Senate Democrats

Reid: Democrats Will Continue Fight To Change Course In Iraq

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks today on the floor of the U.S. Senate prior to voting in support of the FY2007 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill:

More than four years ago the Bush Administration took this nation to war in Iraq without sufficient troops, without a plan to win the peace, and without truth regarding Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction or his non-existent links to Al Qaeda.

Nearly 51 months later – 6 months longer than it took this nation to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II – the violence in Iraq continues and the cost to our military and our nation has been frightening. More than 3400 American troops have made the ultimate sacrifice – death. Nine were killed yesterday and two more today in the escalating violence across Iraq. Guard and Reserve units all across America lack equipment to do their jobs in Iraq or here at home. U.S. citizens have provided nearly half a trillion dollars to cover the cost of this civil war. And because of this war, our nation has been totally distracted in its efforts to defeat those who attacked us on 9/11. Indeed, more than five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still free and Al Qaeda remains a potent force.

Throughout all of this, our military has performed heroically. Our troops have done everything asked of them, and more. Our troops toppled a dictator and gave the Iraqis a chance to establish a new government and a new way of life. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration did not provide them a strategy that matched their sacrifice. Iraq is now in a state of civil war, with no end in sight, and our valiant troops are caught in the middle.

Instead of accepting this reality, President Bush stubbornly refuses to change course. Instead of listening to his military commanders who say there is no military solution in Iraq, he has plunged our forces further into sectarian infighting. Instead of accepting a bipartisan path in Iraq offered by the Congress and even the Iraq Study Group, the President stubbornly clings to his failed “my way or the highway” approach to governing America.

Major General John Batiste, who commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq says this about the President’s failed Iraq policy: “Here is the bottom line: Americans must come to grips with the fact that our military alone cannot establish a democracy… We cannot sustain the current operational tempo without seriously damaging the Army and Marine Corps…our troops have been asked to carry the burden of an ill-conceived mission.”

Earlier this year, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said the problems in Iraq are more complex than Vietnam, and military victory is no longer possible.

General George Casey, formerly commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and currently Chief of Staff of the Army, said, “It’s always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq…”

Six months ago the Iraq Study Group said the situation in Iraq was “grave and deteriorating.” The civil war in Iraq has only gotten more pronounced since then. And unfortunately, the President’s escalation strategy has not produced the positive results we seek:

  • Attacks on U.S. forces have increased, not decreased. Since the onset of this latest surge, more than three U.S. soldiers have been killed every day. Nearly 90 soldiers have been killed this month alone; almost 400 since the escalation plan began.
  • Sectarian killings have increased back to pre-surge levels. According to today’s Washington Post, over 300 unidentified corpses, many dumped and showing signs of torture and execution, were found across the Iraqi capital in the month of May.
  • Four million Iraqis, including 1.6 million children, have fled their homes because of the violence, setting the stage for a massive humanitarian crisis.
  • Our military has been pushed to the breaking point. To make up for shortages of combat ready forces, tours of duty have been extended recently from 12 to 15 months, with many soldiers now on their third and fourth tours. I spoke with one Nevada family whose son was killed in action last week. This soldier had survived four vehicle explosions during his four tours of duty. That’s too much to ask of any soldier and his family. Perhaps not surprisingly after all of this, the soldier had expressed reservations about the war in Iraq. The grandfather said, “It’s a waste of young lives. We should not be in the middle of a civil war.”
  • Meanwhile, our capacity to respond to other challenges around the world has been greatly constrained. Terror attacks across the world are up not down. U.S. influence and standing are down not up. And by focusing on Iraq and doing little or nothing in the rest of the Middle East, this critical region has been destabilized even further and stands even closer to a broader regional war.

The American people saw all of this unfolding last November and they reached a conclusion that enough was enough. That is why they sent this President and the Congress a clear and unmistakable message: find a responsible end to this war.

And that is what congressional Democrats have done. From the very first day of this Democratically-controlled Congress, we made it clear to the President that the days of blank checks and green lights for his failed policy are over. After six years of rubberstamping President Bush’s failed policies, Congress has reasserted its rightful position in our constitutional form of government.

Democrats have held more hearings on Iraq in four months than the Republican-controlled Congress held in four years. We have repeatedly forced our Republican colleagues to debate and vote on where they stand with respect to the President’s failed Iraq policy. And with each step we have taken, the pressure on the President and his Republican allies to change course has grown.

The most important step we have taken to date occurred last month. In the face of heavy White House pressure and more misleading statements by Administration officials, Congress was able to pass a bill that did what the American people asked us to do: (1) fully fund our troops, and (2) immediately change the direction of the war in Iraq.

In addition, the bill provided much needed funds to procure additional equipment for our Guard and Reserve and to provide health care services for our active duty troops and heroic veterans.

I am very proud of the Senate Democratic caucus. In less than four months of Democratic control and with virtual Democratic unanimity, the Congress sent the President binding language that would truly compel him to do what the American people desire.

Unfortunately, the President vetoed that important legislation, leaving him further isolated from the American people, military experts and an increasing number of his own political party.

In the days since that veto, we have had negotiations with the Administration about how to proceed. The President made it clear he intended to veto any effort to implement timelines, transition the mission, or ensure the readiness of our troops before they are deployed. Furthermore, here in the Senate, our minority colleagues made it clear that they are determined to place procedural hurdles – most notably requiring 60 votes rather than a simple majority – in front of those who seek to significantly alter the President’s Iraq policy. Democratic unanimity with a handful of Republicans will not be sufficient to do what we believe must be done.

Until more Republicans develop the courage to step forward and insist that the President change course in Iraq, Republican intransigence has left us with no good options.

How to vote on the bill before us is a very difficult and personal decision for each member of this body. There are many thoughtful members of my caucus who believe we should vote “NO” – and continue to vote “NO” – until the President and his supporters come to their senses.

There are equally thoughtful members who believe we must vote “YES” because this bill does take a step forward in holding the President and the Iraqis accountable and that it does increase pressure on this Administration and its supporters to change direction in Iraq.

Although this is a very close call for me as I suspect it is for many Senators, I have decided to support this measure. But let me say: I know that those who oppose this bill care just as deeply about the safety of our troops as I do.

And they know I care just as deeply about changing the course in Iraq as they do.

This bill before us clearly does not go as far as a bipartisan majority of Congress would like but it goes a lot further than the President and his supporters were willing to go earlier this month. That is why we saw this headline in a recent edition of the Los Angeles Times: “Senate tilting on Iraq policy; Republicans show their strongest willingness yet to rein in Bush…”

Here’s what the bill requires of the Administration and the Iraqis:

  • Establishes 18 benchmarks on which to measure the Iraqi government’s performance;
  • Restricts use of foreign aid to the Iraqi government should they fail to make meaningful progress;
  • Requires the President to certify that the Iraqi government deserves these funds even if they fail to perform as promised;
  • Requires the Administration to testify before Congress and an independent assessment by the General Accounting Office on the performance of the Iraqi government;
  • Requires the President to submit a report on the combat proficiency of Iraqi security forces;
  • Requires the President to redeploy our troops if the Iraqi government concludes our presence is no longer desired;
  • Restricts use of Defense Department funding until Congress receives information about contractors in Iraq; and
  • States official U.S. policy precludes no permanent military bases in Iraq, no torture of detainees, and no designs on Iraqi oil.

Some of this language was taken from an amendment offered by Senator Warner last week. Senator Warner offered his amendment as an alternative to the Feingold-Reid amendment that would have immediately transitioned the mission in Iraq and required a phased redeployment to be completed by April 2008. Naturally I said the Feingold-Reid language was far superior to the Warner language. However, today we don’t have the option of choosing between Feingold-Reid and Warner. Although the Warner language is weak by comparison to the Feingold-Reid language and I so stated on the Senate floor, I believe we can begin holding the Administration accountable if we adopt the Warner language plus the other Iraq-related provisions contained in this bill.

I know none of these measures come close to the timelines and accountability provisions I supported in the vetoed bill. However, I also know that these provisions will force the Administration to do more than they have ever done before.

I also know that the stakes are too high and our obligation to the troops and the country are too great for us to stop working to force the President and his supporters to change course.

The burden for securing and governing Iraq must now rest with the Iraqi people. As General Abizaid said, “It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.” And General Doug Lute, recently nominated by President Bush to be his “war czar,” said, “we believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward.”

As long as I am leader and this President persists in pursuing the worst foreign policy blunder in this nation’s history, the American people should know that I am determined to fight for change in Iraq.

The Senate Armed Services Committee reported out the FY2008 Defense Authorization bill earlier today. We will move to it in our next work period which starts in 10 days. This battle for a responsible and effective Iraq policy will be rejoined in the Senate no later than when we take up that bill. Senate Democrats will not stop our efforts to change the course of this war until either enough Republicans join with us to reject President Bush’s failed policy or we get a new President.

In 1941 at an address to the Harrow School, Winston Churchill said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never….”

My colleagues here in the Senate, particularly my Republican colleagues, should know that this is precisely my attitude when it comes to bringing about a change of course in Iraq. Although I did not get everything I sought in the bill before us, I will not give up until the supporters of the President’s failed policy accept the realities on the ground in Iraq. They accept that the President’s plan is not working, that this war must come to an end and that it is time to for our troops to come home in a safe and responsible way.

Paraphrasing the words of Winston Churchill, when it comes to forcing the President to change course in Iraq, Senate Democrats will never give in, never give in, never, never, never.