It’s a shame that the majority of the press on John McCain this week has focused on the fracas within his presidential campaign. What has been lost in all the drama (besides momentum and advisors) is this week’s most reasoned and valid argument for continuing the US military presence in Iraq. That’s unfortunate because in his remarks McCain delivers a solid if not glowing or rosy portrait of what is happening on the ground in Iraq and why-even though it is hard to ask for more-patience and diligence, indeed as he puts it courage, from the American people (and I include in this group our elected officials) is needed in regards to US involvement in Iraq. Here are some excerpts:
“The most dramatic advances have been made in Anbar Province, a region that last year was widely believed to be lost to al Qaeda. After an offensive by U.S. and Iraqi troops cleaned al Qaeda fighters out of Ramadi and other areas of western Anbar, the province’s tribal sheikhs broke formally with the terrorists and joined the coalition side. Ramadi, which just months ago stood as Iraq’s most dangerous city, is now one of its safest. In February, attacks in Ramadi averaged between 30 and 35; now many days see no attacks at all – no gunfire, no IEDs, and no suicide bombings. In Falluja, Iraqi police have established numerous stations and have divided the city into gated districts, leading to a decline in violence. Local intelligence tips have proliferated in the province, thousands of men are signing up for the police and army, and the locals are taking the fight to al Qaeda. U.S. commanders in Anbar attest that all 18 major tribes in the province are now on board with the security plan, and they expect that a year from now the Iraqi army and police could have total control of security in Ramadi. At that point, they project, we could safely draw down American forces in the area.
“The Anbar model is one that our military is attempting to replicate in other parts of Iraq, with some real successes. A brigade of the 10th Mountain Division is operating in the areas south of Baghdad, the belts around the capital which have been havens for al Qaeda and other insurgents. All soldiers in the brigade are “living forward,” and commanders report that the local sheikhs are increasingly siding with the coalition against al Qaeda, the main enemy in that area of operations. Southeast of Baghdad, the military is targeting al Qaeda in safe havens they maintain along the Tigris River. These and other efforts are part of Operation Phantom Thunder, a military operation intended to stop insurgents present in the Baghdad belts from originating attacks in the capital itself….
“Let us keep in the front of our minds the likely consequences of premature withdrawal from Iraq. Many of my colleagues would like to believe that, should any of the various amendments forcing a withdrawal become law, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous, and more arduous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.”
The full text is worth reading and seriously considering. I would even recommend a gander to the White House speechwriting department and those advisors who have been cited as supporting a new course due to recent Iraq defections among Republican members of the US Senate. To read the President’s version presented at a news conference this morning visit the White House website.