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  Friday, March 6, 2015
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A New Approach In Iraq
By Stephen F. Lynch
     Lately it seems that the national debate over the next move in Iraq has become bogged down in a way that reflects the military struggle itself. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have "dug in," entrenched in the belief that simply by "staying the course," they can militarily outlast the insurgency. Conversely, some on the left, angered by war under false pretenses, seek a pell-mell evacuation, complete with a publicly-announced evacuation date, making the withdrawal of 136,000 troops more dangerous and difficult.

     But, drawing upon the lessons of history, I would suggest a third way: creating a mechanism to more effectively empower the newly-elected Iraqi government, thereby allowing gradual but permanent U.S. troop reductions.

     At the close of World War II, after driving Japanese forces from the Philippines with the help of the Filipino resistance, the U.S. military found itself in complete control of that country. In the absence of a stable Philippine government, the U.S. military assumed responsibility for all basic government services.

     While U.S. policy at the time strongly supported Filipino independence, the U.S. military had no choice but to temporarily exercise control under the fragile circumstances. Clearly, that situation could not endure indefinitely, and what the Congress and the Roosevelt Administration, and later the Truman Administration, did next was instructive.

     In 1944, the Congress passed and President Roosevelt signed the Filipino Rehabilitation Act (P.L. 381), which created a national commission, comprised of three appointees each from the White House, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. Their mission was to plan, coordinate, and oversee the transition of government operations from the U.S. military to the nascent Filipino government.

     There are certainly arguable differences between the Philippines in 1944 and Iraq in 2006. However, after five visits to Iraq and dozens of meetings with General George Casey and top generals and officers in the field, as well as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, I believe the critical weakness in our current strategy is this persistent inability to empower the new Iraqi government.

     With this in mind, I recently drafted and filed "The Iraq Transition Act of 2006," H.R. 5716. Drawing from the Philippines model, I have proposed the establishment of a national bipartisan commission comprised of appointees from the White House, U.S. Senate and U.S. House, whose specific and targeted purpose would be "to help facilitate an orderly, deliberate, and expeditious transition from U.S. military control to Iraqi civilian control."

     It is important to remember that the transition to civilian control in Iraq is truly a political process. And while I have many times witnessed the excellence with which our military has performed in Iraq, I also believe it is a strategic disservice to the military for us to add the burden of political reconciliation to the massive security and reconstruction missions that they are now shouldering.

     Simply put, the newly-created Commission on Iraqi Transition would be held directly responsible for working with the military leadership and Department of State to accomplish the transition to Iraqi civilian control and to regularly report its progress to the Congress, the President and the American people.

While this approach may not satisfy the "stay the course" advocates or those who would prefer to announce a date certain for withdrawal, I believe it offers a responsible and workable plan for two important reasons. Firstly, it introduces a level of direct accountability to the political transition process that does not now exist and has made measuring progress extremely difficult. And secondly, it has precedent and success to support it and may offer the best opportunity for the earliest withdrawal of U.S. forces, while leaving the Iraqi people with the greatest chance for preserving their newly-found democracy.

Stephen F. Lynch is a United States Congressman, representing the 9th District of Massachusetts.

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