Washington, DC — With the formation of a partial government in Iraq over the weekend, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today spoke on the Floor of the U.S. Senate, calling on President Bush to use this new milestone as an opportunity to show genuine leadership in order to ensure that Iraqis take control of their country.
Excerpts of Senator Reid’s speech and a fact check on the president’s speech in today in Chicago follow below. The full text of Senator Reid’s speech is available here.
“…[W]hile we all should welcome this partially formed new government, we recall other political milestones that were achieved and quickly swallowed by more violence. For example, since the December election, more than 325 coalition troops have been killed. In order to ensure that this milestone produces a different and more lasting result, Iraqis–working with the Bush Administration–must address outstanding issues surrounding their Constitution. They must form a police force, and diffuse the sectarian conflicts which have left their country on the brink of civil war.
. . .
“Great challenges require strong leadership. Today’s speech by the president was yet another missed opportunity to provide that leadership. We heard little about his plan to engage Iraq’s neighbors in finding a regional solution to Iraq’s problems. We heard little about his diplomatic efforts to end the sectarian strife. We heard little about his thoughts on how to put Iraq’s reconstruction back on track. And we heard little about what he’s doing to counter the extreme ideology that has made such dangerous inroads into Iraq and around the world.
. . .
“The nation should no longer have to guess what’s on the President’s mind, and grapple for some insight into what a ‘conditions based’ withdrawal actually means – a phrase the Defense Secretary apparently doesn’t even understand. It’s time for the Iraqi people to take control of their own country, their own affairs and long past time that this administration should come up with a plan that places the burden of securing Iraq’s forces on Iraq itself. The burden of securing Iraq should be on Iraqis, not the United States. We’ve done a lot. So, even though the news over the weekend created parts of a new government is a step forward, we still have a long ways to go.”
FACT CHECK: President Bush
Bush Celebrates the Formation of an Iraqi Unity Government. “The unity government has strong leaders that will represent all of the Iraqi people.” [5/22/06]
– FACT: Bush Underestimates the Challenges Still Ahead. “The 36 men and women appointed to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet — in an ominous sign of continuing divisions, three key ministries were left vacant — took over from a transitional government that has been widely viewed as a miserable failure…Every milestone in the American political road map for Iraq has been accompanied by severe political turbulence, and American officials have been forced at each stage to resort to last-minute expedients that kept the momentum going, but only at the cost of setting aside key issues that will have to be resolved if the new Iraqi state is to survive. In effect, the Americans have been forced to agree to punt on a wide range of issues, just as they were when the rival Iraqi parties failed to agree on the security posts on Saturday.” [New York Times, 5/21/06]
Bush Cited the Presence of Highly Educated and Skilled Iraqis as a Source of Optimism for the Country’s Future. “[The new unity] government moves forward and can draw on the strengths of Iraqi. Among the most highly educated and skilled people in the Middle East.” [5/22/06]
– FACT: Bush Ignores Reports that the Iraqi Middle Class is Leaving Iraq. “In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country. In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country’s estimated middle class.” [New York Times, 5/18/06]
Bush Said U.S. Will Transition to a Supportive Role as Iraqi Capabilities Improve. “And the new Iraqi government grows in confidence and capability, America will play an increasingly supporting role. [5/22/06]
– FACT: Poor Planning by the Bush Administration for Police Training Means U.S. Troops Will Stay in Iraq Longer. “The police, initially envisioned by the Bush administration as a cornerstone in a new democracy, have instead become part of Iraq’s grim constellation of shadowy commandos, ruthless political militias and other armed groups. Iraq’s new prime minister and senior American officials now say the country’s future — and the ability of America to withdraw its troops — rests in large measure on whether the police can be reformed and rogue groups reined in. Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq, drawn from interviews with several dozen American and Iraqi officials, internal police reports and visits to Iraqi police stations and training camps, shows a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order. [New York Times, 5/21/06]
Bush Said Freedom in Iraq Will Provide Inspiration to the Middle East. “And for the people across the broader Middle East, a free Iraq will be an inspiration. Iraqis have done more than form a government. They have proved that the desire for liberty in the heart of the Middle East is for real. They’ve show diverse people can come together and work out their differences and find a way forward. And they’ve demonstrated that democracy is the hope of the Middle East and the destiny of all mankind.” [5/22/06]
– FACT: Bush’s Middle East Policies Do Not Promote Freedom in the Middle East.
— Egyptian President’s Son Secretly Visits Bush, Cheney, and Rice as the Egyptian Government Cracks Down on Pro-Democracy Demonstrations in Cairo. “The son of Egypt’s president made a secret trip to Washington last week to meet with Vice President Cheney and other senior U.S. officials a day after thousands of Egyptian riot police broke up a pro-democracy demonstration back in Cairo, U.S. and Egyptian officials said yesterday. . . . . Aside from Cheney, Mubarak had a separate White House meeting with national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. President Bush stopped by for a few minutes to shake Mubarak’s hand and convey greetings to his father. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stayed for a portion of the discussion with Hadley. It is unusual for a private foreign citizen with no official portfolio to receive so much high-level attention. The meetings came a day after stick-wielding riot police officers disrupted a demonstration in Cairo, chasing protesters, beating them and removing them. The demonstrators were supporting two judges from Egypt’s highest court who alleged fraud during elections last year and were threatened with disciplinary action.” [Washington Post, 5/16/06]
— Middle East Peace Not a Priority as Bush’s Popularity Plummets. “Nearly three years ago, President Bush stood shoulder to shoulder with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and declared Middle East peace a ‘matter of the highest priority’ for his administration. Now, on the eve of talks with new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the conflict has slid down the U.S. agenda as Bush confronts low approval ratings, an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and an emerging nuclear challenge from Iran.” [Reuters, 5/22/06]
— Bush Remains Unwilling to Engage in Talks with Iran. “Sticks are not going to work .. . In its second term, the Bush administration has softened its Iran policy, and yet it remains unwilling to talk, let alone negotiate, on anything substantive. As with North Korea, the shift toward a less hostile policy is so slight that it can’t possibly succeed.” [Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, 8/16/05]
— Syria is Defiant in the Face of Criticism by the U.S. and its Allies. “The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution, cosponsored by the United States, France and Britain, pressing Syria to establish diplomatic relations and set its border with neighboring Lebanon. Syria reacted angrily, criticizing the measure as unprecedented interference in the affairs of two countries and ‘a tool for unjustified pressure and a provocation.’ A Syrian government newspaper, Tishrin, kept up criticism of the resolution Saturday, calling it ‘a flagrant violation of the United Nations charter, because diplomatic relations among countries are their own decision.'” [AP, 5/20/06]