No More Blank Checks for IraqPrintable Version
Remarks by Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin
to the Center for National Policy
Friday, Sept. 7, 2007
[As prepared for delivery]
I want to thank CNP
President Tim Roemer for that generous
introduction. I also want to thank Tim, and CNP
executive director Joy Drucker, for inviting me
to join you today.
I understand that CNP Chairman Peter Kovler is out of town. Not only is Peter a great chairman, he is also a friend, a University of Chicago graduate, and a member, with me, of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
The Center for National Policy is a true national security asset.
CNP provides something vital: a forum for searching, honest, bipartisan discussions about how to make America, and the world safer. And I am honored to be here.
Four days from today will mark the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.
Those attacks left deep wounds on America. We are especially aware of the pain and the loss at this time every year.
I want to thank Tim Roemer for the extraordinary work he and all of the members of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission did to help us understand how 9/11 happened, and how to prevent the next attack.
There would never have been a 9/11 Commission were it not for the courage and persistence of the families who lost loved ones on that day.
It took too long – and an election – to do it, but Congress finally passed most of the Commission’s remaining recommendations at the end of July.
I understand that some members of 9/11 families may be here today. I believe I speak for all Americans when I say: Thank you for insisting on answers – and action – from your government.
Two different wars
America today is engaged in two wars that we almost certainly would not be fighting had we not been attacked on September 11.
The war in Afghanistan, which I voted for, was a necessary response to 9/11 and it was supported by nearly every nation on Earth.
The war in Iraq is, tragically, a very different war. A mistaken war, sold with fear and misleading and manipulated intelligence that has taken the lives of 3,760 of our troops and more than 27,000 of America’s sons and daughters maimed and wounded, with broken bodies and shattered spirits, and killed tens of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands -- of innocent Iraqi men, women and children.
President Bush 19 months ago: “A clear strategy for victory in Iraq”
Nineteen months ago, in this very same room, President Bush declared, “We are carrying out a clear strategy for victory in Iraq.”
The President assured Americans that– quote, “The Iraqis are forming a unity government, instead of giving into disunity, instead of fighting the civil war the terrorists hoped to foment. … “And the success of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is inspiring calls for changes across the region.”
Since President Bush spoke those words, 1,500 US troops have died in Iraq, over 10,000 more of our troops have been injured, and Iraq has descended into ever more chaos and carnage.
Now, despite the growing list of independent reports and military experts who say he is dead wrong, President Bush is preparing to tell the nation, once again, that his strategy in Iraq is succeeding.
We know what the Bush-Petraeus report will say: The surge is working. Be patient.
The surge is not working
The reality is: Despite heroic efforts by US troops, the Bush surge is not working.
The surge has stretched our military to the breaking point, yet violence in Iraq has increased, and political progress in Iraq has come to a standstill.
Tragically, Iraqis are failing to use the “breathing space” created with the lives of our sons and daughters to work for reconciliation and lasting security.
Three weeks ago, I traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait and Jordan. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania joined me in Iraq. It was my third visit to Iraq since the invasion in 2003.
We met with General Petraeus, General Ray Odierno, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. We also talked with – and listened to – soldiers and Marines on the front lines of this war.
More than on either of my earlier visits, I feel overwhelmed by the tragedy we have created – for Iraq, for its neighbors, for America’s image around the world, and for our troops.
I used to think this war was our worst foreign policy mistake in a generation. Now I think it is our worst foreign policy mistake ever.
Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but his aggression was contained. The Iraqi people suffered under his rule, but their suffering today is quantitatively greater.
Our invasion has created a backlash against America around the world. Our nation’s ability to fight the spread of religious extremism and to engage other nations in positive diplomacy have been compromised by this colossal blunder.
By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working.
Even if the figures were right, the conclusion is wrong.
Remember: When he announced in January that he intended to send almost 30,000 more troops to Iraq, the President said the surge would give Iraqis the security and “breathing space” to make political progress – to build a sustainable government and provide for their own security.
Since then, over 700 American troops have been killed in Iraq and more than 4,000 have been injured.
Our troops are sacrificing, and fighting, and dying in support of his surge -- but the progress the President promised is not happening.
This has been the deadliest year yet for US forces in Iraq. From January 1st through the end of August, 739 US troops have died -- significantly more than in that same time period in any year since the war started.
The new National Intelligence Estimate released two weeks ago warns that – quote: “The level of overall violence remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled … and to date Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.”
The independent report released this week by the Government Accountability Office concludes that the Bush strategy has failed to achieve 15 of the 18 goals set for it.
The Jones Commission
report by retired generals, released yesterday,
cautions that Iraq's national police force is
fragile, ill-equipped and infiltrated by
militia forces and recommends scrapping the
entire force and starting over.
Instead of progress toward political reconciliation, as the President promised, Iraq is now besieged by civil wars within a civil war.
Two million Iraqis have been driven from their homes – the victims of violence and ethnic cleansing – and are displaced within Iraq. Another 2 million have fled, mostly to neighboring countries. And the US has done little to help these new refugees – even those who worked for the US effort in Iraq.
Day-to-day living for many Iraqis has become unbearably grim. In addition to the near-constant threat of violence, poverty is rampant. One-in-three Iraqis is hungry and relies on international relief agencies for basic survival. And the nation’s health care system has been all but destroyed.
Our military is at the breaking point
The surge has stretched our military to its limits.
Colin Powell warns that the Army is, quote, “about broken.”
Most Army brigades have completed two or three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Last year the Pentagon released a study showing that one-third of soldiers and Marines returning from combat in Iraq or Afghanistan reported mental health problems.
Active duty soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate since Vietnam.
The divorce rate among Army personnel doubled between 2001 and 2004. Among Army officers, the divorce rate tripled.
Officers educated at West Point are leaving at a rate not seen in 30 years. Last year, more than one-third of the West Point class of 2000 left the Army after their initial five-year commitment. One result: the Army now has a shortfall of 3,000 commissioned officers - and the problem is expected to get worse.
And it’s not just the soldiers that are worn out. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have destroyed or seriously damaged 40 percent of the Army’s equipment.
If he has his way, this President will leave office with an American military severely compromised by his mishandling of this war.
15-month deployments are too long
An officer in Iraq told me that the 15-month deployments needed to support the Bush surge are just too long.
He said that by the end of 12 months in Iraq, his soldiers are “like zombies going through the motions.”
And the 12 months between deployments is only half of what they really need to reconstitute their units, rest them, train them and give them a chance to keep their families together.
The Army Secretary, General Pete Geren, has said – quote, “Fifteen months is asking more than we want to ask of our soldiers and their families in the long run.”
“Why don’t you tell the truth? This army is exhausted”
Last month, the London Observer ran a story with the headline: “Fatigue cripples US army in Iraq.” It describes American soldiers in Iraq getting by on Red Bull and three hours of sleep a night.
In Mosul, a chaplain's assistant who has come to bless a patrol asks the reporter: “Why don't you tell the truth? Why don't you journalists write that this army is exhausted?”
“Does this mean we’re here another five years?”
I saw that exhaustion in the soldiers I met last month in Iraq.
Flying into Baghdad in a C-130, I sat next to a two soldiers in their early 20s who were returning from R&R,
One of the soldiers opened a copy of Stars and Stripes, pointed to a headline announcing that Congress had just passed a $400 billion defense budget, and asked, “Does this mean we’re going to be here another five years?”
I tried to explain the confusing funding process in Congress and told him the Iraq debate would start again in September.
The other soldier wanted to know if we were going to vote to bring the soldiers home.
I replied that many of us believe our troops have accomplished their mission and now we need a new strategy in Iraq. But we only have four Republican senators siding with us so far, and we need seven more.
The solider then asked this question. “Would those senators voting for the war consider living a soldier’s life for one day?”
“If they did,” he said, “they would realize what a mistake this war is.”
Later, that soldier told me his job. He spots and detonates roadside bombs before they kill his fellow soldiers.
No More Blank Checks For Iraq War
I voted against this war in the beginning – one of only 23 Senators to vote no on the original war authorization – because I believed the Bush Administration had failed to make its case for war with Iraq.
I have never for one minute doubted or regretted that vote.
But I have grown increasingly troubled by the votes I have had to cast since then on whether to continue to fund this war.
My concerns have deepened as this President has repeatedly ignored the advice of military experts, as the costs of the war – in lives and dollars – has grown, and the war itself has deteriorated from a mistake, to a disaster, to a catastrophe.
With each war-funding vote, I have asked myself this question: What would I want Congress to do if it were my son or daughter riding through the streets of Baghdad, or Samarra, or Fallujuh?
I have worked with others to try to change the President’s strategy in Iraq. But when we could not gain the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster, I have voted to give our troops the support they need while they are in harm’s way.
But this Congress must not give this President another blank check for his war in Iraq.
Sen. Warner: each vote is a de facto re-authorization
During the debate in July on the defense authorization bill, I asked Senator John Warner, one of the Senate’s defense experts, whether he believed that the conditions in the original Iraq war resolution still exist.
Senator Warner replied that – no -- Saddam Hussein was gone and other conditions cited in the war authorization had changed or proved to be non-existent.
He then added, however, that he believed every annual defense authorization vote is a de facto re-authorization of the President’s right to conduct this war as he chooses.
It is clear the President believes this, too.
After all of the catastrophic strategic mistakes this Administration – not our troops, but this Administration – has made in Iraq, we cannot allow the President to continue to dictate the course in Iraq, against the will of the American people and the advice of many of our best military leaders.
We Need A Comprehensive Plan
We have a moral obligation – to our troops, to our own citizens, and to the people of Iraq, to face facts.
The President says we need to give our troops enough time to complete their mission. The President needs to understand: Our troops completed their mission when they toppled Saddam Hussein.
Our troops are the best in the world. But American military power cannot solve an Iraqi political crisis
We need a comprehensive, responsible new plan to improve security in Iraq so that we can begin to bring our troops home and re-focus on al Qaeda and the threat of global terrorism -- the real and urgent threat to our national security.
A new mission for US troops in Iraq
The Constitution gives Congress a means to force the President to change course: the power of the purse. For the sake of our long-term national security interests, Congress should use that authority now.
I believe Congress should tie future funding for the war in Iraq to a new role for our troops there.
US troops remaining in Iraq beyond that date will be limited to three specific and essential functions:
- protecting US and coalition troops and assets;
- conducting and supporting counter-terrorism operations; and
- training Iraqi security forces so that they can take responsibility for defending their own nation.
Diplomacy surge and special envoys
In addition, what is needed now—and what this Administration has neglected – is a surge in diplomacy to bring leaders in Iraq, and neighboring nations, together in search of a political settlement in Iraq.
Regrettably, the Bush Administration has damaged its credibility in the region too severely to fulfill this critical assignment. Key leaders in Iraq, such as the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, will not speak to this Administration.
For that reason, I urge President Bush to appoint a bipartisan team of U.S. envoys to immediately begin diplomatic efforts at bringing about a political settlement in Iraq.
These envoys must have the autonomy and authority to meet with any and all leaders in Iraq and the region who are critical to hammering out an agreement.
These envoys should be senior statesmen or women with serious experience in international affairs and a history of tough, successful negotiation.
I can think of few better statesmen for this difficult and essential mission than former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scrowcroft.
America’s experience brokering the Dayton Accords, which helped bring to an end a brutal ethnic conflict in Bosnia, is proof that conflict based on bitter and ancient rivalries can be ended when there is a serious, sustained diplomatic initiative.
But drop-in visits or phone calls are not enough to engage Iraqi and regional players in a serious long-term political negotiation.
It is past time for the US to begin such an intense initiative in Iraq. The longer we delay making these essential changes, the worse the outcome is likely to be.
Ease the refugee crisis
There is another urgent need that demands our attention, and that is the Iraqi refugee crisis that is now threatening to overwhelm Iraq’s neighbors, and could further de-stabilize the entire region.
Think about these numbers: Jordan, Iraq’s neighbor, has taken in an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees -- 10 percent of Jordan’s entire population – in the last two years..
That would be the equivalent, in this country, of 30 million refugees. Think about the political debate we’re having in this country over 12 million undocumented workers over a generation. Imagine 30 million new immigrants in two years!
In Jordan, the cost of living has doubled for all residents. Water, which was scarce in Jordan before the refugee crisis, is now in critically short supply.
Syria, another neighbor, has taken in more than 1 million Iraqi refugees. It is also experiencing wrenching social and economic upheavals as a result.
The refugee crisis is one of the many tragic consequences of a war we started. That gives us a moral obligation to help solve it. We have a special obligation to help Iraqis who risked their lives to help our efforts and are now targeted for retaliation and death because of it.
Two months ago, Ambassador Ryan Crocker sent an urgent cable to Washington pleading that the US admit Iraqis who have worked in our embassy and are now targeted by extremists with retaliation or execution as a result.
Yet, to date, the US has taken in only a little more than 700 Iraqi refugees. 1 percent of the refugees taken in by tiny, poor Jordan.
How can any American face that fact without profound embarrassment?
We should ensure that adequate funding is available to ease the refugee crisis that is overwhelming Iraq and its neighbors.
Many Iraqi refugees have exhausted their life savings. Some have turned in desperation to begging, and even prostitution, to survive.
Frankly, it is shameful that the wealthiest nation in the world has done so little, so far, to ease the Iraqi refugee crisis – a crisis that exists in part because of this Administration’s failures.
I am working in the Senate to increase US commitments to migration and refugee assistance as well, and to help Jordan deal with the crushing costs of trying to house, feed and educate so many refugees.
In addition, I support and Congress should pass the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, sponsored by Senator Kennedy.
Most importantly, the White House must show leadership in this mounting humanitarian crisis.
Doing our part to solve the Iraq refugee is not only the moral course. It is in our national interest. Refugee children are prime candidates for recruitment by extremists. And abandoning people who trusted us with their lives makes it far less likely that others will take that risk in the future, when we need them.
Re-focus on the global terrorism threat and save Afghanistan
Finally, we must find a responsible path out of the Iraq quagmire so that we can refocus on capturing Osama Bin Laden and defeating the threat of global terrorism.
As part of that effort, the US must work intensively to strengthen our essential bonds with our allies. We cannot fight a global war without a global partnership.
We should work to reclaim our role as a moral leader in the world by clearly and unequivocally renouncing torture, and closing Guantanamo and “black site” secret prisons. These steps will do much to ease the current strain between the US and many of our closest allies.
Lastly, we must preserve the victory over the Taliban and extremism in Afghanistan.
That victory, paid for in part with the blood of American troops, is fragile and uncertain today.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda – the murderous thugs who attacked our nation -- are regrouping along the Pakistan/Afghan border.
An NIE report last year warns that al Qaeda is stronger now than any time since September 11.
Afghanistan’s record poppy crop is flooding the world market with cheap opium and heroin, and providing the terrorists and the Afghan warlords with a steady source of income.
Yet, six years after routing the Taliban, we have only a handful of US agricultural experts in a nation in which 80 percent of the economy is agriculture.
In the Khowst area where I visited, on Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, fewer than 10 civilian experts have been sent by the US to help with basic rebuilding tasks such as agriculture, health care, police training, democratic governance, and rule of law. The area needs at least 10 times that number of rebuilding advisors.
Military leaders report that they, too, have rarely – if ever – received the support and numbers they need to accomplish their mission.
Think about that: In the land that sheltered Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, our troops are fighting and dying. But the Administration is failing to provide the resources and focus the people need to build a more secure future.
General James Jones, former commandant of the US Marine Corps, and former NATO supreme commander, is exactly right when he warns that the consequences of failure may be even greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq.
In General Jones’ words, "Symbolically, [Afghanistan] is more the epicenter of terrorism than Iraq. If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, you're sending a very clear message to the terrorist organizations that the U.S., the U.N. and the 37 countries with troops on the ground can be defeated." A message that terrorism can defeat the entire civilized world.
We cannot allow that message to take hold.
As we approach the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our nation – in honor of those who died on 9/11 and those they have left behind, and in tribute to all of the more than 1 million Americans who have served and sacrificed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must – must – hold this hard-won ground against terrorism.
It is regrettable that the White House has apparently chosen September 11 to release the Bush-Petraeus report. President Bush acknowledged long ago that Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11.
September 11th should be a day to try to unite Americans, not divide us.
September 11th should also be a day to recall clearly the true nature of those who attacked us, and the threat that still faces us.
Iraq was not the front line in the war on terror. Iraq has been a diversion in our most urgent national security challenge.
Misled with faulty information, we lost our focus in the fight against global terrorism. But we have not lost our courage, nor our ability to conquer any challenge when we are united.
We remember the shock and pain of September 11th. But we also remember how the world came together to support America on September 12th.
By changing our course in Iraq and renewing our commitment to active, positive cooperation with other nations, we can -- and we will -- make America, and the world, safer for all of us.
Thank you, and thanks to CNP for this opportunity to speak to you today.
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