In a lengthy phone call with Rep. Ellen Tauscher this afternoon following her White House debriefing about her fourth trip to Iraq, she once again expressed her continued dissatisfaction with the pace of political progress there.
(Tauscher posted a very interesting web diary during her trip. Click here to read her entries.)
“It’s very apparent that the Iraqis have woefully abused the military surge and the modicum of security that it has provided,” said Tauscher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and chairwoman of its strategic arms sub-committee. “The military surge was promised as an opportunity for the Iraqis to have a political surge but they have not redoubled their efforts for any significant political reconciliation, which is the only way to stop the civil war.”
Tauscher led a three-member delegation to Iraq and they spent 36 hours on the ground in Baghdad over the weekend meeting with four of the top five Iraqi government leaders, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
She was joined by reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Jon Porter, R-Nev.
Tauscher has stayed away from Baghdad for the past two years, convinced there was little new to see. But she decided to return in advance of Petraeus’ planned September report on the status of the military surge to Congress. In addition, a 70-page report assessing the military and political conditions in Iraq by the General Accountability Office is scheduled to be delivered to Congress next Tuesday. And a second report, by an independent commission of military experts, is being drafted.
On the heels of these reports, Congress is expected to debate another war funding supplemental bill.
“September is going to be the perfect storm on Iraq,” Tauscher said.
A trip to Baghdad for a member of Congress is a hyper-security event. Tauscher wore body armor, a helmet and rode in armored vehicles, an uncomfortable experience in the 115-plus-degree heat even for trained soldiers. She slept in the military’s version of a VIP dormitory and was under guard nearly every single minute of her stay.
In Tauscher’s web diary, she repeatedly makes the point that she will never complain about the pizza-oven heat, the heavy clothing or the tight security.
“These brave soldiers are wearing evening gear, long sleeved uniforms AND carrying their equipment, water, and weapons,” she wrote on Saturday. “I’m leaving tomorrow night and they have weeks or months to serve and survive. God bless them all.”
But it is a war zone and there are no guarantees of safety. The military compound where Tauscher slept came under a mortar attack at 4 a.m. Sunday. She awoke but thought the noise came from the air conditioner and fell back asleep.
During the delegates’ whirlwind of meetings, Tauscher said she told Iraqi leaders they must do more to resolve their sectarian conflicts and reach a consensus government.
“They responded with a litany of excuses, including the fact that it is dangerous and hard and at different moments, they blame each other,” Tauscher said. “It’s like a bad divorce with everyone pointing fingers.”
Tauscher says she expects Petraeus to ask Congress to give the military surge more time despite evidence that the U.S. cannot physically sustain the troop levels in Iraq.
“He will say that the military surge has had some success — he will claim more success than I think he can — and he will say that the risk of leaving is too great,” Tauscher said.
Back in Washington, D.C., Tauscher debriefed with Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House official assigned to handle Iraq issues.
In addition to her general observations, Tauscher said she recommended to Lute that the U.S. close down the so-called “Green Zone,” a heavily secured area of Baghdad that houses Iraq’s parliament.
“I call it the ‘Green Zone Fog,’ a dangerous group-think area where the diplomats and the government and military officials all use the same clauses, nouns and inflections,” she said. “It’s all air conditioned, all security all the time and it’s just the wrong optic. The Iraqi parliament needs to get out of the Green Zone so their constituents can see them.”
She also called for the U.S. to vacate Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, particularly Camp Victory where Petraeus has his headquarters.
“Those optics are wrong, too,” she said.
The U.S. has run out of good options in Iraq and continuing on the current path will only increase the risk to national security, Tauscher concluded.
“Leaving Iraq is going to have significant repercussions but staying doesn’t assure that the Iraqis get their act together or that the region steps up to help stabilize Iraq,” Tauscher said.
To that end, Tauscher sent a letter to President George Bush calling for a “Cairo Reconciliation Summit in October with the United Nations, European Union and the Arab League to provide a forum for sectarian reconciliation and confidence building measures for the Iraqi government.”
UPDATE: ThinkProgress also did an interview with Tauscher. Click here for the link.