Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada spoke today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of Senator Jim Webb’s military readiness amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. Following are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Yesterday marked six months from the day that President Bush introduced his ‘temporary’ troop escalation plan to the American people. Six months ago, President Bush implicitly acknowledged that the Iraq policy he had been pursuing for nearly four years had failed. He asked the American people to overlook those four years of failure and trust that his new plan to place tens of thousands of additional American troops in the middle of a civil war would bring about success.
“Six months ago – nearly four years after taking us into war based on deception and falsification, he asked us for trust. Despite his failure to convince other countries to share the burden of war with us – forcing our own brave troops to shoulder the burden of the war virtually alone – he asked us for trust. After nearly four years of strategic blunders and tragic mismanagement that left our troops without either the equipment they needed or the strategy for success they deserved, he asked us for trust.
“At a time when more than 3,000 American lives had already been lost, tens of thousands more wounded, and Iraq in flames, President Bush asked us for more trust so he could put tens of thousands of additional American troops in harm’s way. Since then, six months have passed. 600 more American have died. $60 billion more has been spent. Sectarian violence has not diminished. And most importantly, the Iraqi government has failed to take meaningful steps to begin taking responsibility for its country’s own future.
“But still, President Bush and his Republican allies ask us for more patience, more trust, and more time. They say that after more than four years of incompetent mismanagement, they finally think they’ve got it right. That’s like a quarterback throwing three interceptions in a row, one after another, and then insisting to his coach, ‘Trust me. Leave me in,’ but not changing his game plan.
“There’s simply no evidence that the escalation is working. Conditions are deteriorating and more lives are being lost every day. The days of trust are over. Some would rather wait until September before forcing the President to change course. If there were real signs of progress or real reason for hope, that might make sense. And if the real costs being borne by our troops and their families were not so high, perhaps we could afford more patience and more trust.
“If we wait until September, more Americans will die, more American treasure will be depleted, the Middle East will become ever more destabilized, and our efforts to focus on the real war on terror will be impeded. Waiting until September is not the answer. Holding out blind hope – blind trust – that progress will appear out of thin air, that is not the answer.
“The Department of Defense Authorization bill and the amendments that we will offer to it are the next chance we have to chart a responsible new course out of Iraq. The American people demand that new course – and they deserve it. Our brave men and women in uniform deserve it too. And they deserve more than speeches expressing disapproval and dismay with the current course.
“Our votes, not our voices, will determine whether we heed the call for a new course. Our votes, not our voices, will demonstrate whether we reject President Bush’s failed policy. And our votes, not our voices, will prove whether our resolve is firm and whether we are prepared to lead.
“We will work hard this week and next to pass a Defense Authorization bill that reflects our resolve to pursue a responsible and binding new policy. That’s going to require significant Republican support, and already, we are seeing some Republicans speak out against the President. We hope that they and other Republicans will put their words into action by not just saying the right things, but voting the right way too.
“That can start today. We have an amendment before us that is critical for the strength of our military and the well-being of our troops. Regardless of where we stand on the war, I would hope that we stand as one in our commitment to keeping our military the strongest in the world. We should all agree that we can’t sustain that strength if our men and women in uniform aren’t given the protection and care they need. That’s not a Democratic talking point or a Republican talking point – it’s just common sense.
“That’s why I rise to support the amendment offered by my friend and colleague, Senator Webb, and cosponsored by dozens of others. It is also why I am so surprised that Republican leadership has decided to block this amendment – to once again stand for obstruction and stand against progress – and I fear it is a sign of what’s to come from the minority party in the tough votes yet to come.
“Senator Webb’s readiness amendment begins the critical and long overdue process of rebuilding our badly overburdened military. And who better qualified to author an amendment on troop readiness than Jim Webb – a Naval Academy graduate, Marine Corps Commander, winner of the Silver Star, the Navy Cross, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts – and a Secretary of the Navy. Senator Webb’s son, Jimmy, also just returned from a deployment to Iraq. We are grateful for Jimmy’s service and so pleased that he is home safe.
“Jim Webb knows the consequences of overburdening the military, and he knows that ours is stretched nearly to the breaking point. Here are just a few signs and results of that burden:
- Among the army’s 44 active combat brigades, all but one has served at least one tour in Afghanistan. Thirty-one of them have had two or more tours.
- Among the National Guard and Reserves, 80 percent have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, with an average of 18 months per deployment.
- This week, the army announced that recruitment has fallen short by 15 percent for the second month in a row.
- Last year, the active army was 3,000 officers short, and that is only projected to increase.
- So much of the equipment and supplies meant for Guard and reserve use here at home has been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan that only 30 percent of essential equipment remains. That shortfall is costing an estimated $36 billion – just one of many hidden costs of the war.
“And we have all heard of the heavy personal costs this overburdening of the military is causing, with higher rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and divorces among military families reported than ever before. Our troops are not machines. They are parents missing little league games. Spouses missing anniversaries. Children of mothers and fathers who wait and worry for their safety. They need and deserve time off from the trauma of war – to see their families, and to reconnect with their normal lives.
“The Webb amendment is simple: It states that if a member of the active military is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they are entitled to the same length of time back home before they can be redeployed. It also states that members of the Reserves may not be redeployed within three years of their original deployment – which will not only give them time to recover from deployment, but will restore our reserve forces to respond to emergencies here at home.
“Anyone who watched the tornadoes in Kansas and other states’ emergencies knows how crucial a well-maintained and supported Reserve force is to our domestic safety. Some have tried to confuse this issue by calling it an infringement of presidential authority. This is simply false. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to ‘make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.’
“And this amendment provides ample presidential waivers in the case of an emergency that threatens our national security. The Webb amendment sets a standard and binding policy, but it does not tie the president or the Congress’s hands to respond to an emergency.
“If we are committed to building a military that is fully equipped and prepared to address the challenges we face throughout the world – and I know we are – then we must support this amendment. If we are committed to repaying in some small measure the sacrifices our brave troops are making every day – and I know we are – then we must support this amendment.
“I am discouraged that the Republican leadership chose to block this troop readiness amendment. If Republicans oppose troop readiness, they are entitled to vote against it. If Republicans don’t believe that our courageous men and women in uniform deserve more rest and mental health, they can vote no on this amendment. If they don’t agree that constant redeployments and recruiting shortages are straining our armed forces, they can vote no on this amendment.
“But to block this amendment – to not even give it an up or down vote – shows that some of my Republican colleagues are protecting their president rather than protecting our troops. But just because some in the minority party are choosing obstruction does not mean that all Republicans must follow in lockstep. I urge all of my colleagues who believe we need a new course to support this amendment. It is a crucial first step on the path toward a responsible end to the war.”