When President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln four years ago tomorrow, my soldiers and I were preparing ourselves to deploy into Baghdad. We listened intently to the speech he gave because he was our Commander in Chief and we were preparing to go into battle under his command.
My soldiers and I watched as our comrades blitzed their way to Baghdad and in a few short weeks toppled Saddam's regime, even tearing down the dictators statues along the way. I was honored to be leading my platoon into a battle which I believed would both defend our nation and bring freedom to an oppressed people.
As the president stood in front of the now infamous Mission Accomplished banner and announced, "my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," a tremendous sense of pride filled my soul.
Our leader, the man standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier half way around the world, exuded so much confidence that my soldiers and I mentally prepared ourselves for a short six month stint in Iraq's capital. I was a believer!
"Now," the president said, "our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country." I understood this, but I began to question why only days before convoying to Baghdad we still did not have any idea what our mission was going to be. I searched out an infantry platoon sergeant to train my artillery men on basic tactics such as raiding houses or patrolling down streets. I still expected that our leader had a plan for us to execute. I may have questioned, but I was a believer.
As we crossed the Kuwaiti border into the desert of Iraq in the dead night my platoon sergeant and I removed the back plates from our body armor to share with the soldiers in our vehicle who had no protection. We were nearly sickened to think that we would be sent to battle without the proper equipment, but we had faith that our leader was seeing a bigger picture and understood the risk. I was a believer.
When my soldiers and I took over our section of Baghdad from the battled hardened 3rd Infantry Division we were preparing to execute the plan for "securing and reconstructing" that our leader talked about. Driving around the streets of Baghdad it became quickly evident that the Iraqi people were desperate for some basic social and economic needs. Sewage, waste, jobs and other basic needs were not being met.
As a commander on the ground, I expected those leading me to provide me the guidance and systems for my soldiers to implement. I expected there to be a Phase IV for us to execute so we could become "engaged in securing and reconstructing" that our leader talked about in front of the Mission Accomplished banner.
I was a believer, but I was betrayed.
Thomas Ricks, in his book Fiasco, and many others have now proved that there was NO plan for reconstruction. Lieutenant Colonel Alan King recalls, in What Was Asked of Us, as he rolled into Baghdad Airport "they told me I had twenty-four hours to come up with a reconstruction plan for Baghdad."
My platoon and I were not the only ones to feel this betrayal. The Iraqi people began to notice that their simple needs were not being met. Ahmed, an Iraqi friend, asked me, "America has been to the moon, why can't you pick up our trash?" I wondered the same thing as Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority quickly rejected any efforts the ground troops made in preference to the American contractors who did not show up for months. These stories have all been told.
It was because of this betrayal that Baghdad began to slowly deteriorate into the situation we now see today.
Mr. Bush, my soldiers and I secured Baghdad in the summer of 2003. We drove the streets without doors on our Humvees and ate dinner in the homes of the Iraqis people. We needed a plan to address our basic responsibility of social and economic solutions for the nation's needs.
Four years later you now send more troops into Baghdad who are beginning to build walls around neighborhoods such as Adhamiya, where I was stationed, against the wishes of the Iraq people. Your goal is to secure Baghdad, but you again fail to address the social, economic and now more importantly the political issues.
Even General Petraeus, the current commander in Iraq, admits that the solution to this fiasco is not a military one.
As more soldiers enter Baghdad, the Iraqi politicians have made no progress on issues such as oil sharing or reconciliation. Building walls and surging the number of troops is not the answer. The Iraqi politicians have no incentive to solve these solutions while American soldiers secure the front lines in an endless commitment.
Mr. President, you betrayed the American soldiers and the Iraqi people once already by failing to plan for the aftermath of Saddam's regime. Tomorrow, on the anniversary of your now infamous Mission Accomplished speech, you have an opportunity to win back at least a little of our faith in your leadership.
You have the opportunity to sign Congress's bill which provides your own funding requests, your own milestones, and a timetable to force the hand of Iraq's leaders. The American people support this timetable, the troops support this timetable, Iraq's leaders support this timetable, and Congress has approved this timetable. It is time to get on board.
Mr. President, this is not a time to expand our military involvement in this war. This bill gives you a reasonable way to de-escalate our troop's involvement and push the Iraqi leadership into the social, economic, and political solutions needed to bring stability to the people of the region.
On the anniversary of your now infamous miscalculation of our mission in Iraq you now have to move Iraqi in a new direction. The American people have spoken, Congress has spoken, and now Mr. Bush it is your turn.