Published March 2009 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Whither Iraq or Afghanistan? March 19, 2009, marked the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since March 2003, when -- despite my warnings -- President Bush initiated a pre-emptive war to destroy non-existent weapons of mass destruction, 4,260 American troops have lost their lives in Iraq, and more than $700 billion in taxpayers dollars have been drained from the U.S. economy.
Today, the outcome is still in question. Difficult issues involving corruption, refugees, oil profits and Kurdish autonomy are unresolved. We have been told that the surge was a major success, but nearly 150,000 troops remain in Iraq to maintain so-called "stability." Is this really success? The Pentagon continues to wear down active duty forces and rely on reserve and National Guard components and the practice of "stop loss." We have been training Iraqi soldiers for years. When will they be ready? Will Iraq be a stable force in the region and a reliable partner in the war on terror? These important questions underlie our presence in Iraq. The lack of answers is of grave concern.
The White House says that combat forces will remain in Iraq through August 2010, and up to 50,000 troops will be required until December 31, 2011, training Iraqis and protecting U.S. citizens and assets. We will be called upon to pour more billions of dollars into Iraq at a time when many Americans are hurting. Amid an economic crisis, the U.S. continues to shoulder the vast economic and military burden in Iraq, and there are no statutory guarantees that the President will adhere to the timelines.
Meanwhile, after over seven years of floundering policy and 671 American troops killed, stability in Afghanistan remains threatened. I await clarification from President Obama about a strategic policy for that region. Is the principal objective to capture Osama bin Laden and defeat al Qaeda or topple the Taliban? Is our objective to turn Afghanistan into a successful state and develop a partner in the war on terrorism? How long will it take and what will it cost?
As for the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who served and are still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, history has already judged• them heroes. In the finest American tradition, they have served bravely and with great valor, and often with great sacrifice. To each of them, and to their families, we can only say, "Thank you."
March 25, 2009