Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) made the following statement today following his return from a recent trip to Iraq where he visited with troops, military leaders and Iraqi government officials:

“Our troops deserve the highest praise for their hard work and dedication to their mission in Iraq. Over and over again, I encountered our servicemen and women and witnessed their dedication to their mission and to the Iraqi people. Despite the difficulties they face, they are working nobly and earnestly to help make Iraq a better and safer place. I join with all Americans in saluting our troops in Iraq.

Progress is being made in Iraq. However, the Bush Administration’s failure of leadership has made the tasks of our servicemen and women more difficult than it had to be. Disbanding the Iraqi army, failing to adequately plan for winning the peace and our arrogant, unilateral approach to the reconstruction of Iraq were just a few of several large mistakes.

Elections for a new democratically-elected Iraqi government will occur on December 15th. After those elections, we must move quickly to turn over more responsibility to that government. While I think it’s problematic to immediately withdraw our troops, I recognize that our presence in Iraq is also a unifying force that brings together ex-Saddam loyalists, disgruntled Sunnis, and foreign terrorists.  Our troops have become the rallying point of the insurgency that they have been asked to contain.  Reducing our troop levels and making it clear we will not have permanent military bases in Iraq will undercut the insurgents’ support by showing Iraqis that we are not there as occupiers. By reducing our troops in an orderly way after this election, it will give the government more legitimacy by showing that they are truly responsible for stabilizing their country. 

The strain on our troops is evident and our military is stretched too thin. We need to accelerate and enhance the training of Iraqi troops in order to make Iraqis responsible for their own security.  As Iraqis stand up more competent security forces, we can drawdown our forces more quickly so that Iraqis have a clear signal that we are leaving, and so the Iraqi government becomes less dependent on U.S. protection.

Regardless of why we went to war or what mistakes have been made thus far in Iraq, we must focus now on getting it right, as failure could mean a greater threat down the road.  But we must also be realistic about our goals and move swiftly to achieve them so that we can bring our troops home as soon as possible.”