Congressman Randy Kuhl, as part of a congressional delegation, traveled to Iraq this past weekend.
I have not seen any news regarding the results of his trip; therefore, I will instead share researched items that I feel are relevant to a trip such as this one.
You are probably aware that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Washington DC last week and addressed member of Congress on July 28.
During his address, al-Maliki appealed for more aid from the United States and other nations and sought to solidify Congress’ commitment to rebuilding Iraq, though he mentioned no specifics. In earlier meetings at the White House, the Iraqi leader asked for more military equipment and recommended increasing U.S. and Iraqi forces patrolling Baghdad neighborhoods. Bush agreed and said more U.S. forces would be moved into the embattled capital from other parts of Iraq.
Congress has approved nearly $300 billion to try to secure and rebuild the country more than three years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. Some 127,000 U.S. troops remain in the region.
And, from the Sacramento Bee:
Still, everyone acknowledges that the war is sure to cost billions more. The CBO has estimated that another $166 billion will be spent if U.S. forces withdraw by the end of 2009, and the tag will soar to $368 billion more if U.S. troops stay in Iraq until 2016.
In his speech, al-Maliki didn’t request a specific amount, but he suggested that some reconstruction money had been diverted.
“We need your help,” he said. “Much of the budget you had allocated for Iraq’s reconstruction ended up paying for security firms and foreign companies, whose operating costs were vast. Instead, there needs to be greater reliance on Iraqis and Iraqi companies.”
I am speculating, but I wonder if this weekend’s trip was to bolster support for Maliki’s requests.
When congressional members travel to Iraq, their travel and activity agenda is very defined and restricted. Although I could not find a specific link to verify specific comments by congressional members on their trips to Iraq, I have heard members on C-Span’s programming describe that they do not stay overnight in Iraq. They stay in Kuwait. Their Iraq activities last a few hours in a secure area, and then they fly back to Kuwait until their travels bring them back to the U.S.
Unlike during Vietnam;, when congressional visits often fueled lawmakers’ opposition to the war, these tours of Iraq are tending, if anything, to blunt antiwar sentiment. In many cases, they are solidifying support in Congress for the military effort.
….Members don’t spend the night in Iraq – a security decision some members say they regret, given the hazards of flying in and out of Iraqi airports. Nor are they allowed to roam the streets or talk widely with Iraqis.
And, a veteran’s view:
I am an recent Veteran of this and was in Baghdad for a little bit under a year. My day to day was in the streets and Police Stations in Eastern Baghdad including Sadr City with the 307th MP Co. The day to day in Baghdad is just hot this time of year(usually 113 degrees and the city is busy(remember baghdad is a huge city a little bit smaller than Atlanta) with gridlock.
So when the congressperson/senator goes on tour, he’ll be in a convoy and only get to view the green zone or a camp and not really get to see anything. And if he does travel he’ll be in a Air conditioned vehicle. Baghdad shows improvement in public works even though the electric and sewer is worse he won’t experience it himself. This isn’t a bombed out Dresden of world war ll but a living city, the only reality he might get to see is there is an incident while he is there close by. Also even though attacks are occuring over 100 times a day to the locals and our troops, it’s in a territory the size of California. … They won’t be going to Fallujah or elsewere were they’re in danger; they’re VIP’s now.
Personally, I am not sure if congressional trips to Iraq are a good thing. Maybe it is good from the perspective that they get a first-hand experience of seeing just how bad it is from a security standpoint. (If it weren’t so bad, they would be staying in Iraq and would be able to travel and experience the situation outside of their secure areas.) On the other hand, I don’t know what additional information they could ascertain just by being there for a few hours. al-Maliki was here last week; what more can he tell them that they didn’t already know or hadn’t heard during his address to Congress? I can imagine the extra security precautions that must be undertaken by military personnel when members go to visit Iraq. These personnel already have their hands full with their day-to-day responsibilities.
The only positive aspect of these trips, in my opinion, is that some of these brave and dedicated troops get to meet and visit with their congressional representative. I can imagine that this would be a welcomed break from the dangerous conditions and responsibilities they face every hour of every day.