Senate Democrats

Reid: Democrats Welcome Republicans To The Debate On Changing Course In Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement this afternoon on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

Mr. President, nearly a week has passed since the President vetoed a bipartisan proposal that fully funded our troops and also changed course in Iraq so that we can responsibly end the war.

Although the President’s actions thwarted the will of the American people, they deserve to know that their leaders in Congress continue to work toward an agreement on an Emergency Supplemental Bill that makes America more secure, fully funds our troops and responsibly changes course in Iraq.

Our proposal called for a change in the mission and the phased redeployment of U.S. combat forces no later than October 1, 2007. 

A bipartisan majority of the House and Senate made it clear that they believe a timeline for the reduction of combat operations will compel the Iraqi government to take responsibility for their own country, will reduce the specter of occupation, and will allow our forces to come home. 

The American people believe this overwhelmingly.

Now there are signs that the Republican leadership in Congress is beginning to think we need a timeline as well.

Yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Times, House Republican Leader John Boehner said – quote – “Mr. Bush risks defections in the fall if the war situation hasn’t improved. 

“‘By the time we get to September or October, members are going to be want to know how well this is working, and if it isn’t, what’s Plan B,’ Mr. Boehner said.”

The House Minority Leader now seems to be saying that he and his colleagues agree that there must be time limits on President’s current course in Iraq.

What’s also revealing, and somewhat disturbing, is that the Republican Leader is willing to allow our troops to stay in Iraq with a failing strategy until he and his colleagues decide it is time to part with the President. 

President Bush – the same President who vetoed our plan – said this as a candidate about his predecessor, President Clinton and the war in Bosnia, in 1999:

Quote – “I think it’s important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they would be withdrawn."

We hope the President will keep his own past words in mind as these negotiations continue.

And we are pleased to see the House Republican Leader, speaking on behalf of his caucus, adopt our view that this commitment in Iraq must not be open-ended. 

It is surely no coincidence that his views come at a time when conditions in Iraq grow ever worse.

I am reminded of the Easter Sermon of Pope Benedict, delivered just one month ago:

The Pope said – quote – “How many wounds – how much suffering there is in the world,” he said.  “Nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”

Since those words were spoken, conditions have indeed deteriorated: 

  • In April, our troops suffered the deadliest month of the year 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 percent 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 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.

And yesterday, Mr. President, eight more courageous American soldiers fell. 

I have no doubt that these developments weighed on Leader Boehner’s mind when he made his comments suggesting a Fall timeline to the war in Iraq.

I also know that he is not alone. 

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.

No one wants to succeed in Iraq and make America more secure than I do. 

But as Leader Boehner’s comments illustrate, President Bush’s current strategy is only a recipe for more death, more destruction and more wasted American treasure.

And as we continue these negotiations in good faith, the American people should continue to know that our commitment to a responsible new course will not waver.