Alaska editorial: Sen. Stevens fails to see beyond military part of Iraq mission

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007

The man President Bush nominated to run the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "there is no purely military solution in Iraq."

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That point seems lost on Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Ted Stevens.

Talking earlier this month to the Daily News editorial board, Sen. Stevens seemed stuck on his view that the Iraq war should be left to the generals. When Sen. Stevens was asked what specifically the U.S. should do in Iraq (besides his oft-repeated warning not pull out immediately), he said:

"I'm not a general. What the hell would you ask me that for? ... I don't make any military plans. I review them, and I give them money. ... I don't have any idea what they should do at this point."

Sen. Stevens might want to listen closely to what U.S. military leaders say about the limits of U.S. military power in Iraq.

Adm. Mullen has warned Congress and the country against asking the impossible of U.S. troops. Thanks to the surge, "security is better; not great, but better." The Iraqi government now has some breathing room, according to Adm. Mullen, but if the Iraqis don't take advantage of it, "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference."

Sen. Stevens has hailed the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, as a potential Eisenhower. Here's what Gen. Petraeus said in June, speaking to the British paper The Times.

"You can have operational successes, but what sustains those is progress on the political front. It is reconciliation. The coming together of various parties and sectarian groupings in Iraq. What happened in Anbar was political. What the military action did was capitalize on a political sea-change." (Gen Petraeus was referring to the decision of Sunni leaders in Anbar to work with the U.S. to rid their province of al-Qaida.)

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski understands the limits of U.S. military power in Iraq. She has called for a "civilian surge" to accompany the military surge.

If a "civilian surge" is in the works, it's the best-kept secret in Washington. More than four years after invading Iraq, the U.S. still can't ensure basic services like electricity and water are delivered. The vast majority of Iraqis see no benefit from the oil that is being pumped out of the country under U.S. protection. Suicide bombings occur almost daily.

Eleven Cabinet ministers have quit the Shiite-led Iraqi government. The New York Times reported this week that kidnappers in Iraqi Army uniforms invaded a fortified government compound and grabbed several high-ranking members of the oil ministry.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee along with Adm. Mullen. Asked how the continuing chaos in Iraq's government and civilian life was affecting troops' morale, Gen. Cartwright said:

"They believe in their mission ... but there comes a point at which they're going to look at that and say, 'How much longer and for what price?' if progress isn't seen."

Members of the U.S. Congress should be asking themselves that very question.

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