Levin Ammendment

I rise today in support of the Levin Amendment of which I am proud to be an original cosponsor.

At a moment when 130,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen — active duty, Guard and Reserve — are serving bravely in Iraq and when the debate in Congress over this nation’s Iraq policy has grown particularly divisive and heated, I believe it is time for the members of this body to put politics aside and choose between success and the status quo.

By playing politics and blindly following the president, too many are deaf to the hue and cry about the failures of this administration in the execution of its policies. And too often our colleagues on the other side of the aisle in both chambers are asking politically motivated questions, not engaging in the kind of fruitful discussion that asks the tough national security questions we need to address and answer.

I think it is time to choose whether or not we believe we have the right road map for success in Iraq. While our troops are serving bravely and with our national security in the balance, it is time to choose what is more important, a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy for Republicans to win elections here at home.

There are no easy answers as to how we solve the problems created by this administration. There are no easy answers as to how we work to enable the Iraqis to hold their country together and to keep it from becoming a terrorist refuge and launching pad. I simply do not believe it is a strategy or a solution for the president to continue declaring an open-ended and unconditional commitment, nor do I believe it is a solution or a strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal without regard to the consequences.

Instead, I support this responsible way forward, a road map for success that will more quickly and effectively take advantage of Iraqi oil revenues, build up Iraqi’s infrastructure, foster Iraqi civil society, challenge Iraq’s neighbors to do more to ensure stability in Iraq and allow our troops to begin coming home.

We all know that our troops are in harm’s way right now in a volatile region of the world for which America has significant interests at stake. We are at a profound turning point for our nation. We are entrusted by our constituents, both those who serve and those who do not, to do what we think is right for them, for our states, and our country.

Let’s be clear about what this debate is about. My friends on the other side of the aisle believe that the status quo is working in Iraq. They do not believe we need a fundamental change in policy. They choose to continue blindly following the president. We Democrats disagree. We believe we need a new direction in Iraq that will increase the chances for success on the ground.

Now, I may disagree with those who call for a date certain for a withdrawal, but I do not doubt their patriotism. I may disagree with those who believe in an unconditional commitment without end, but I do not doubt that patriotism either.

Sadly, however, there are those who do doubt the patriotism of many who raise serious questions about this war. They choose to tar all who disagree with an open-ended, unconditional commitment as unpatriotic, as waving the white flag of surrender.

They may not have a war strategy, but they do have an election strategy. This is the road they took America down in 2002. It was a dead end for our country then, and it’s a dead end now.

The politically motivated resolutions put forth by leading Republicans to gain tactical partisan advantage are a disgrace. In so doing, they have broken faith with those who serve and those of us who support our troops and who work for the success of this mission. It is wrong, plain and simple, to turn this serious debate about our policies and national security into a partisan squabble designed to mislead voters. This is politics at its worst, played over war. And that is no way to honor the service and sacrifices of our troops and their families or to find a better way forward in Iraq.

Like many in this chamber, I have traveled to Iraq and to Afghanistan. I have met there and here with tough, smart, patriotic men and women who fill me with tremendous pride. They have been performing magnificently under difficult conditions, and they have paid a heavy price since the war began in 2003. Last week we had a moment of silence to mark the day that the number of American service members killed in Iraq reached 2,500. And more than 18,000 others have been wounded. As of June 17, New York has lost 116 soldiers. The combined number of New York soldiers killed and wounded is 1,038.

I have spent time with wounded soldiers and marines. I have sat with grieving families mourning lost loved ones. I have tried to answer the questions that they ask. I have shared the grief that they feel. And those who have not lost a loved one or seen him or her return injured still are anxious every day while a parent or a child or a spouse serves far from home.

Not a day goes by that I do not pray for the safe return of every man and woman now stationed in dangerous places around the world. Not a single day.

This is not a time for partisanship. It is past time for this administration to level with the American people, for this Congress to find its voice and fulfill its constitutional duties to check and balance the Executive Branch, and for the Iraqis to chart a clear and responsible path to stability and peace. I call on our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to fairly and honestly consider the Levin Amendment as an alternative to the status quo, when we know the status quo has not, is not, and will not create the conditions needed for the Iraqis to achieve the stability and security they seek and for us to bring home our troops.

The conflict in Iraq has now gone on longer than U.S. fighting in the Korean War before the armistice. We ought not to attack one another for asking the tough questions and presenting alternatives about how to achieve success, limit the loss and sacrifice of our young men and women.

As we debate our next steps in Iraq, it is critical that we recognize and fix as best we can the mistakes that have already been made and not repeat them. The Bush Administration misused the authority granted to it, choosing to act without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war, without a plan for securing the country, without an understanding of the insurgency or the true human, financial and strategic costs of this war, all the while viewing the dangerous and unstable conditions in Iraq through rose-colored glasses and the prism of electoral politics here at home.

It is time to put policy ahead of politics and success ahead of the status quo. It is time for a new strategy to produce what we need: a stable Iraq government that takes over for its own people so our troops can finish their job.

That’s what the Levin Amendment does. It calls for a comprehensive road map to achieve peace and stability. And it also sets into motion the steps that should be taken for Iraq to move itself forward and become more capable of defending its territory, ending the sectarian violence and purging the insurgency.

The Levin Amendment does put us on a responsible path by calling for stronger, nonmilitary action such as a conference of neighboring nations, greater rebuilding efforts and better internal political reconciliation, by requiring the Iraqis to disarm rogue militias and take over more of their own security.

The only way the new Iraqi government can gain credibility is by proving they can handle an increasing share of the security of the country with fewer, not more, U.S. troops. And it is clear in the Levin Amendment that we recognize the president’s role at Commander in Chief. It is the president who will make these decisions. What the amendment attempts to do is to provide a different road map, to set some conditions, in contrast to the unconditional open-ended commitment that we have had for the last three years and three months.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, one expert laid out such a road map which described the importance of reducing our military presence in Iraq so as to enhance the legitimacy of the Iraqi government in the eyes of both Iraqis and Iraqis’ neighbors. That expert was Iraq’s own national security advisor. And I commend the entire article to be read, because as the national security advisor sets forth a road map for the way out of Iraq. He makes very clear that the removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq’s government in the eyes of its people. That is not an American. That is not a Democrat. That is an Iraqi in this new government who recognizes what some apparently in this chamber refuse to do, which is, yes, we need conditions. The current policy has no conditions. It is unconditional. The Levin Amendment sets forth conditions, sets forth the kind of steps and bench marks that we as Americans in positions of responsibility have every right to expect, that the Iraqis will step up and meet. And clearly that is also the position of the new Iraqi government. In fact, I think one can read this statement and find much in the Levin Amendment that supports the position put forth by the Iraqi national security advisor.

Mr. President, no war since Vietnam has stirred the emotion to the extent of our people as this one. I hear it all the time as I travel from one end of New York to the other. People stop and ask if there will be an end to the loss of American lives. They wonder what the goal is, how do we define success? The rhetoric on the other side is all about symbols and slogans, but how do we define success?

They believe that we in Congress should not be wasting this country’s time with partisan political slogans while we have troops in the field. They grieve over the mistakes that have been committed by an administration that failed at every turn to see the difficulties ahead of it or the benefits of using all the nonmilitary means available to it.

Now, of course, there are always unexpected events in war that can change the best plan or put some detours into the road map, and the Levin Amendment takes that into account. But I believe we must end the current open-ended, unconditional policy to focus on clear goals on all fronts and to make that absolutely clear to the Iraqi government. If we do that, we can begin to bring our troops home this year. That is why I fervently believe members of both parties should support this resolution.

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