There are handfuls of people in pink wandering the hallways and the party in the majority claims a growing groundswell to abandon the fight in the midst of the battle.

These are parlous times, and the political class of this country is divided among those who desperately want to raise the white flag, those who are fleeing to the tall grasses, and a beleaguered Administration beleaguered in part - and let us be honest at a time when generosity would be misplaced - by many of its own spectacular mistakes.

I hear from constituents who are worried, very worried, about the war in Iraq. But Utahns are a stalwart in character. Not all of them support the President's policy, and not all of them support me, to be sure.

But I think I am being honest to suggest that the vast majority of my constituents are as worried by the prospects of U.S. unilateral withdrawal as they are by the challenges we face in the middle of a battle whose end many of my colleagues no longer have the patience to imagine, pursue or achieve.

Such abandonment is not an option for our forces in Iraq.

I gave a speech on this floor several months ago where I said that I was not going to concede to the Democrats' strategy of unilateral withdrawal. I pointed out the irony that the Democrat's legitimate criticism of this Administration's policy - that the Bush Administration went into Iraq unprepared for the consequences, and without imagining the requirements of the day after we toppled Saddam - was in fact being repeated by the Democrats who now advocate a withdrawal without preparing for the consequences, and with no consideration for what will happen in Iraq, the region and the world the day after we decamp.

I find this bitterly ironic, Mr. President.

And while I agree with many of the criticisms of this Administration's early failures in the Iraq war, I will not stand quietly against the irony - indeed, the hypocrisy - of suggestions that it is ok to abandon a war without considering the consequences, but damnable to begin one in the same manner.

In the months since I spoke on this floor, where I gave my qualified support for the surge, I have listened carefully to the debate on and off the floor. I have talked to my colleagues, to Administration officials, to constituents and friends, here and abroad. I have read the intelligence, on the prospects for Iraq and the currents in the region. I have traveled to Iraq, and have traveled in the region.

Now here have I found a silver lining to these clouds of conflict. But nowhere have I heard anyone say that the clouds are less dark on the horizon.

The three major problems I am most concerned about - the Al-Qaida problem, the Iran problem, and the moral and practical costs of abandoning the moderate Iraqis - have not been addressed in any substantive way in any of the policy prescriptions I have studied.

If the Majority wants to decamp, they need to propose a policy context that makes the United States safer on the day after, not in more peril.

The Al-Qaida Problem

Mr. President, in May I went to Ramadi. I was briefed on our base by General Gaskin, and then we suited up to go for a walk in the town center. That's correct - we had to suit up in armor for a walk downtown.

This was no Sunday stroll for ice cream. But two facts were obvious: One, six months before we strolled through those downtown streets, Ramadi was Al-Qaida's capitol in Anbar province and Iraq. On that day two months ago, it was the local Sunnis capitol again. And, two, the local Iraqis I saw and met in Ramadi were happy to see us there.

However you want to criticize the Administration for its past errors, we now have a workable counter-insurgency plan in operation. It is working in Anbar and Al-Qaida is on the defensive. Are they moving out to other places? We are. Are we following them, using the counter-insurgency tactics we have finally mastered? We are. Are we going to abandon the field we have learned to dominate? You tell me, Mr. President. And we will abandon that field in this very room?

Here's what I learned about our successful counter-insurgency campaign from General Gaskin: AQI declared Ramadi the capital city of the Islamic State of Iraq.

There were no police in Ramadi last year, Al-Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, had destroyed all police in the city. Starting in mid-February, the coalition cleared the downtown in about 6 weeks. There were approximately 15-20,000 members of AQI in Anbar initially. Now about half of them are dead. Others are still trying to discredit the government of Iraq and discredit the occupation.

They represent us as occupiers, infidels. They advance their goals with brutal methods. All of their financing comes from criminal enterprises. AQI is very cellular, decentralized but resilient and regenerative. They are self-sufficient, funding themselves through criminal activities (murder, intimidation, black market).

We have finally learned to deal with the Sunni tribes. It took us too long to understand the tribes, but AQI didn't understand the tribal culture, either. AQI's intimidation activities and murder of families (including young boys) enraged the local tribes. The tribes response was their realization that the expanded Coalition presence was a chance to get AQI out of their lives and they came to a mutual understanding with coalition forces.

But the local population has helped find two-thirds of the IEDs in the area. We have promoted the development of neighborhood watch system. Once you clear, you must leave a security presence - with coalition support. Local won't give you intel if you don't leave a permanent presence that provides security. In the words of General Gaskin, we are asking the Iraqis to gain capacity while they're at war. This is very unusual, and it is very difficult.

In counterinsurgency the most important thing is how well you protect the population, what the level of violence is. We are making progress in Anbar. Are we going to abandon this progress? As General Gaskin put it: "It's like someone tells you the ship that you're on is on fire. You jump off, but halfway down you discover that it wasn't on fire after all. You still have to deal with your decision to jump: either swim or drown."

As I've said, Mr. President, I'm not in favor of jumping ship, but for those who are: what are we going to do? Swim or drown? Last month, two analysts for the Radio Free Iraq service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a compelling report entitled Iraqi Insurgency Media: The War of Images and Ideas.

In addition to cataloguing the impressive degree to which the Iraqi Sunni insurgency is using the Internet to purvey a constant stream of images, propaganda, songs and other images that glorify the fight against the Coalition, this report makes clear that this barrage of insurgent media is feeding the global extremist network.

According to the report, "The Iraqi insurgent media network is a boon to global jihadist media, which can use materials produced by the insurgency to reinforce their message. The images of our precipitous withdrawal will be broadcast endlessly, to inspire and incite extremists throughout the world. In fact, if you talk to the analysts who monitor insurgent media, you learn that there are two prevalent themes today.

The insurgents, including Al-Qaida, are very media savvy, and they are avid consumers of western and American media. They watch our floor debates. It is a common theme for them today to declare that we will withdraw. In our withdrawal they will see victory. If we abandon the counter-insurgency gains we've made, Al-Qaida will not only declare global victory and vindication, they will attempt to reclaim territory in Iraq.

Nowhere have I seen policy prescriptions to address this problem. We can't fight Al-Qaida from across the border.

We can't fight Al-Qaida and ignore Baghdad. And we can't walk away from this fight with Al-Qaida. For those who want to withdraw without a policy prescription, all I can say is that you may no longer be interested in Al-Qaida in Iraq. But Al-Qaida is still interested in the U.S.

The Iran Problem

If you watch the Sunni insurgency media, you also determine an even more prominent theme. They assume, based on watching our media, that we will abandon the cause. And they declare that an even bigger threat is Iran.

Nowhere have I read of a compelling policy prescription to answer the question of how we will deal with Iran in the aftermath of a withdrawal.

Iran is competing with the United States in the region. We are getting unclassified briefs from Multi-National Force in Iraq officers identifying Iranian agents role in supporting militias and funding Explosively-Formed Penetrators (EFPs) networks, which target the Coalition.

Iran is playing a dangerous game - not because they solicit an armed reaction from us - which they calculate will not occur, but they are carefully stoking sectarian and anti-Coalition conflict, while taking advantage of the relative security our military presence provides.

What is our policy toward Iran should we decide to follow the prescription to abandon the fight in Iraq? All I have read is a hopeful repetition of the desire for a diplomatic solution.

Mr. President, I always hope for a diplomatic solution. I also hope to balance the budget and cure AIDs. This won't happen based on hope alone, however. Those who think we can split from Iraq in the middle of the conflict and deal with Iran with a Tehran tea party are not just hopeful, they are delusional.

Iran is a totalitarian regime in desperate economic condition. There have been riots over gas rationing - in a nation rich in oil! The population has suffered two generations of economic decline - in a nation rich in oil! The rich Persian culture has suffered the spectacular mismanagement of a corrupt and despotic regime.

Just several days ago the Open Source Center provided an analysis of Iran's treatment of its labor unions. I quote: The abduction of the head of Tehran's transport workers' union is the latest sign of the antagonism shown by President Ahmadinezhad's government toward trade unions and other civil society institutions. On April 11 it shut down the Iranian Labor News Agency, which often reported on labor discontent arising from Iran's economic failures as well as on student unrest and human rights abuses. Mahmud Osanlu, head of the Workers' Syndicate of the Tehran and Suburban Bus Company, has not been heard from since he was beaten and abducted on July 10 by plainclothesmen, presumably from the government.

Mr. President, do I need to remind you that Ahmadinezhad ran on a platform of helping the lower classes? This is the face of a corrupt and failing regime.

We're spending about $100 billion a year providing various degrees of stability through most of Iraq, stability on Iran's border. If we leave, there will be great instability. How will Iran react? Do we have a policy in place that will seek to advance our goals of containing the Iranian threat? Or is the policy of withdrawal hinging simply on the desperate desire for diplomacy with despots?

The Moral and Practical Costs of Abandoning the Moderates

What are the consequences for the moderates of Iraq if we withdraw?

There are, in fact, many moderates. Many Iraqis intermarried between faiths; many Iraqis are urban professionals; many Iraqi women are educated - all of these are attributes of the moderate masses who are today intimidated by the insurgents, gangsters and terrorists, and who are failed by the Iraqi politicians.

Nonetheless, they are there in significant numbers. They will suffer immensely in the chaos that will follow our withdrawal. If we believed that a principle key to addressing the sources of discontent that fuels violent extremism in the Muslim was the empowerment of the moderate classes seeking modern civil society, our abandonment of the cause in Iraq will do more than fuel the ferocious violence of Al-Qaida, the deadly competition fomented by Iran.

It will seal our ability to appeal to the moderate Muslim elements throughout the world, to build civic culture in autocratic societies. Our natural allies in these societies - the young and educated, the professional, the women seeking to escape the oppression of the veil - will not respond to our entreaties, because they will have seen that the U.S. does not stand with its allies.

They will see the images of our withdrawal, they will see the self-satisfied propaganda of the insurgents and Al-Qaida, and they will be afraid to be with us. And I fear they will see images of the slaughter of innocents. They will go back into the shadows, and the shadows of autocracy, or even worse, Islamic fascism will grow.

We will have squandered not just the good will of our natural allies - those who want to modernize into peaceful and productive societies - but we will squandered the faith of hundreds of millions throughout the world who will see no reason to stand by us.

Who will we blame for the slaughter of moderates, and who will we turn to the next time we seek allies in the Middle East? Should those who advocate withdrawal today succeed in their ill-conceived attempt to run away from reality, reality will not let us escape.

Without a policy to fight Al-Qaida in Iraq, to compete with an unstable and adventurous Iran, and to prevent the slaughter of Iraqi innocents on a scale much greater than we see today, a withdrawal will be calamitous.

The consequences on our ability to conduct foreign policy, to win the war on terror, to advance our values of democracy and peace, will be immense.

After the capitulation driven by congressional Democrats that led to our abandonment of Vietnam in the 1970s, the Soviets became emboldened and advanced throughout what was known then as the Third World: in Angola, Central America and Afghanistan.

We regained our footing in a decade, and we won the Cold War because we found our will. Without a strategy to accompany the policy of withdrawal, the consequences - emboldened Al-Qaida, aggressive Iran, and intimidated, harassed and slaughtered Iraqi moderates - will haunt us much longer than after our Vietnam withdrawal.

I am 73 years old, Mr. President, and I fear that, should we concede to the call for withdrawal without a sound policy, the harm caused to this nation will last longer than I have years to live.

Time and Will

The senior senator from Arizona, Senator McCain, whom I hold in high esteem, quoted General Petraeus earlier this evening, saying that, of all the resources General Petraeus could have, the one he wanted most was time.

This is a very important point. Many people today believe that, whatever the outcome this month, we have set a deadline for September.

I say: Any progress achieved by September will be incremental at best. Counter-insurgencies can be won, but they will not be won on a congressional election cycle.

We should not be so arrogant as to presume we can make them fit into such an absurd construct. Let us be honest and admit that, if we want to sustain the fight in Iraq, we should give it much longer than a September deadline. Perhaps in a year; perhaps in two, we can see a success. But for this we need more than time. We need will.

And that, Mr. President, is what I see evaporating around me. The Majority is waving the flag of withdrawal. There is no accompanying policy to shape the way the geopolitical environment will be affected. Our enemies will be emboldened, our competitors encouraged, and our friends throughout the region will be, like me, discouraged.

Mr. President, absquatulation is not a policy. I yield the floor.

Orrin Hatch is a U.S. Senator from Utah.

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