Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke on the floor on the U.S. Senate today, urging Republicans to allow an up-or-down vote on the Levin-Reed amendment to the Defense Authorization bill that will transition the mission in Iraq. Following are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“After 52 months, America finds itself mired in one of the most tragic foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history, with no end in sight. In my view, it will take years – and, I fear, perhaps decades – to finally close the book on the damage this war has caused our troops, our economy and our moral standing in the world.
“On May 24th, President Bush said, ‘We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say leave, we would leave.’
“This weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki – for whom President Bush has expressed consistent support and confidence – said that Iraqi forces could take control of their security at ‘any time’ American troops want to leave. A recent poll of the Iraqi people showed that 21 percent think the American presence makes their country safer, while 69 percent say it puts them at greater risk. The Iraqi people and their leader say they are ready for us to end our combat operation. It’s time we listen to them.
“In the war’s four-plus years, our troops have accomplished everything they have been asked to do. They took down the Iraqi dictator. They secured the country for not one, not two, but three elections. And they have provided the security needed for Iraqi factions to come together to negotiate peaceful settlement of their differences.
“But Iraqi leaders have not done their part. After 52 months, more than 3,600 Americans killed and another 20,000 wounded, and after nearly $500 billion of American taxpayer dollars spent – after all this sacrifice – it’s long past time for the Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people to put their words into action by taking responsibility for their own future. After 52 months, more than 3,600 Americans killed and another 20,000 wounded, and after nearly $500 billion of American taxpayer dollars spent, President Bush continues to tell our troops and all Americans that we should wait it out – just stay the course.
“Our troops and our security cannot afford the President’s run-out-the-clock strategy. We have an opportunity and an obligation to change course in Iraq right now. We can remove our brave troops from the front lines of another country’s civil war – a conflict we have no business policing and little chance to diffuse.
“We can conduct the kind of tough and strong diplomacy required to stabilize Iraq and the region, which even the President’s own military experts plea with him to revive. We can refocus our resources and fight a real war on terrorism that drives the terrorists back to the darkest caves and corners of the earth. And we can choose that new path right now.
“We don’t have to mark time, waiting for the President to wake up one morning with a change of heart. We don’t have to wait two more months for an arbitrary September deadline when it is so clear that a course change is required now. With our courage and our votes, we can rise above this tragic failure to deliver the new course that our brave troops – and all Americans – demand and deserve. We can do that today, by voting for the Levin/Reed amendment to the Defense Authorization bill.
“The Levin/Reed amendment:
- sets a firm start and end date to transition the mission and begin the reduction of U.S. forces – beginning 120 days after enactment and completed by April 30, 2008;
- limits the U.S. military mission after April 30 to counter-terror, training of Iraqi security forces, and protection of U.S. personnel and assets; and
- requires that the reduction in forces be part of a comprehensive diplomatic, regional, political and economic effort and appoints an international mediator to bring together the warring factions.
“To those who say this language is binding on the President, I say, Yes it is. It is binding because the President has resisted every effort we have made to work with him to change the direction of his failed Iraq policy. The record will show that binding language was not our first choice.
“We passed legislation requiring that 2006 be a year of transition. Instead, the President ignored this language and dug us in even deeper. We gave the President the chance to develop his own new course as commander-in-chief. Instead, he chose to extend deployments and ask even more of our brave men and women in uniform. Earlier this year, we passed legislation that would have begun the phased redeployment while leaving significant discretion to the President about how and when to execute that redeployment. Instead, the President vetoed this bill and asserted that only he had the power to set war policy.
“So the record here is clear. The President’s decision to stubbornly cling to the current course leaves this body no choice but to enact binding language. He has failed to lead us out of Iraq. We are ready to show him the way.
[Request for unanimous consent on Reed/Levin bill blocked]
“My worst fears on this bill have been realized. We have just seen the Republican leadership again resort to technical maneuver to block progress on this crucial amendment. It would be one thing for Republicans to vote against this bill. If they honestly believe that ‘stay the course’ is the right strategy – they have the right to vote ‘No.’
“But now, Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops. They are denying us an up or down – yes or no – vote on the most important issue our country faces.
“I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down. If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin-Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday. The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up-or-down vote on this amendment to end it.
“Given the Republican leadership’s decision to block the amendment, we have no choice but to do everything we can in the coming days to highlight Republican obstruction. We do this in hopes of ultimately getting a simple up-or-down vote on this and other important amendments that could change the direction of the war.
“All Senators will be welcome to speak their mind. Those of us who are ready to end the war will make our case to the American people. Those who support the status quo are welcome to equal floor time to make their case. Let the American people hear the arguments. Let them see their elected representatives engaging in a full, open and honest debate. Let them hear why Republicans are obstructing us on this amendment.
“Whenever Republicans are ready to allow a vote on this most crucial legislation, we stand ready to deliver the new course that has been so long in coming.”