Rep. Zach Wamp: Beyond Iraq

Congress returned to Washington this month to close out the first session of the 110th Congress in an unusually sloppy and incomplete manner. Congressional leadership still has plenty of unfinished business to take care of, which could mean that Congress will remain in session right up until Christmas.

I urge my party, and in fact our nation, to begin thinking and planning beyond Iraq and, in fact, beyond the next election. Clearly, our success in Iraq is critical and we must maintain 100 percent commitment to our troops and their mission. And the “mission” is still not “accomplished.” However, the so-called “surge” is clearly demonstrating results and we now hope to begin serious redeployments that may lead to a reduced combat force on the ground of 60 percent of the current level by this time next year. Soon after that a new President of the United States will be sworn into office.

The world will still be very unstable and dangerous so we must think and plan on how to confront danger and, hopefully, do as French President Nicolas Sarkozy challenged us to “risk peace.” The United States needs to improve its standing in the international community so that we can engage the world from a position of strength.

We must quit talking about bombing Iran. The military option should always be on the table as a last resort, but we must adapt to the situation as we know it. We need a surge in diplomacy and foreign policy like we have not seen in years. In October, 138 Muslim scholars from every sect wrote the Pope and other religious leaders and warned that if “Christians and Muslims do not resolve their differences, the future of the world is at stake.” All three “great Abrahamic religions” must resolve their differences. As we approach Christmas, there are two reasons for hope on the foreign policy front:

First, the Annapolis Conference meetings are a start, and dialogue between political leaders is a good thing. This international conference focused on supporting efforts to realize the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. Because earlier negotiations did not include religious leaders, religious groups often did not support the deals being considered. In November, I met with the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, also known as the Jerusalem Council, made up of five Christian leaders, five Muslim leaders and five Jewish leaders, while they were in Washington, D.C., and was greatly encouraged that religious leaders and political leaders are “risking peace.”

Second, the latest National Intelligence Estimate reveals that we may be able to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions with sanctions and regional cooperation after all. Indeed, all this talk of bombing them may not help our own cause and in fact, we need to enter bilateral talks with them. With continued success in Iraq, we could really make long-term contributions to world peace with a more stable Iran. In October, along with 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, I signed a letter to Iran’s Parliament offering to enter into inter-parliamentary meetings designed at establishing a dialogue at this critical moment in world history. While there is no guarantee that this strategy will work, we should exhaust all other means before considering a military option, and the whole world needs to see us working for peace as we prepare for the environment ahead.

Of the 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, consensus data shows that some 130 million believe that terrorism is an acceptable means to an end. We should not have to kill millions of people to protect our way of life. Therefore, we must enlist and empower the 1.27 billion moderate Muslims to stand with us against the radicals to persuade the extremists that their position is wrong, and this will require dialogue, negotiations, pressure and encouragement. A tall order, but a noble task! And one worthy of U.S. resolve and dedication.