I recently had the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July early and in a unique way far removed from the backyard celebrations in Texas, normally marked by family barbeques and fireworks.
This year, on the eve of our nation’s Independence Day, I was in Baghdad thanking those who are protecting the freedom that we celebrate on July Fourth.
There in Iraq, I was privileged to visit the Texas men and women in uniform who embody the same patriotism as the American soldiers who won our nation’s freedom 233 years ago.
I decided to spend the Senate’s July Fourth Recess traveling to Iraq for two primary reasons.
First and foremost, to carry a very clear message to those who will not be spending the July Fourth holiday at home with their families: The American people are completely behind our troops and we are deeply grateful for their brave service. And second, to acknowledge that our nation would not know freedom without their sacrifice.
The soldiers of the Texas National Guard warmly welcomed me and made me prouder than ever to be a Texan. I am happy to report to the people of Texas that our state’s troops are exhibiting the indomitable spirit of Texas pride and optimism as they serve overseas. Their energy was infectious and their attitudes were uplifting.
There was another reason I wanted to make my third official visit to Iraq leading up to the Fourth of July. As America undertakes its first major deadline for drawdown of forces, I wanted to be there on the ground to see this process begin to unfold and to hear from our commanders how it is being executed. General Raymond Odierno, Commanding General of Multi-National Forces in Iraq, and Christopher R. Hill, American Ambassador to Iraq, outlined for me their vision of the way forward.
On June 30, we reached a key milestone. U.S. forces completed a process that began last January to transfer responsibility for patrolling Iraqi cities to the Iraqi Army. For the most part, American soldiers will fall back to the outskirts of the cities, where they will remain ready to provide training and support.
I am hopeful that the Iraqis will be successful and will build on the progress we’ve already made. The indicators for the continued improvement of security are for the most part trending in the right direction. However, there are troubling variables that we’ll have to monitor closely, such as a resurgence of sectarian violence and the continued malevolent Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.
The Iraqi people can be assured that, if there is trouble, the American forces will not be far. We did not invest so much - in American lives and treasure - to see progress languish. Our soldiers stand at the ready as there is a need.
General Odierno and Ambassador Hill assured me that the full drawdown of our troops will be a gradual process. In the meantime, it is critically important that Iraq remains stable so next January’s elections can be fair and peaceful and the logistically complex process can continue apace. As the Senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I was eager to hear the Pentagon’s plans to repurpose and redistribute infrastructure and resources being used in Iraq. In deliberate, calculated steps, we will start to close down base operations in Iraq. Equipment will be refurbished or repaired and sent to support our missions in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world.
The commanders on the ground in Iraq and Kuwait gave me assurances that we have a solid plan, supported by the world’s finest military. It is in all our best interests that America is able to withdraw in an orderly fashion so that the end result of our efforts in Iraq is greater stability in the region, as well as an Iraq that never again serves a base for terrorist operations.
My visit with our troops in Iraq and Kuwait left me hopeful and optimistic for the future of Iraq. But even more, I returned to Texas thankful that we have such dedicated and selfless young men and women as those I met from Texas who are, even now, serving on the frontlines. They impressed me as eager and willing to do their part to secure freedom and independence on this anniversary of our own Declaration of Independence 233 years ago.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.