WASHINGTON, D.C.–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following statement this morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate:
Mr. President, this week a historic discussion began between the Congress and the White House about the way forward in Iraq.
On Wednesday was a meeting between the President and the Congressional leadership following the President’s veto of an emergency spending bill that would have made America more secure, fully funded the troops, and changed the course in Iraq.
It has taken almost four and a half years, but it appears the President finally is willing to consider what most Americans and Members of Congress have long known: we must change course in Iraq and move toward a strategy that will make our country more secure.
Although it took nearly three months for the President to accept Congress as a coequal branch, Wednesday’s meeting was a positive first step.
Yesterday, the Minority Leader and I met with the President’s Chief of Staff, Joshua Bolten, to further that discussion.
I thought the meeting was constructive and comfortable and it is clear that at this early point in the negotiations, nothing is off the table. We agreed to meet again early next week.
Meanwhile, I will be talking with members of my caucus, with Senator McConnell, and with our experts, and will continue to work on our ideas for a way forward.
I also know that many of my Republican friends across the aisle feel strongly that a change of course in our Iraq strategy is needed, one that holds the Administration and the Iraqis accountable for real results.
I know that many of my Republican friends intend to be part of the solution on the way forward, and I look forward to working with them.
We look forward to continuing negotiations, which we will do today and every day until we reach agreement on a bill that fully funds the troops while providing a responsible new course that makes America more secure.
Events on the ground give this challenge great urgency.
The month of April saw an American death toll of more than 100 – making it the deadliest month of the year for our troops in Iraq and one of the deadliest of the entire war.
The President’s own Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released its quarterly report last weekend that painted a dispiriting picture of waste, ineffectiveness and failure to achieve even minimally satisfactory results.
Despite burning through most of the twenty billion American dollars planned for reconstruction, many Iraqis are without basic necessities like electricity and clean drinking water.
Only 1/3 of Iraqi children are regularly attending school, and 70% are suffering from symptoms of trauma that could paralyze an entire generation that we are counting on to harvest the seeds of democracy.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is accused of sabotaging efforts for peace and stability by firing some of the country’s top law enforcement officials for doing too good a job of combating violent Shiite militias.
President Bush speaks of pressuring the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their own future – yet while American troops are fighting and dying to secure the country, the Iraqi government is planning a two month summer vacation.
We throw around a lot of numbers and statistics to highlight the failures and high stakes of the war. We must also remember that behind each of those numbers is a personal story.
Yesterday, my home state paper in Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal, published an article about a 26 year old soldier named John Shoup.
After surviving seven months in Iraq, John returned home to Nevada without physical injury. Many of his friends were not so lucky.
But almost immediately, John’s wife Lori knew that he was not well at all.
She said — Quote — “I noticed in the first week he wasn’t sleeping…he started to get a little snappy…he started crying and started throwing things.”
John told his wife about the four roadside bomb attacks that he survived, but that wounded some of his friends.
He told her about the times he was called to collect the remains of troops who had been killed in platoons ahead of his.
After a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and several hospital stints, John attempted suicide. He continues to struggle with his illness, and now awaits another transfer from the hospital at Nellis Air Force Base near his home in Nevada to Walter Reed here in Washington.
We all know that war comes with casualties. Our soldiers have always shouldered that burden when the mission to protect America’s security was clear.
What is our mission today? When John Shoup was asked that question, he replied, “All we do is drive around and wait to get blown up.”
Our troops are interjected between warring factions — kicking down doors, trying to sort Shia from Sunni, or friend from foe.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan is deteriorating, Osama Bin Laden remains at large, and Al Qaeda is rebuilding its strength.
Our current strategy is not a strategy for success. It is a recipe for more death and destruction, over-burdening our military and leaving America less secure.
We approach these discussions with the White House with an open mind and a sincere desire to move forward. But John and Lori Shoup – and all Americans — deserve to know that our resolve to change course in Iraq will not waver.