Congressman Lynch Testifies Before The House Foreign Affairs Committee On His Iraq Legislation

Mar 20, 2007

On Tuesday, March 20, Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA) testified at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ hearing, "U.S. Policy in Iraq.”  Congressman Lynch was asked by the Committee to testify on his legislation, "The Iraq Transition Act” (H.R. 533), legislation that would speed the transition of control of basic government functions from the U.S. military to the Iraqi government, enabling us to begin withdrawal of our troops.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "Rep. Lynch provided thought-provoking testimony on his legislation concerning the most pressing foreign policy issue that America confronts today – the conflict in Iraq.  The legislation is thoughtful and serious. I appreciate this opportunity to hear from him, and the Committee will consider the legislation carefully.”

 

Lynch serves on the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs and has traveled to Iraq five times.  He is planning to return to Iraq and Afghanistan in the next month.  Below is the text of Congressman Lynch’s remarks:

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen, and Members of the Committee, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you this morning.

After five visits to Iraq, I continue to be struck by the inability of the Iraqi government to step up and take over control of Iraq’s basic operations.  Instead, four years later, it is still our brave sons and daughters who are responsible for the daily operations in that country.

This week, as Congress debates troop withdrawal based on specific benchmarks for the Iraqi government, I would like to propose a mechanism to more effectively hold the Iraqi government accountable for attaining these benchmarks and create the conditions necessary for an orderly withdrawal.    Drawing from the lessons of history, I recommend the establishment of a national bipartisan commission comprised of appointees from the White House, House and Senate, 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.

After five visits to Iraq and dozens of meetings with General George Casey, General Abizaid, General Petraeus, and top generals and officers in the field, as well as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, I believe that the critical weakness in our current strategy is the persistent reluctance of the Iraqi government to take control of government operations.

For example, when I was in Fallujah last April and local residents experienced problems with water and electricity, it was engineers from the United States Marines that went out to get the water and electricity running again. These are functions that by now should be in the hands of the Iraqi government.  They were elected over two years ago, yet they still do not handle the basic day-to-day duties of the government.

Not only does this place further strain on United States troops, it also undermines the Iraqi government.  Despite U.S. efforts to date to promote the emergence of a free-standing Iraqi government and political system, the view amongst Iraqis that the United States is running their country has doubled in the past year.  If the Iraqi people continue to rely on the United States and coalition forces for the daily duties of government and consider their own Iraqi government a mere puppet, the credibility of the Iraqi government will deteriorate even faster. 

Instead, the Iraqi government needs to step up and take control.  It is only human nature that as long as someone is willing to do everything for you, and pay for it, you will let them. Consequently, the United States needs to implement a structure that will create conditions necessary for U.S. withdrawal.  This proposed 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. 

This is a tested model, based on the U.S. experience in the Philippines at the end 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 the Philippines.  In the absence of a stable Philippine government, the U.S. military assumed responsibility for 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 and, I think, worth repeating.

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

Of course, there are certainly differences between the situations on the ground in the Philippines in 1944 and Iraq in 2007. But we can still learn valuable lessons from history and implement structures that have succeeded before. 

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.

While this approach may not satisfy those advocating for immediate withdrawal or those supporting the president’s surge, 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 embracing their nascent democracy.

I look forward to working with this committee to push forward responsible legislation on Iraq.  I hope that they will join me in this regard and support H.R. 533.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back the remainder of my time.

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