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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007 -- (Senate - June 21, 2006)

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, to decide our future in Iraq, we must first understand our past in Iraq.

Frankly, I never believed this administration's false arguments about why we should go to war in Iraq. And I believe this administration has never had a strategy for success in Iraq.

That's why I voted against the war in Iraq.

The Bush administration led us into this war based on false premises and false promises.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq without the troop numbers needed to complete the job.

The Bush administration failed to provide the troops with the equipment they needed letting them go into Iraq without proper body armor or properly armored vehicles

The Bush administration failed to create a real international coalition so that the United States wouldn't have to bear the highest cost in blood and national treasure.

And President Bush went into the war without a plan to win the peace.

This was a war of choice, not a war of necessity.

The Bush administration's record in Iraq represents a massive failure of leadership--a massive failure of Presidential leadership.

Let me be clear. While I did not support the war, I have always supported the troops on the battlefield. Our troops have succeeded in the tasks they were given. They have fought for freedom and security in the most difficult of situations. They have risked their lives to protect ours. And the Nation is indebted to them for their service.

In New Jersey, over 3,169 New Jerseyans are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and 71 service members with ties to New Jersey have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in Iraq or Afghanistan and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. Obviously, our troops are committed to this call to duty. They have not questioned the why, or the wherefore, they have simply, honorably, and valiantly answered the call of their country.

But we are all living with the consequences of this failure in Presidential leadership today:

Iraq continues to explode with sectarian violence.

Reconstruction efforts have not restored Iraq to prewar levels of oil production, security concerns continue to impede progress, while accusations of contractor corruption continue.

We have not been able to internationalize the effort of training and security in Iraq because of the administration's closed-minded decision to keep countries from helping with reconstruction unless they supported the administration's decision to go to war.

On top of the other failures, the administration refused to engage in real diplomacy to create regional security with Iraq's neighbors.

The United States has spent nearly $319 billion in Iraq. Our monthly burn rate is over $8 billion. Over 2,500 American lives have been lost, over 18,500 soldiers have been wounded--many of them severely.

And we were all horrified to hear the news just yesterday that two U.S. soldiers, PFC Kristian Menchaca from Houston, TX and PFC Thomas Lowell Tucker, from Madras, OR, were kidnapped and slaughtered by the insurgents.

My heart goes out to the families of these soldiers and to all who have lost loved ones in Iraq.

I believe we have paid a heavy price for the war in Iraq--in blood and in national treasure.

But we must account for not only the literal cost of the war but also what we have not done because of the war--the opportunity cost of the war in Iraq.

We also cannot forget that our fight against terrorism started where it should have in Afghanistan. But because of the President's war in Iraq, this administration then took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan.

The administration never finished the job in Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban, the home to al-Qaida, the land of Osama bin Laden, and the place where the attacks of 9/11 were planned.

This was the right place to pursue the national security of the United States. It was in Afghanistan that the murderers of September 11 were located. We had Osama bin Laden pinned down in the mountains of Tora Bora. But instead of having a large contingent of the best trained, best equipped, most technologically advanced military in the world go after him, we outsourced the job to Afghanistan warlords. The result? Osama bin Laden got away.

Many of us have been horrified as we have watched the resurgence of the Taliban and strong anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan.

During just the past few weeks, over 250 people have been killed in the upsurge in violence and we see techniques borrowed from Iraq, like the use of improvised explosive devices, now being used in Afghanistan.

According to the New York Times, Pentagon officials say that 32 suicide bombs have been exploded in 2006, which is already 6 more than exploded in all of 2005. Roadside bombings are up 30 percent over last year and the Taliban are fighting in groups triple the size of last year. Just this Monday, we heard reports that the Taliban used women and children as human shields during a fierce firefight with British troops. And after a deadly traffic accident involving the U.S. military, an anti-American riot exploded in Kabul last month. Meanwhile, Bin Laden makes his tapes and remains free.

President Bush's war has also hurt us here at home. The fact is that because of the cost of President Bush's war at almost $319 billion, we cannot afford to take care of some of the basic needs of our citizens here at home. This administration is cutting funds for firefighters, for education, for our seniors, for healthcare, and for homeland security funding in New Jersey and New York to protect our ports and our transit systems. They are underfunding the very veterans who are securing our country and who come back from war wounded or traumatized. The Bush administration is cutting funding to all of these people--our nurses, teachers, and seniors--while spending billions in Iraq every month.

As we start a new hurricane season, I look back on Hurricane Katrina and I see the terrible price the people of the Gulf Coast paid when their National Guard troops were away in Iraq and unable to protect them here at home. Our homeland is simply less secure when our National Guard and Reserves are being kept in permanent rotation away in Iraq.

Clearly, it is time to change the course; we need a new direction in Iraq.

That's why I am supporting the Levin and Kerry amendments today.

The Senate has already spoken saying that 2006 must be a year of transition. That is why the Levin amendment says that we must begin transitioning out troops now while still protecting our people and helping with security. With the Levin amendment, we make it clear that the time has come to change the course, rather than stay the course.

I am also supporting Senator KERRY's amendment which takes the first and most important step by setting a date of July 1, 2007 to have all U.S. troops transition except those critical to training Iraqi security forces, working on specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting our U.S. personnel and facilities, like our embassy.

Let us be clear. This amendment does not say we should remove all of our troops from Iraq right now.

With this amendment, we are saying that it is time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their own destiny.

With this amendment, we are sending a message that over the course of the next year, the Iraqis must take full control of their own country, their own security, and their own future.

With this amendment, we are saying that we respect the message of the Iraqis' own elected, sovereign government. At a time when the Iraqis have put in place the entire cabinet of the elected government of Prime Minister Maliki; at a time when the United States and coalition forces have trained and equipped more than 116,000 Iraqi soldiers and more than 148,000 Iraqi police and other security forces; at a time when sectarian violence has taken over terrorism as the most serious security threat in Iraq; at a time when 69 out of the 102 army combat battalions, are either soon able to take the lead or able to operate independently, isn't it time for the Iraqis to start taking responsibility for their own destiny?

In fact, the Iraqis have made this point themselves. The Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie said in a Washington Post article this week:

Iraq has to grow out of the shadow of the United States and the coalition, take responsibility for its own decisions, learn from its own mistakes, and find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, with the knowledge that our friends and allies are standing by with support and help should we need it.

He also said that the eventual removal of coalition troops ``will help the Iraqis, who now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be'' and that ``the removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people.'' Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki supports a transfer of responsibility for 16 out of 18 provinces by the end of 2006 and his security adviser believes that we can reduce coalition forces to less than 100,000 by the end of this year with most of the multinational force gone. The Iraqis are clearly saying that they are ready for this transition to happen.

A few days ago, Republican Senators made a great deal of Iraqi sovereignty when I, and Senator NELSON, proposed a Sense of the Senate amendment that urged the government of Iraq not to grant amnesty for those who had killed U.S. soldiers.

We heard a lot about sovereignty.

If the Iraqis are to be respected as a sovereign government, as many argued on the floor of the Senate a few days ago, shouldn't we respect their knowledge and wishes as it relates to the very issue of troop redeployment and their ability to sustain their own security?

It is only when the Iraqis and the rest of the world know there is a certain timeframe for a real transition that they will make the hard choices, negotiations, and compromises to maintain a stable government of national unity. It is time for the U.S. to cap the open-ended commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq and to ``remove the training wheels'' on the Iraqi security forces. The sooner the Iraqi security forces believe they are fighting for their country, the sooner they help stop the sectarian violence. Until that happens, the fledgling Iraqi Government will continue to rely on U.S. forces to keep them from making the difficult decisions and taking tough actions. It is time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate.

Clearly, it is essential to set a date certain for transition so that Iraqis will take responsibility for their country.

It is also essential to set this date certain for transition so that the international community will start to take responsibility for reconstruction and security in Iraq, as well.

The United States cannot go it alone; we must internationalize reconstruction, security, and create an international process to end sectarian violence. It is in everyone's interest to create a stable and secure Iraq. That is why I support the proposed Summit in Senator Kerry's amendment which brings together all of the players--the EU, NATO, the UN, and Iraq's neighbors--to come up with a plan to solve the political problems, to deal with the militias, and to revive reconstruction efforts.

And this Summit will also deal with a key issue to Iraq's stability--oil. Ultimately, all parties need to be brought in to the process and share the oil profits whether through a national fund or some form of revenue sharing. We cannot forget that Iraq has the fourth largest oil reserves in the world. The goal is to reduce insurgent attacks, improve security along the pipeline and create strong oversight over current pipeline reconstruction. The Iraqis need a stable income stream to restore economic stability and help pay for reconstruction and security so we must get oil production back above prewar levels.

I also believe that our worldwide troop deployment must reflect our priorities in the fight against terrorism. Senator Kerry's amendment creates an over-the-horizon troop presence in case we need to deal with other terrorist issues or regional security issues. With the reduction of troops in Iraq we will be able to redeploy certain troops to other key areas, such as Afghanistan. And we will also be able to bring our National Guard and Reserves home to prevent another terrorist attack on our soil and to help during natural disasters.

Let me conclude by saying that there are those who want to politicize the war to present the American people with a false choice--either stay the course by keeping our troops in Iraq or empower the terrorists by cutting and running. I would ask all of you not to fall into the trap of this false choice or simplistic solutions.

Let me be clear, this amendment is not a simplistic choice to leave Iraq today and to let it fall into the hands of the terrorists.

With this amendment, we will begin to fulfill the transition the Senate voted for and the Iraqis have said they intend to pursue.

With this amendment, we are voting to leave sufficient troops in Iraq at the end of that year to fight counterterrorism, to finish training Iraqi forces, and to protect our people and our embassy.

With this amendment, we are voting to put troops over-the horizon in case of other terrorist activity or regional conflict.

With this amendment, we are voting to create regional stability and get the international community to the table.

With this amendment, we are voting to get our National Guard home to keep us safe and secure in our cities and towns.

With this amendment, we are voting to finish the job in Afghanistan.

With this amendment, we are changing the course of events in Iraq--a change of course that will still meet our objectives, save American lives, and ensure our ability to both protect our people at home and meet the other challenges we have as a nation.

Let us remember that this was a war of choice, not a war of necessity.

Let us remember what this administration has told us about this war.

Let us remember the unfound weapons of mass destruction; remember the missing mobile weapons labs; remember the yellow-cake uranium in Africa; remember Saddam's nonexistent vast stockpiles of chemical weapons; remember when Secretary Rumsfeld told us that, ``We know where the WMDs are;'' remember the non-existent link between al-Qaida and Saddam; remember the claims that Iraqi oil and other countries, not the U.S. taxpayer, would pay for the cost of reconstruction; remember when the administration told us that the war would cost somewhere between $50 and $60 billion; remember when Paul Wolfowitz said that ``it seems outlandish'' to think that we would need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq; and let us remember when President Bush told us on May 1, 2003 that ``Major combat operations in Iraq have ended'' while he stood in front of a sign that said ``mission accomplished.''

Let us remember the lies.

So I ask: Are we willing to continue to sacrifice the lives of young Americans so that this same administration can stay the course, a course without direction, for a cause that President Bush has already said that he will abandon to the next president? I hope not.

I will say again, do not fall into the political trap and rhetoric from those who will try to mischaracterize this amendment.

I voted against the Iraq war when many on the other side tried to falsely characterize those of us who didn't believe the evidence that the administration presented, who thought we should work through the international process, who didn't believe the administration had done any postwar planning. For standing up for what we believed in, they tried to mischaracterize us as anti-American and unpatriotic. I was willing to take a difficult stand, and stand up for what I believed was right for the country and for the people of New Jersey. That is why I voted against the war.

Today, with over 2,500 lives lost, almost $320 billion spent in national treasure, with $8 billion used each month, I know I made the right decision.

The Senate has an opportunity to act now, to enact a policy worthy of the sacrifice of our soldiers.

And that is why I am voting for the Kerry and Levin amendments.

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