The Daily Oklahoman
The conflict in Iraq has cost our nation far more in lives and resources than we imagined at its onset, yet this is no reason to retreat — we cannot afford to lose. We must maintain a determined, yet flexible strategy, one that allows us to take the fight to the enemy while enabling us to react to the fluid circumstances of war.
I have had several opportunities to observe firsthand the situation on the ground in Iraq and I have generally been encouraged by what I have witnessed. Last January, I traveled to Iraq after the first permanent free elections. The pride and excitement was palpable as I spoke with Iraqis who for the first time exercised their new freedom in shaping their families' futures. I believed that the country was on a positive course and progressing towards a functioning democratic society.
I returned to Iraq in June last year. At that time, we had just killed the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the final Iraqi cabinet positions had been appointed. I was optimistic as a result of these accomplishments, but the implications from the bombing of the Golden Mosque had not yet been felt. I was told by Iraqi leadership that there were sufficient numbers of American troops to provide security for the country. Several U.S. generals agreed with the Iraqis' assessment and said that our current strategic focus was to emphasize a significant increase in the number of combat ready Iraqi troops.
Since that time, the trajectory of Iraq has changed. While I do not join those who would throw up their arms and claim defeat in the face of setbacks, I will say that we have made some errors. The president was right to take responsibility for decisions that have turned out for the worse. Despite the missteps, I share the president's outlook that losing is not an option and that with the proper sustained strategy we can win in Iraq. To those who want to leave Iraq without winning, I contend that fighting terrorists in Iraq is better than fighting them in America.
The ominous consequences of failing in Iraq will be borne by our children and grandchildren. Radical Islam will gain a base of operations for targeting free societies. Terrorists will be emboldened by victory and Iran's intentions to dominate the region will proceed unchecked. Increased threat to energy supplies could create an unimaginable global energy crisis. We have given so much to avert this scenario and we must give more.
We get one last shot here and we must focus on the situation at hand, not the past. I support the president's recommitment to winning. Our own military has stated that increasing the number of troops in Iraq is a necessary component for victory. Let's do it right. Identical to our own troops' mission, we cannot expect victory from the Iraqis unless we help provide them with the means to win. We must issue American soldiers and Iraqi troops the proper equipment to successfully carry out their missions. Having said this, the Iraqis must ultimately be held accountable for the security of their own country. This will be costly, but it is absolutely necessary if America is to prevail.
Combating and containing terrorism remains the challenge of this and future generations. If we quit now, we are assured of defeat in the immediate theater, the surrounding region and possibly around the globe. Make no mistake, if we leave Iraq now without winning, we will be forced to return and fight this war again.
Inhofe is Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator.