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Washington Post Editorial - A Strategy for Iraq

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Washington Post Editorial - A Strategy for Iraq
By John F. Kerry

Tuesday, April 13, 2004; Page A19

To be successful in Iraq, and in any war for that matter, our use of force must be tied to a political objective more complete than the ouster of a regime. To date, that has not happened in Iraq. It is time it did.

In the past week the situation in Iraq has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. While we may have differed on how we went to war, Americans of all political persuasions are united in our determination to succeed. The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops. Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission.

But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them. Progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. Yet the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq. We need a political strategy that will work.

Over the past year the Bush administration has advanced several plans for a transition to democratic rule in Iraq. Each of those plans, after proving to be unworkable, was abandoned. The administration has set a date (June 30) for returning authority to an Iraqi entity to run the country, but there is no agreement with the Iraqis on how it will be constituted to make it representative enough to have popular legitimacy. Because of the way the White House has run the war, we are left with the United States bearing most of the costs and risks associated with every aspect of the Iraqi transition. We have lost lives, time, momentum and credibility. And we are seeing increasing numbers of Iraqis lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what the Bush administration has and hasn't done.

In recent weeks the administration-in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts-has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. The United States can bolster Brahimi's limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police.

We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers. The events of the past week will make foreign governments extremely reluctant to put their citizens at risk. That is why international acceptance of responsibility for stabilizing Iraq must be matched by international authority for managing the remainder of the Iraqi transition. The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility.

Finally, we must level with our citizens. Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone. The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people.

This morning, as we sit down to read newspapers in the comfort of our homes or offices, we have an obligation to think of our fighting men and women in Iraq who awake each morning to a shooting gallery in which it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish friend from foe, and the death of every innocent creates more enemies. We owe it to our soldiers and Marines to use absolutely every tool we can muster to help them succeed in their mission without exposing them to unnecessary risk. That is not a partisan proposal. It is a matter of national honor and trust.

Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

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