Senate Floor Speech on the War in Iraq

Mr. President, we are all well aware in this chamber that our country finds itself in a deepening crisis in Iraq, and we find ourselves at a moment of decision in the United States Senate.

Nearly four years ago, our President rushed us into war in Iraq, a war now longer than American involvement in World War II, which next month will actually exceed the length of our own Civil War. For four years, members on both sides of the aisle have watched with shock and dismay as our President has made mistake, after misjudgment, after miscalculation.

Even before the invasion ended, the Administration rejected the voluminous plans drawn up by the State Department to deal with the chaotic aftermath. The successful examples of the U.S. experience in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s were summarily rejected. State Department and other officials with experience in nation-building were blackballed in favor of inexperienced ideologues who were selected on the basis of political litmus tests, including answering questions about whether they were for or against Roe v. Wade and whether they had voted for George W. Bush.

Despite the urgent warnings of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and other senior military commanders, the necessary number of troops to ensure security and stability were not sent at the start of the conflict. Our men and women in uniform were ordered into harm’s way without the necessary body armor or armored vehicles, a mortal error I have tried to correct time and again since I first learned of it. The strategic blunders now fill an entire library shelf of books, and they are certainly too numerous for me to list in the time allotted here.

Through these four years, there has also been another abdication of responsibility. That was the failure of this Congress to engage in its constitutional obligation of the majority’s refusal to hold the Administration accountable. In the election last year, the American people decided that the status quo was no longer acceptable. So we have a new Congress, and it is past time that we in this chamber do our duty to balance the President and provide a check against his failed policy in Iraq. There is a majority against this situation in Iraq; there is a bipartisan consensus in this chamber as well. The resolution reflects that consensus as it reflects the overwhelming majority of Americans. But a partisan minority seeking to shield the Administration’s continuing failure in Iraq seeks to thwart the bipartisan majority and the will of the American people.

This is not a debate about abstractions. I have seen the consequences of our involvement in Iraq, as have many of my fellow Senators. Three weeks ago, I visited Iraq to express gratitude to our soldiers, to meet with Iraqi leaders and U.S. commanders, and our troops on the ground. What I saw and what I did not see underscored my concerns. I saw American servicemen and women performing their duty admirably, but I did not see a strategy that under the current circumstances has much chance of success.

The collective analysis of our intelligence community in the latest National Intelligence Estimate is that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict In Iraq. The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission said, the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. Yet the President’s response to the bipartisan commission and the latest National Intelligence Estimate does not match the urgency that is described. The so-called surge is not a new strategy, but a tactic that has been tried and failed.

The absence of leadership on the part of the President leaves Congress no choice but to demonstrate the leadership that the American people and the reality on the ground demand. The previous two Congresses abdicated their duty. We must not.

Every single day, our feet sink deeper into the sands. Every day the crisis worsens. To hide from this debate with our troops in such danger is wrong, plain and simple. The crisis in Iraq has fostered a crisis of democracy here at home. The American people expect a debate. Our troops are owed a debate. And our constitution commands that we debate. But a partisan minority, acting at the behest of the Administration, is standing in the way. This amounts to a gag rule on our democracy, contrary to the national security interests of the United States.

Even though America voted for a new direction in Iraq, even though the majority of Senators oppose escalation in Iraq, we cannot get the Republicans to allow us to take a symbolic vote to condemn the escalation, much less a real vote to stop it. This resolution deserves a debate, it deserves a vote, and it deserves passage.

Now, there are those in the chamber who invokes our brave troops, suggesting that a debate on the most important issue facing our country and facing our troops would somehow undermine the mission and weaken our nation. It is a pernicious, shameful argument, and it is dead wrong. Our democracy is stronger than that, and the American people and our troops deserve better than that.

You know, our troops understand we are debating this war. We’re debating it not just in this chamber; we’re debating it in kitchen table conversations and around water coolers and standing in line at supermarkets. We’re debating this war everywhere Americans gather. Indeed, our troops are debating this war, and the American people understand that it is the policy that undermines our national security and interests, not a vote disapproving the policy.

This debate and this resolution have merit and purpose and it will, if permitted to go forward, begin the process of changing the policy. Otherwise, why would the Administration and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle fought so hard to prevent us from having a debate and a vote? Because they understand that this will be the first step to restore our strength and renew our leadership around the world, to begin redeploying our troops out of Iraq and start on the long road to undoing the damage brought by the President, to America’s leadership around the world.

If you believe the escalation is the right strategy, then cast your vote for it. But if you believe, as the majority in this chamber believe, that escalation is not the right strategy, then cast your vote against it. But standing on the sidelines is no way to stand up for the troops.

Now, there are many, both in the chamber and outside, who would wish to go further than this resolution and look for ways to bind the actions of the President and to require him to change course. I understand and agree with the frustration that has afflicted many of us in dealing with the President’s policy, but if we can get a bipartisan vote against escalation, it will be the first time the Senate has exercised its constitutional responsibility to be a check and balance on the President. The first step for the Senate will be a giant leap toward accountability and toward the right end to this war.

There is a big difference between calling for the end of this war and doing the difficult, painstaking work of building the political will within the Congress to take action. We, in the Senate, entrusted by our constituents to cast tough votes, should not have the luxury of standing outside the arena and lobbing criticism from within. Once we pass this resolution, we should go further. Rather than an escalation of US troops, which will not contribute to fundamentally changing the conditions on the ground, we should put pressure on the Iraqi government in a way that they will understand there are consequences to their empty promises and their continued inaction.

Last week, the National Intelligence Council released the unclassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. That presents the consensus views of the United States intelligence community, and it underscores the need for a political solution. The NIE States that in the coming 12 to 18 months, the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006. And ot goes on further to say that even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-takes-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of the estimate, namely, a year to a year-and-a-half. Even if, the intelligence experts argue, the escalation results in greater security, their best judgment is that the bloodshed and violence will continue to spiral out of control.

So what should we do? Well, many of us believe — and we’ve been arguing for this and voting for this for more than a year-and-a-half — that we have to chart a new course that emphasizes greater Iraqi responsibility. I still believe that is the path we should be taking. Instead, the President has chosen a very narrow course that relies heavily on American military force.

I will be introducing legislation that I think offers a better alternative. First, my legislation will cap the number of troops in Iraq as of January 1, and will require the Administration to seek Congressional authorization for any additional troops. The President has finally said this is not an open-ended commitment in Iraq, but he is providing the Iraqis with an open-ended presence of American troops.

Second, as a means to increase our leverage with the Iraqi government and to clearly send a message that there are consequences to their inaction, I would impose conditions for continued funding of the Iraqi security forces and the private contractors working for the Iraqis. My legislation would require certification that the security forces were free of sectarian and militia influence and were actually assuming greater responsibility for Iraqi security along with other conditions. We must not let US funds, taxpayer funds, be used to train members of sectarian militias who are responsible for so much of the violence in Iraq. Unfortunately, it appears that our funds to Iraqi security forces may be going to the people we are trying to restrain. A news report last week in an article entitled, “Mahdi Army Gains Strength Through Unwitting Aid Of US,” reported that the U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American, Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it. According to this news report, U.S. Army commanders, and enlisted men who are patrolling east of Baghdad said al-Sadr’s militia’s had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and Army units that they’ve trained and armed. Said one soldier, “they’ll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night.”

We need to inform the Iraqi government in no uncertain terms that there are consequences — terms that there are consequences, that we will take funds away from their troops, not from our troops, many of whom still lack armored vehicles and counterinsurgency measure devices and communications equipment. And we will not fund the Iraqis if our troops are going to enter into sectarian battles where some of the participants have received American training and support.

Third, I would hold the Administration accountable for their empty promises as well. My bill requires the Bush Administration to certify that Iraq has disarmed the militias; has ensured that a law has finally been passed for the equitable sharing of oil revenues; that the Iraqi government, under American influence and even pressure, has made the constitutional changes necessary to ensure rights for minority communities; that the de-Baathification process has been reversed to allow teachers, professionals, and others who join the Baath party as a means to get a job to serve in the Iraqi government. I would also require the Administration to engage in a regional diplomatic initiative including all of Iraq’s neighbors to address Iraq’s future and to understand and convey clearly that the United States expects Iraq’s neighbors in the stability and security of the new Iraqi state. If these conditions are not met or are not on their way to being met within six months, a new Congressional authorization requirement would be triggered.

Finally, I would prohibit any spending to increase troop levels unless, and until, the Secretary of Defense certifies that our American troops will have the proper training and equipment for whatever mission they are ordered to fulfill. Yesterday I read the classified report outlining the findings by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General about the problems that have been faced by our troops getting the equipment they desperately need in combat areas like Iraq. The Inspector General did not have the full cooperation of the Department of Defense and it is heartbreaking that the Inspector General could conclude that the U.S. military still has failed to equip our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for the kind of warfare that they are confronting with IEDs and insurgents who are attacking them in asymmetric, unconventional warfare.

This report comes on the heals of an article in The Washington Post last week entitled, “Equipment for Troops is Lacking: Troops Must Make Do, Officials say.” The Washington Post story raised serious questions about the adequacy of the supply of up-armored humvees and trucks. One of our Generals is quoted as saying that he doesn’t have the equipment that our forces need and they will have to go into battle with what they have.

On my way back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I stopped at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany to visit with some of our wounded soldiers. I met with one young man who was lying in his bed with his injuries that he had suffered from one of the shape charges, these new, more advanced, more sophisticated command-controlled IEDs, the Improvised Explosive Devices. He told me that the armored fully equipped humvee that saved his life and that of the life — the lives of his buddies who were with him. But he also told me that not everybody that he served with had that kind of protection because there weren’t enough of those armored vehicles to go around.

Madam President, I do not believe that the Congress can shirk its responsibility. It is past time that we live up to our constitutional responsibility. If I had been President in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq, and I certainly would never have started this war. But we are where we are, and this Congress must deliver a strategy to help us end this war in the right way and begin returning our troops home.

So on this most important issue of our time, I call on my colleagues, not to hide from this debate, but to welcome it. To welcome the opportunity to set forth whatever one’s opinions might be, because this debate is about more than our policy in Iraq. It is about the role and responsibility of this august institution. Great debates in our past have not only moved public opinion but furthered the progress of our country. This debate is not merely about whether or not the President should escalate troops into Iraq, whether he has failed to grasp the complexity of the situation we confront in Iraq and to take every diplomatic, political, economic, and military strategy available to him, but it’s really about our democracy itself. We should consider this resolution. And I hope that we will.

Our duty is rooted in the faith entrusted to us by our constituents and enshrined in our constitution. When we think about the patriotism and bravery, the humor and resolve, the optimism and strength of our soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors, our active duty, our Guard and Reserves, I think it humbles us all. But it comes out of this great democratic tradition that we are all blessed to be a part of. I hope that we have the opportunity in the next days to do our duty, just as the men and women who are serving us have done and are doing theirs.

A week ago I was privileged to go to San Antonio for the opening of a remarkable center called the Center of the Intrepid. It is a new state-of-the-art facility devoted to the rehabilitation and recovery of our wounded heroes. It was funded by contributions from more than 600,000 Americans. It was not built by our government. It was built by our citizens. It is not only going to be a place of great hope and healing for the brave men and women who have given their full measure, but it will also stand as a symbol of our democracy, of our values, of people coming together across our country; a unique partnership that you find nowhere else in the world except here. As I sat on the stage during the ceremonies for the opening of this new rehabilitation center, I watched the hundreds of young men and women who had been injured march in– in some cases wheeled in–and take their place in the audience. I believe they are owed this debate, and certainly all those who are currently serving and the thousands who are on their way to carry out this escalation strategy deserve it even more. So, Madam President, I hope we will have a chance to express the will of our constituents, our deeply held opinions, and participate in a debate that is historic and necessary. That is the least we can do.

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