Should the U.S. Occupation of Iraq Continue?

October 17, 2007

A document-based lesson by educator Alan Singer asks students to consider Bush's arguments and opposing views.

In September 2007, President Bush spoke to the American people about the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and its efforts to create a modern, democratic, nation. In the speech President Bush promised a gradual, but slight, reduction in the number of American troops stationed in Iraq during the next year. President Bush's speech followed testimony to the U.S. Congress by General George Petraeus, who is in charge of U.S. military operations in Iraq. General Petraeus argued that the escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq during the past year had helped to stabilize the country and made eventual U.S. success more likely.

There is tremendous disagreement in the U.S. about the success of U.S. policy in Iraq. There is also sharp debate about the broader issues of whether U.S. military power can ever resolve deep-seated local divisions and whether is possible to impose democracy on another nation.


Assignment

Read the excerpts from the statement by President Bush and some of the supporters and critics of U.S. policy. President Bush makes a number of assertions in this speech that have been questioned by critics. As you read the speech, underline points that might be disputed and discuss them with classmates. Then, working individually, answer the questions that follow each quote, and complete the activity that follows all of the quotes.

A. Statement by President George W. Bush on the U.S. Occupation of Iraq
(Source: New York Times , September 14, 2007, p. A8)

"In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival. Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq's government, dominate the region and attack us here at home. If Iraq's young democracy can turn back these enemies, it will mean a more hopeful Middle East and a more secure America.

This ally has placed its trust in the United States, and tonight our moral and strategic imperatives are one. We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours. Eight months ago, we adopted a new strategy to meet that objective, including a surge in U.S. forces that reached full strength in June. This week General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress about how that strategy is progressing. In their testimony, these men made clear that our challenge in Iraq is formidable. Yet they concluded that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy, and that the troop surge is working.

The premise of our strategy is that securing the Iraqi population is the foundation for all other progress . . . The goal of the surge is to provide that security and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it . . . Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with the Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January. Yet ultimately, the way forward depends on the ability of Iraqis to maintain security gains. According to General Petraeus and a panel chaired by retired General Jim Jones, the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police. Iraqi forces are receiving increased cooperation from local populations, and this is improving their ability to hold areas that have been cleared. Because of this success, General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces . . . General Petraeus also recommends that in December we begin transitioning to the next phase of our strategy in Iraq. As terrorists are defeated, civil society takes root and the Iraqis assume more control over their own security, our mission in Iraq will evolve. Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces . . .

The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror, and that will make us safer here at home. Realizing this vision will be difficult, but it is achievable. Our military commanders believe we can succeed. Our diplomats believe we can succeed. And for the safety of future generations of Americans, we must succeed."

Questions

1. Why does President Bush believe it is vital that American troops continue to fight in Iraq?

2. What was the strategy that President Bush chose to increase the chance of success?

3. How does President Bush evaluate that strategy in this speech?

B. Comments by 2008 Presidential candidates on the report by General Petraeus to Congress
(Source: New York Times , September 14, 2007, p. A16)

Rudolph Giuliani (Republican): "General Petraeus provided the first look at a strategy that is getting results and an Iraq that is making progress."

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat): "I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief."

Senator John McCain (Republican): "General Petraeus and his troops ask just two things of us: the time to continue this strategy, and the support they need to carry out their mission. They must have both."

John Edwards (Democrat): "General Petraeus may propose the withdrawal of a single brigade by the end of the year in exchange for keeping the failed surge going another six months. This is not the withdrawal the American people voted for."

Fred Thompson (Republican): "General Petraeus's report strengthens my conviction that we can achieve our objectives in Iraq and we must not withdraw precipitously."

Senator Barack Obama (Democrat): "This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake. At what point do we say, 'Enough'?"

Questions

1. What pattern emerges when you read these statements?

2. Which candidate's views come closest to your own? Why?

3. In your opinion, why are political leaders so sharply divided?

 

C. Excerpts from a New York Times opinion essay written by seven U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq. None of the seven were officers.
(Source: "The War As We Saw It" by Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy, New York Times, August 19, 2007).

"To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere . . . This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense . . . We operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear . . .

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks . . . We need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal."

Questions

1. According to the authors, what problems face American troops stationed in Iraq?

2. What do they believe will be the eventual outcome of the U.S. occupation of Iraq?

3. In your opinion, is it significant that the authors of this essay are regular soldiers and not officers? Explain.

 


Final Activity

Based on these quotes, your responses to the questions, and your knowledge about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, write a letter to either your congressional representative or one of your U.S. senators explaining your view on what is taking place there and what the United States should do now and in the future. Your letter should be a minimum of two hundred and fifty words. It will be shared with your classmates and discussed in class. It will be your decision whether you want to send it to your representatives.

 

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email web editor Laura McClure at lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org.