The eyes of the beholder

Published 9:11 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Success, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. That’s the case in Iraq. I see the Iraq Study Group’s proposals for a new Iraq strategy as a beneficial work by some very distinguished, studied people with a lot of good ideas. I don’t agree with it entirely, but I do think the thrust of the report is something on which all Americans can agree: The status quo in Iraq is unacceptable.

This week a man lured people onto a bus in Baghdad by offering day labor jobs. Once inside, he detonated a bomb killing himself and 70 other people. No successful society could ever accept that on an almost daily basis. And for Iraq to become a successful, free and democratic state, the Iraqis must resolve to stop this violence. Only they can squelch this type of self-inflicted, self-defeating behavior before it happens. No military power can do it for them.

America’s military have performed magnificently in Iraq. Saddam’s formidable forces were defeated in battle, and their equipment and weapons largely were destroyed. Saddam was captured. That’s what our military is trained to do, dominate and defeat opposing armies, navies and air forces. And that’s happened.

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Yet, the second part of the Iraq effort – setting up a decent, democratic government – is much more a political and diplomatic endeavor than a military one. While it’s true that America’s own political climate and demeanor have some bearing on this, the Iraqis themselves bear most of this burden. Only they can decide to become a free and stable nation.

That’s why I support the idea of setting milestones in Iraq. We should candidly tell the Iraqi government that America expects certain goals to be met as we go forward, and they must comply with that. If they’re going to continue allowing this sectarian violence, we must factor that into our thinking, asking ourselves how much more we’re going to invest in a nation that may, in fact, not want to remain a nation.

A simple or strict timetable for doing this, however, will not work, and the Iraq Study Group recognizes this. In fact, in their report, they don’t say that America would be out of Iraq by 2008, but that we could be. In the interim, in addition to pressing the Iraqis to achieve milestones, we probably should look at some short-term change in strategy.

For instance, members of the study group suggest that, instead of considering more American troops for the long term, we should isolate the areas where most of the violence is happening, like Baghdad, and have a “surge capability.” This means we infuse overwhelming force into problem areas for a limited time as needed, targeting very specific people and places.

I disagree with the study group’s suggestion that America open up a dialogue with Iran and Syria. Talking only works when the other party is rational and listening. Syria and Iran aren’t known for rationality or the ability to be good listeners.

Just this week Iran sponsored a symposium to determine if the Holocaust ever happened. That’s an insult not only to descendants of the Jewish people and the political prisoners murdered by Adolph Hitler, but to thousands of aging American GIs who fought their way across Europe 60 years ago to liberate dozens of Nazi concentration camps. Forgive me if, like millions of Americans, I don’t believe that dialogue with delusional dictators in Iran and Syria will bear much fruit.

Iraq has an unprecedented opportunity, one that could result in its becoming much more prosperous and free than its people could imagine, and more powerful than its two rogue neighbors, Iran and Syria, could ever want. But the clock is ticking. America’s military largely has done its part, waging a successful campaign that dethroned a terrible tyrant. The Iraqis themselves now are responsible for their political future. They must define a government that is a success in the eye of any beholder.

(Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office))