Iraq: A Turning Point
With Reports from Iraq from Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman
About This Event

U.S. senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and U.S. senator Joseph Lieberman (I-D-Conn.) recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. Both held extensive discussions with U.S. forces and Iraqi government officials. In light Listen to Audio

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of a possible change in course for U.S. strategy in Iraq, their views will be critical in the upcoming Congressional debate.

At this important time, AEI resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan and former acting Army chief of staff General Jack Keane will release the updated and final version of phase one of “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq.” The study calls for a large and sustained surge of U.S. forces to secure and protect critical areas of Baghdad. Mr. Kagan directed the report in consultation with military and regional experts, including General Keane, former Afghanistan coalition commander Lieutenant General David Barno, and other officers involved with the successful operations of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar. An interim version of the report was released on December 14, 2006.

At this event, Mr. Kagan and General Keane will present their final report, which outlines how the United States can win in Iraq and why victory is the only acceptable outcome.

10:45 a.m.
Panel I: Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq
Frederick W. Kagan, AEI
General Jack Keane, U.S. Army (retired)
12:00 p.m.
Panel II: Reports from Iraq
The Honorable John McCain, U.S. Senate
The Honorable Joseph Lieberman, U.S. Senate
1:30 p.m.
Event Summary

January 2006

Iraq: A Turning Point

U.S. senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and U.S. senator Joseph Lieberman (I-D-Conn.) recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. Both held extensive discussions with U.S. forces and Iraqi government officials. In light of a possible change in course for U.S. strategy in Iraq, their views will be critical in the upcoming Congressional debate.

At this January 5 AEI event, Frederick W. Kagan and General Jack Keane presented their final phase I report, Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, which outlines how the United States can win in Iraq and why victory is the only acceptable outcome. Senators McCain and Lieberman spoke about their recent mission to Iraq.

Frederick W. Kagan

We are at a critical moment in both Iraqi and world history. Withdrawal from Iraq would spread civil war throughout the countries in the region. Moving Iraq in the direction of security and freedom, on the other hand, would provide a powerful stabilizing force in the region.

This plan focuses on security for the simple reason that the lack of security is both eroding the American people’s will to fight and dangerously polarizing Iraqi politics. Security must be brought to Baghdad. It is essential for economic development and political development.

We need to send sufficient military force into Baghdad to clear and hold the critical areas in the city. The complexities of Shia politics demand that we do not go into Sadr City and engage the Mahdi Army at this time. The plan therefore proposes to focus on the Sunni and mixed Shia/Sunni areas of Baghdad where much of the violence and sectarian cleansing has occurred. This critical area of Baghdad can be brought under control.

This plan is not only a surge of troops; it is also a change of mission--the US military must begin providing security. Bringing security is the core of any successful counterinsurgency strategy. We need to reduce the level of violence to the point where the Iraqi forces are able to handle it. This is a specific, achievable mission. The plan identifies the most important tasks and assigns the necessary forces to the mission.

The surge must be large. Twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand additional troops must be deployed into Baghdad. Additionally, Anbar province must be reinforced to deal with the expected surge in violence there once operations begin in Baghdad. We also need to be flexible and have reserves. Our enemy is intelligent, and we need to be able to react quickly.

This will not be a short, quick surge--all enemy strategies assume that we surge and then leave. The surge needs to last at least eighteen months in order to have an effect. Violence will increase initially under this plan, but the level of violence will begin to drop if this plan is successful and if it is provided adequate resources.

General Jack Keane
U.S. Army (retired)

Security subsumes everything else that has taken place in Iraq. It is the precondition for political and economic development. A political solution in Iraq is not available today because we have not brought the mainstream insurgency to heel. To make a political solution feasible, we need to force the mainstream insurgents to come to the political bargaining table. Claiming that we need to strengthen and rely on the Iraqi security forces to provide security is choosing to lose. The Iraqi forces do not have the capability to succeed and will not for some time, although they are on their way.

We have never had a specific strategy to defeat the insurgency by protecting and supporting the population. This plan outlines such a strategy. Previous attempts to clear Baghdad failed because insufficient forces were on hand to hold neighborhoods. This plan includes the forces needed to clear the neighborhoods, and hold them too. Starting with the mixed neighborhoods is essential because it will show the even-handedness of the plan. A mixed U.S.-Iraqi force will hold the neighborhoods after they are cleared. After this, an incentive-based economic package will be offered to the cleared neighborhoods. All of this takes time. A short surge makes no military sense--the insurgents will wait us out. The operation must be long enough to change the attitudes in the cleared neighborhoods.

The Honorable John McCain (R-Ariz.)
U.S. Senate

Our recent trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel underscored both the difficulties we face in this war and the potentially catastrophic consequences of failure. The war is still winnable, but to prevail we will need to do everything right and the Iraqis will have to do their part. We all agree that a political solution is necessary, but security is a prerequisite to political progress. The rule of law is necessary for a democracy to function. The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to pursue reconciliation policies.

The track record is that when American soldiers have deployed to areas in turmoil, the violence has ceased almost immediately. There are two keys to any surge--it must be substantial and it must be sustained. During our recent trip, commanders spoke of a surge of three to five additional brigades in Baghdad and at least one in Anbar province. These numbers are the minimum required. The mission of these reinforcements would be to implement the elusive “hold” element of the military’s “clear, hold, build” policy. This is the fundamental element of counterinsurgency strategy. Turning the “hold” component over to the Iraqi military right away has not worked. The U.S. military must take up this task until the Iraqis can do it themselves. This strategy may mean more casualties, but it will give us the best chance for success.

The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. This has been tried in the past and has not worked. A time-limited deployment would indicate to the insurgency that we can be waited out, which would strengthen their position.

A surge is not a guarantee of success. Success is still possible, but it will be difficult. Failure, on the other hand, would be catastrophic.

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman (I-D-Conn.)
U.S. Senate

We do our national security a disservice if we isolate the war in Iraq from the context of the broader war on Islamic extremism. The Arab world is dividing along new lines between moderates and extremists, dictators and democrats. How the Iraq war ends will determine the future of the moderates in the region.

The enemy we are fighting is totalitarian, inhuman, violent, and expansionist. It threatens our values and way of life as seriously as fascism and communism did in the last century. The tentacles of Iran are all over the region. They are beginning to shape new alliances across the region.

Iraq is the main battlefield in the war on Islamist terrorism. Only if one decides that there is no hope in Iraq should the goal be to withdraw, because getting out will lead to Iranian expansionism, the creation of an al Qaeda base in Iraq, the intimidation of moderates throughout the region, and the loss of American credibility in the region and around the world. We need to do everything we can to win, and we should remember that this war remains winnable. Most Iraqis are fed up with the violence and want peace. Our troops believe that they can win. Political settlements and economic development will eventually stabilize Iraq, but we must restore security for this to happen.

We need a robust and sustained increase of troops in Iraq now. The president realizes the situation we are in. He needs detailed policy recommendations such as those supplied by Kagan and Keane. This moment cries out for the kind of leadership that will do what is needed to succeed in Iraq, not what would be most expedient politically.

It is easy to grow frustrated and angry with the conflict. At this moment, we must not yield to defeatism. We should have no regrets about the noble cause we are pursuing in Iraq. It is our responsibility to rise above partisan politics to advance a new strategy that will lead us to victory in Iraq and in the wider war on terrorism.

AEI intern Travis Weinger prepared this summary.

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