Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, calling for a change of course in what has become a civil war in Iraq. While the White House and the Republican Congress prefer to close their eyes to their own mistakes and blindly stay the same failed course, Democrats are fighting for a new direction.
The text of Senator Reid’s remarks as delivered, including a colloquy with Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin, is below.
SENATOR REID: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Mr. President, for more than three years this Congress, which has been given the name “The Do-Nothing Congress,” has turned a blind eye to the intractable war in Iraq, ignoring the Administration’s many mistakes, allowing it to stay a failed course.
Here we are with six days left in the 109th Congress, and the Republicans, which control the House and the Senate and the White House, have not held one hearing, not one, into the President’s wartime failures. During the Civil War, President Lincoln was faced continually with oversight hearings by his Congress. And of course we know during World War II there were a number of commissions. The most famous was that conducted by Senator Harry Truman of Missouri which led to his becoming Vice President, and some say that if it wasn’t for that he wouldn’t have been chosen as Vice President.
What was the Truman Commission? It was to determine what was going on with World War II. It was used to investigate money being wasted for troop levels. Korea hearings were held. We know that many, many hearings on Vietnam were held.
But, Mr. President, this war: none. Even though this war has taken longer than it took to settle the difference in the European Theatre in World War II. And so we’ll be at the same amount of time that we were able to defeat Japan.
This Republican Congress has wasted 20 months on the Schiavo case, dealing with someone’s personal relationships that should not have been before this body. Gay marriage, the nuclear option, flag burning, repealing the estate tax. But they couldn’t find a day – they couldn’t find a day – for time to look at the President’s mistakes. Missteps, misconduct which have hurt American security and plunged Iraq into a civil war. Not a day.
Yesterday’s “Washington Post” newspaper brought the latest indictment of the Bush incompetence in Iraq. In a front-page story, “Ties To G.O.P. Trumped Knwo-How Among Staff Sent to Rebuild Iraq”. This says a lot of things, this article, but here’s some of the things it said: “Applicants didn’t need to be experts in the Middle East in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush Administration”.
And it’s interesting to note the person selected to do this is a man by the name of O’Beirne. I was on a talk show with a woman by the name of Kate O’Beirne, and I thought it just happened to be her husband.
Here are some of the questions asked: “Did you vote for George W. Bush 2000?” They even asked questions, how the applicant felt about Roe v. Wade. People being interviewed for purposes of helping rebuild war-damaged Iraq were asked questions on Roe v. Wade. The Questions had nothing to do with one’s competence, their education background or their experience. The article says, “From June 2003 to June 2004, it was clear that O’Beirne lacked vital skills to do what he was supposed to do.”
“A 24 year-old who never worked in finance but applied for a White House job was sent to reopen Baghdad’s Stock Exchange.”
The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget, even though they had no background in accounting.
Interviews with scores of former personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated and ultimately hobbled by administration ideologues.
“We didn’t tap — and it should have started from the White House on down — just didn’t tap the right people to do this job,” said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA’s Washington office. “It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings.”
Many of the staff members were more interested in other things, in instituting a flat tax. People sent there with no background, no education academic experience, set out to create a flat tax in Iraq.
They were interested in selling off government assets and ending food rations and otherwise zoning a new nation, it looked a lot like the United States. Many spent days quartered in a green zone in a walled off enclave in Central Baghdad with resort-size swimming pools. Mr. President, this picture here kind of says it all. Here’s Paul Bremmer who – they dumped General Garner after a few weeks and brought him in. Here he is. Here he is on his thrown. He’s on a throne surrounded by Iraqis.
SENATOR DURBIN: Would the Senator yield for a question?
SENATOR REID: I’d be happy to yield for a question.
SENATOR DURBIN: Was Mr. Bremmer the recipient of a gold medal for his performance in Iraq? Didn’t he receive some high decoration and medal for his performance in Iraq?
SENATOR REID: The answer is yes. He received that. But I assume that you would expect that from somebody that had a throne while he was over there.
SENATOR DURBIN: Isn’t it also true that George Tenet who was responsible for intelligence that was so bad that led us into the war in Iraq, didn’t he get a medal from the President the same day?
SENATOR REID: That is true.
SENATOR DURBIN: Did Michael Brown with FEMA receive a gold medal in the White House before he was dismissed. I don’t recall.
SENATOR REID: I don’t think he did. I think even though he’s doing a heck of a job, I don’t think he obtained a medal from the White House.
SENATOR DURBIN: So apparently these gold medals if they’re being awarded for incompetence, they missed Mr. Brown, but they did give one to Mr. Bremmer.
SENATOR REID: Oh, yes. I say to anyone within the sound of my voice, to recruit the people he wanted, he sought resumes from the offices of Republican Congressman, conservative think tanks and G.O.P activists.
He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if they applicants possessed Arab language skills or postwar rebuilding experience. Smith said O’Beirne once pointed to a young man’s resume and pronounced him an ideal candidate. His chief qualification is he had worked for the Republican party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000. I’m not making this up. I mean, this is hard to comprehend.
SENATOR DURBIN: Would the Senator yield for another question?
SENATOR REID: I’d be happy to.
SENATOR DURBIN: I’m trying to recall the exact number, and I don’t, but it was in the billions of dollars of money that we gave to the President for the reconstruction of Iraq, is that not true?
SENATOR REID: It started out at $18 billion, but as the Senator from Illinois will remember, part of that money was used, stacks of $100 bills were used – that’s what they played their football games with, some of the Americans and the contractors who were sent over, there some of these same people.
SENATOR DURBIN: It’s also true, is it not, that the Democratic Policy Conference has been holding hearings, in fact, I think is only the agency on the hill holding hearings on this waste and abuse, this profiteering and corruption at the expense of American taxpayers and even equally important, more importantly, at the expense of our troops.
SENATOR REID: I say to my friend, this war, approaching three and half years, there has not been a single congressional oversight hearing on the conduct of the war. Now, you know, this war now cost us, the American taxpayers, around $325 billion. Not a single congressional oversight hearing on the war.
SENATOR DURBIN: I ask the Senator from Nevada if he might comment on this, as well. Are we not in a situation where the President has told us that he wants to -quote- ‘stay the course in Iraq,’ and Vice President Cheney when asked a week ago said he wouldn’t change a thing in the way they’ve done this war in Iraq. Is it very clear that if – unless there is a change in leadership in this town soon, we’re going to continue down this disastrous course, exposing our soldiers to danger every single day, their families to the anxiety of separation, and the dollars, more being spent that don’t make us any safer.
SENATOR REID: I would say to my friend, I spent the weekend reading a book. I did some other things. I spent a lot of time on an airplane. It’s written by a man by the name of Ricks who has spent his life covering military things. He’s written books on the military. I don’t know what his political persuasion is. This book is on the bestseller list of the “New York Times”. In this book he talks in such detail about what has happened as a result of the incompetence of this administration to our valiant fighting men and women over there. I would recommend that book to anyone. It’s a searing indictment of this administration, and it’s in keeping with what this article is all about. Another paragraph, “one foreman C.P.A., who had an office near O’Beirne said, “I saw resumes throwing the trash because their adherence to the President’s vision for Iraq, a frequently heard phrase at C.P.A, was uncertain. I saw senior civil servant from agencies denied advisory positions in Baghdad that but instead handed to prominent R.N.C Republican National Committee Contributors.” One staffer said, “I’m not here for the Iraqis. I’m here for George Bush.”
Mr. President, I say this is really a sad commentary. Important jobs like rebuilding the Iraq stock exchange, giving applicants who agreed with the President on Roe v. Wade, qualified individuals were turned down for jobs if they didn’t vote for Bush in 2000, the children of President Bush’s friend were given the authority over the country’s budget.
Today we’re witnessing Bush cronyism in Iraq, and it’s our troops and the Iraqi people and the American people who are paying the price. Reconstruction has been a failure.
The economy is a mess. Thousands are dying. Whole provinces have been lost. One province, Anbar Province, makes up one-third of the country. Military people said it’s gone.
The political solution necessary to bring Americans home are nowhere to be found. Mr. President, you hear from people like the people in this newspaper article, it’s unbelievable.
We’ve heard it time and time again. The only people who aren’t listening are George Bush and his Do-Nothing Congress.
If the Iraq was has taught us anything, it’s that Congress must take seriously its responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable, and it hasn’t happened. For two years Democrats have offered constructive solutions to change course in Iraq, give our troops and the Iraqi people a chance for some type of stability and success. We have said there must be a redeployment of forces this year to transition the mission, to change the mission. We’ve said we must resolve the sectarian difference through a political settlement. That’s called diplomacy. They need to mend their constitutions.
We’ve said they must regionalize the conflict with a contract group or a conference to bring in those countries who have said they will help, to help. We need to revitalize, and we can do that by, as I’ve indicated, getting the countries who have said they will help to come in and help. There needs to be a regional solution. We need to rebuild our badly strained United States military. There is not a single undeployed army unit today that is battle ready. That says it all. And numbers of generals have witnessed this administration’s flawed Iraq policy firsthand.
They’ve repeatedly called for new civilian leadership at the Pentagon. And I saw this with all due respect: I’ll bet if those military personnel who didn’t have working for government contractors, defense contractors, we’d have a few more speaking out, but we’ve had plenty.
And in each instance when the generals speak out, the Republican Congress has blocked their effort, and put their political interests ahead of America’s safety.
The war in Iraq has been a diversion to the real war on terror, but this administration, but this Do-Congress is content to stay the course, to move forward with no end in sight, even as it makes America less safe and Iraq less stable. We need a new direction. This Congress has failed.