Yesterday the House Armed Services and the House Foreign Affairs Committees heard from GAO Comptroller General David Walker about the GAO report on Iraq.  The GAO reports the Iraqis met only 3 of 18 benchmarks for progress, indicating the escalation failed to create ‘breathing space’ for political progress.

Violence – both between sects and within sects - is rampant in Iraq, and the central government does not control the country.  These facts call into question the long-term viability of a strong central government in Iraq.  We are overseeing the sifting of power down to and among local militias and factions.  The Iraqi central government is unable to stop this dynamic.  The President’s policies do not account for this reality.

Our troops are caught in the middle of the sifting process and are largely unable to influence it.  It is not clear who our friends and foes are.  Who are we enabling to seize power in Iraq?  Regardless of the number of troops we commit, the President and General Petraeus must answer this fundamental question.

I believe we can significantly reduce the number of troops in Iraq by removing ourselves from the role of patrolling sectarian strife.  President Bush disagrees, but he has offered no realistic vision for where he is headed with his escalation strategy.  This is unacceptable and must change.  We must craft policies that recognize both the devolution of power into the hands of local forces and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government as a viable partner in stabilizing the country.

Debates about the effectiveness of the surge miss the point.  Our national policies regarding Iraq should focus first and foremost on the national security interests of the United States.  Our occupation and repeated escalations have undermined our military readiness and drained our resources from the fight to stop the spread of al-Qaeda around the world.  Stopping our fruitless effort to manage sectarian strife where we have no clear friends or foes will enable us to significantly reduce our troop presence in Iraq.