On April 8, 2003, U.S. Marine Lt. Brian Chontosh charged an ambush on the way to Baghdad, wiping out a trench full of enemy soldiers. His heroics were replicated by other Americans hundreds of times in the succeeding years as the United States fought its way, by trial and error, to ultimate victory in 2008. Taking Baghdad quickly in 2003, America was hit with the double ignition of the Sunni and Shiite conflicts in 2004. Al Qaeda swarmed into Fallujah to complicate the U.S. challenge. Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist Shiite cleric with ties to Iran, threw the Mahdi Army at every outpost of the fragile democratic government America was incubating.
For three tough years, we slogged through a nation-building process challenged by extreme violence, corruption, scandal and all the other problems that were inevitable in an Iraq “rebuild.”
Then the turnaround began. The Marines and soldiers in western Iraq’s Anbar province produced a minor miracle when, in September 2006, they persuaded a small group of Sunni tribal leaders to join America and turn their guns on al Qaeda. The change of sides became an irreversible tidal wave in 2007, and al Qaeda was crushed in Anbar.
Eastern Iraq and Baghdad in particular remained in chaos. In January 2007, President George W. Bush - his back to the wall, facing a chorus of “get out of Iraq” voices from the left, his majority in Congress wiped out in the most recent election and the leaders of a blue-ribbon “Iraq panel” moving him gently toward the exit - refused to quit. On Jan. 10, 2007, he announced the deployment of five additional brigades - 20,000 troops - to Iraq.
The move, designed to stabilize Baghdad, was called the “surge.” As soon as the announcement was made, then-Sen, Joseph R. Biden rushed a Senate resolution to the floor condemning the surge. He was joined in his opposition by Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Edward M. Kennedy and other liberals in the Senate.
In the House, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi presented her own “anti-surge” resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 63. The bill passed the House 246-182 but failed to reach the 60 votes needed to break the Republican filibuster in the Senate. Unstopped by the Democrats, the 20,000 troops deployed to Iraq.
The surge worked. Baghdad and its environs calmed down to the degree that Gen. David H. Petraeus was able to report to Congress a 70 percent decrease in violence in September 2007. While Baghdad was stabilizing, Sheik al-Sadr, the extremist cleric and Iran’s cat’s paw, took over Iraq’s oil-terminus city of Basra with his Mahdi Army. In March, 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, standing up to Sheik al-Sadr for the first time, sent the U.S.-trained 1st Iraqi Division to drive the Mahdi Army from Basra. It did just that, then pivoted and cleaned out Sadr City and the Diyala River Valley. The Iraq war had been won.
President Obama has never acknowledged the victory that was won by the 1 million-plus Americans who fought through 110-degree heat, carried combat loads of more than 100 pounds and experienced separation from loved ones, danger and death.
The president, along with his secretary of state and vice president, tried to block the surge, which certainly was one of the touchdown passes of the Iraq victory. The president, as the final occupation forces leave, tepidly announces that he has “ended” the war. The statement is false.
The Iraq war was ended by victory - an American victory. The elected government of Iraq is holding firm. The Iraqi military built by America is holding firm. We have an ally, instead of an enemy, in a critical location. The victory was brought about by Americans like Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who pulled burning GIs from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle even as he himself was on fire. It was brought about by medics like Specialist J.A. Lamkin who rescued the wounded, going through machine-gun fire as if it were a light rain. It was brought about by Marines and soldiers who were every bit as heroic as those who climbed the cliffs of Normandy or assaulted over the coral ridges of the Pacific Islands.
Just as America gave away a big piece of the allied victory in World War II when Josef Stalin dropped the Iron Curtain over Eastern Europe following the Yalta Conference, it is in the power of Mr. Obama to throw away big pieces of the victory in Iraq.
It is not, however, in the power of Mr. Obama to end the Iraq war. That was accomplished before he became president, by the victory of 1 million American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Despite his attempts to stop the surge, we won. Our troops don’t need the pity-mush that liberals in Washington are doling out to them. Let’s just tell them, “Thanks for winning.” It will be plenty.
Retired Republican Rep. Duncan L. Hunter was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and is author of “Victory in Iraq” (Genesis Press, 2010).