I am currently in the Middle East on a fact-finding mission for the House Armed Services Committee, in advance of Gen. David Petraeus’s September report on our progress in Iraq. I have traveled to Iraq on three previous occasions — I was here, in fact, just five days after U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein in December of 2003 — but I have never been in the combat zone at such a critical and momentous time.
Just two days ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Gen. Petraeus at his home. Although I cannot reveal the specific military details he shared during our meeting, due to the ongoing risk to our troops, I can share that his September progress report may be far more positive than what the far left expects.
Gen. Petraeus gave a detailed report on the advancements made by coalition forces, especially in eradicating the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq. The general was not playing to a room full of supporters, either: He spoke candidly to our bipartisan delegation, which also included some very outspoken Democratic members involved with the “Out of Iraq Caucus.” Gen. Petraeus did not pull any punches in describing our current military challenges; he simply spoke from the heart on our progress, and made an impact on every single one of us present at the meeting — regardless of party affiliation.
After hearing a report on the military’s progress, I moved out into the 100-plus degree heat of the Iraqi desert to see our troops in action. What I witnessed was a truly unified effort between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi forces to bring peace to that war-torn country. In the past, Iraqi forces have been criticized for their lack of commitment; that sort of languid attitude was nowhere to be found during this trip. I believe that the Iraqi troops are encouraged by the increased commitment President Bush has shown by increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. No one who witnessed the integration of coalition forces could deny that we are making progress. For the first time, I felt that the Iraqi soldiers had ownership of this mission and realized the importance of the goals that our nations share.
While great progress on the military front was evident, the same cannot be said on the political side. Our delegation addressed this discrepancy as we met with Dr. Barham Salih, deputy prime minister of Iraq. I expressed our disappointment and impatience with the Iraqi government on its failure to meet commonsense benchmarks for political stability. In no uncertain terms, I told the deputy prime minister that while the American people would allow Congress little more time to achieve victory, absolutely no time was left for the government of Iraq to drag its feet.
One would hope that all the negative rhetoric coming out of Washington is a genuine desire to do what is best for our nation, and not simply political pandering for the next election. Unfortunately, that is not the case. After talking to Gen. Petraeus and hearing from our troops on the ground, I am convinced that many members of Congress have failed to heed the views of our military at every level.
Two nights ago, I sat down in one of the base mess halls with several Georgia soldiers stationed in Iraq. Over dinner, these soldiers discussed the pride that they have in the job they are doing in Iraq. Their positive morale was a welcome change from the negativity that I hear every day in Washington. While they made it clear that they missed their families, they stressed that now was not the time to pull them out of Iraq.
If the very soldiers defending our country are not suffering from war fatigue, we owe it to them to honor their service and their sacrifice, and give them every chance to carry out this crucial mission.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D., a Republican from Georgia, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.