This week's Democratic response to the presidential radio address was delivered by Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri.
Skelton's a good choice to speak on the weekend that elections occur in Iraq, because he was one of the first in Congress to recognize that the Bush administration's planning for post-war Iraq was not sufficient to the extreme difficulty we would face.
He wrote letters to President Bush in September 2002 and a few days before the war began, and in the first warned of many problems that continue to hound the American effort to stabilize the country:
Planning for the occupation of Germany and Japan -- two economically viable, technologically sophisticated nations -- took place well in advance of the end of the war. The extreme difficulty of occupying Iraq with its history of autocratic rule, its balkanized ethnic tensions, and its isolated economic system argues both for careful consideration of the benefits and risks of undertaking military action and for detailed advanced occupation planning if such military action is approved.
Specifically, your strategy must consider the form of a replacement regime and take seriously the possibility that this regime might be rejected by the Iraqi people, leading to civil unrest and even anarchy. The effort must be to craft a stable regime that will be geopolitically preferable to Saddam and will incorporate the disparate interests of all groups within Iraq -- Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurd. We must also plan now for what to do with members of the Baath party that continue to support Saddam and with the scientists and engineers who have expertise born of the Iraqi WMD program.
The transcript of his radio speech on Saturday:
I'm Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Tomorrow the Iraqi people will hold free and fair elections. Despite a number of serious mistakes by the Bush administration along the way, these elections are both the culmination of the progress we've made and a critical reminder of how far we have left to go.
The United States has made an extraordinary commitment in Iraq because the price of failure there is unacceptable. The fact that the Iraqis are holding elections is an accomplishment. It's a testament to the sacrifice, the professionalism and the courage of the 150,000 American and coalition troops who are backing the Iraqis' desire for self-determination and whose presence in Iraq will be necessary for some time to come.
Despite the best efforts of our troops and their Iraqi counterparts, Iraq still faces a violent and persistent insurgency fueled, in part, by economic disorder and ethnic division.
When the elections are over, the outcome will likely not be completely representative of all ethnic and religious groups. The Shia will likely control a significant majority of assembly seats with considerable Kurdish participation. The Sunnis, on the other hand, are likely to be under-represented and may denounce the legitimacy of the new government.
If they do, it will be tempting to question what we could have done differently for the last two years that would've yielded a better outcome. What if the United States hadn't disbanded the Iraqi army? What if the administration had listened to commanders like former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki who called for a larger force for post-war stabilization? What if the reconstruction funds appropriated by Congress had been spent more quickly to provide more economic opportunity for the average Iraqi?
I raised questions such as these and others before the war started in two letters to the president. These are critical questions, ones the administration should've considered before involving us so deeply in Iraq.
But now we must use the elections as a building block for a new, permanent representative form of government in Iraq. These elections are only the next step toward that goal.
This new transitional government must then draft a constitution, hold new elections and find a way to bring those disaffected by the elections, particularly the Sunnis, into the political process. This will be a challenge, but one that can and must be accomplished.
At the same time, we must continue to build up the Iraqi security forces. But we must not be lulled into a false sense of confidence by the large numbers of police and soldiers the Bush administration suggests have been trained.
While the majority of Iraqis who are serving are doing so bravely, there are still only a small number of fully capable forces. They will continue to rely on the American military for advice and support for the foreseeable future.
Providing capable security forces loyal to the Iraqi government is a long-term effort. It's a critical piece of the success of the government there and of the eventual withdrawal of our troops.
On Iraq's election day, all who support freedom should stand in support of the free Iraqis who will help choose a government. It's a great day for many. We must also continue to thank and support our troops, who have helped make these elections possible.
But we must be under no illusions about the outcome of these elections and the amount of hard work yet to come. Iraq may yet become a viable representative government, but we still have a long, long, hard way to go.
I'm Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri. Thank you for listening.