Senate Democrats

Reid: Democrats’ Iraq Bill Supports Troops, Holds President Accountable

Washington, DCSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of the House-passed Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act of 2008:

“Let’s travel back in time ten months past.  January 10th of this year, to be exact.  In that second week of 2007, America was reaching the fourth full year of war in Iraq, still without clear purpose, plan or Presidential leadership.  President Bush had faced a stinging rejection of his Iraq strategy by the voters in November.  He had fired his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.  Republicans in the House and Senate were publicly and privately breaking ranks with his strategy.  The demand and imperative to change course and end the war were clear, and for the first time in his presidency, there was real reason to believe that he would heed the call for change.

“But on that day in January, he did just the opposite and called for a surge of forces in Iraq.  Not a responsible transition out of combat, not a refocus on the war on terror, but a plan to sink us further into the intractable Iraqi civil war.  What were the goals of the surge?  Here are the President’s own words: ‘The strategy I announced in January is…aimed at helping the Iraqis strengthen their government so that it can function even amid violence.  It seeks to open space for Iraq’s political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability.’

“Fast forward to today – 10 months later.  It is indisputable that the goals of the surge have failed.  The Iraqi parliament created eight benchmarks for progress toward national reconciliation.  Those benchmarks were passed by Congress and signed by President Bush.  According to an independent analysis by the GAO, only one and a half of the eight legislative benchmarks have been achieved.  That’s a failing grade by any standard.

“Without evidence of reconciliation, the Bush Administration and its allies are trying a new playbook – pointing to recent reductions in violence.  To be clear, any shift that makes conditions less dangerous for our troops and the Iraqi people is welcome news.

“But we must not forget that 2007 has now been the deadliest year for our troops of the entire war.  We must remember that more than 3,800 Americans have died.  That tens of thousands more have been gravely wounded.  That, according to the Joint Economic Council, more than $1 trillion has already been spent.  And that 5 million Iraqi men, women and children have fled their neighborhoods or left the country altogether – out of a total population of less than 30 million.

“With these staggering costs and political reconciliation nowhere in site, how would the President honestly judge his troop surge?  We know how General Petraeus rates it.  In a letter to the troops, he wrote, ‘One of the justifications of the surge, after all, was that it would help create the space for Iraqi leaders to tackle the tough questions and agree on key pieces of national reconciliation legislation. It has not worked out as we had hoped.’

“And why has reconciliation failed?  Yesterday’s Washington Post reported the alarm among our military leaders that the Iraqis are simply not doing their part.  Quoting from this article:

‘U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians…

‘…The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements.’

“Our troops continue to fight and die – and our treasury continues to be depleted – for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq’s own political leaders.  Meanwhile, the hidden costs of the war are only growing.  Our military is stretched nearly to a breaking point, which has prompted Secretary Colin Powell to say, ‘The army is about broken.’

“New evidence emerges every day that President Bush’s obsession with Iraq has come at the expense of Afghanistan, once viewed as a success.  Now, the opium trade in that country is at an all-time high, violence is at its highest since the American intervention, and it was reported yesterday that the Taliban has vastly stepped up its efforts.  Meanwhile, Bin Laden is still free, taunting and threatening us with video tapes, and his Al Qaeda network – according to the Bush Administration’s own intelligence – has regrouped and is stronger than ever.

“And we need look no further than the crisis in Pakistan as a reminder that the world can change overnight, and our ability to respond nimbly to new challenges is essential.  Are we prepared to do so? General Casey said in September: ‘The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight, and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies.’

“The evidence – from General Casey, from Secretary Powell, from the GAO, and from the constant news reports – is indisputable.  Yet President Bush has demanded another $200 billion with no accountability at all.

“Now the choice is ours.  Those of us who think the answer in Iraq is more of the same should approve the President’s request.  If you think we should simply stay the course, approve the President’s request.  But if you think it’s time we turn the page and take a responsible path out of Iraq, approve the bridge fund bill.

“We will never turn away from our courageous troops, and this bill requires the President to start bringing them home so that they can get the hero’s welcome that has been so bravely earned.  Our bill sets a reasonable goal for the end of combat operations.  And it finally ensures that the President will be accountable to the Congress and to the people.  I urge all my colleagues to support this fair and responsible bill.”