U.S. Needs Time Frame on Iraq Mission

It’s been nearly two and a half years since the president gave a triumphant speech about

Iraq before a banner declaring, “Mission Accomplished.”

But while he was right to celebrate the skill and bravery of the U.S. military forces that deposed Saddam Hussein, he was wrong about where we stood.

Years later, our troops are in the midst of a brutal insurgency, and the U.S. continues to pour hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into Iraq.

To this day, the president still hasn’t provided the American people with a clear, convincing explanation of our remaining mission in Iraq, and how it fits into a broader strategy to prevail in the fight against terrorism.

In June, I introduced a resolution calling for the president to clarify the military mission in Iraq and lay out a plan and flexible time frame for accomplishing that mission. This doesn’t seem like much to ask for — after all, if we don’t have a clear plan and time frame, we cannot hold ourselves accountable for giving the military the tools they need to succeed in achieving those goals. My resolution also calls on the president to submit a plan and time frame for the subsequent return home of U.S. troops, so that we provide some clarity about our intentions and restore confidence at home and abroad.

But instead of the clarity my resolution called for, the administration has provided only confusion, in the form of conflicting signals about the duration of U.S. troop deployments. That’s why I have proposed a target time frame for the completion of the military mission in Iraq, and suggested Dec. 31, 2006, as the target date for the completion of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

I felt obligated to try to jumpstart a discussion about just what remains for our military to accomplish in Iraq, when our troops can come home, and how we can get our national security focus back on a viable strategy to combat terrorist networks around the world.

The president and others have criticized this approach. They have suggested that to question the path that we are on is to undermine our united commitment to support our troops. And some believe that any discussion of time frames, flexible or otherwise, is basically code for a “withdraw now” agenda. It’s almost as if talking about completing the mission in Iraq has become taboo.

The men and women of the U.S. armed forces deserve our admiration, our respect and our unflagging support. But they also deserve sound policy from elected officials.

We must not accept a false choice between supporting the status quo and cutting and running. The status quo is a rudderless course without a clear destination, and it is not leading to strength. In fact, it is making America weaker and our enemies stronger.

Staying the course is driving the all-volunteer Army off a cliff, and it is providing dangerous opportunities for the very terrorist networks that wish to do us harm. We need to refocus on fighting and defeating the terrorist network that attacked this country on Sept. 11, 2001, and that means making sure that our Iraq policy is consistent with that global effort, rather than letting Iraq dominate our security strategy and drain vital security resources for an unlimited amount of time.

My proposal for a target date will strengthen our position in Iraq and our larger fight against global terrorism by:

• Reassuring the American people that our Iraq policy is not directionless.

• Encouraging Iraqi ownership of the transition process and bolstering the legitimacy of the Iraqi authorities.

• Undermining the recruiting efforts and the unity of insurgents.

• Most importantly, facilitating a broader discussion of our real national security priorities.

It’s time for members of Congress, especially those from my own party, to be less timid while this administration neglects urgent national security priorities in favor of staying a flawed policy course in Iraq.

It’s time to restore the confidence of the American people. It’s time to put Iraq in the context of a broader vision for our national security. It’s time to regain a position of strength.

That starts with sustained attention, debate and, at last, a plan and a target time frame for the completion of the military mission in Iraq.

Sen. Russ Feingold is a Democrat from Wisconsin.