IRAQ -- (Senate - February 16, 2007)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, on December 23, 1783, George Washington, having successfully led the Continental Army to victory in the Revolutionary War, appeared before the Continental Congress and resigned his commission as commander of the Armed Forces.
It was a quietly pivotal action in the history of our young country, an event so important in shaping the Nation that it is one of only eight moments in our history deemed worthy enough of gracing the walls of the Capitol rotunda.
A painting of Washington's historic act hangs not far from this Chamber alongside more well known moments in American history such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The precedent that Washington set on that December day was as revolutionary as it was clear: In the United States of America, the power to make and execute war will be held not by the military but instead by peacefully elected leaders sitting in a legislative body.
Washington understood that the will of the people--the will of the American people--shall be the guiding hand of government, even on questions of war and peace.
I wonder how President Washington would feel, I wonder what he would say to each of us today. First, I think he would be very proud of what has happened this afternoon in the House of Representatives, where they came together, after lengthy debate, to state their opinions about the most pressing issue of war, the war in Iraq. I am very proud that we saw the House of Representatives vote 246 to 182 to say, first, that they support the troops and, secondly, that they do not support the escalation of the war in Iraq.
Regardless of how each person voted today in the House, they took that vote. They were willing to stand up and be counted and give their opinion. I believe the majority of the American people--and their will, their belief--was represented in this vote today of 246 to 182.
What has happened in the Senate? Well, first of all, I commend our majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, for his perseverance, for his continuing effort to reach across the aisle with the minority leader to find a way to do the same thing the House has done. He has put forward numerous proposals, and, as late as yesterday, very simply and in a straightforward way, offerred us the opportunity to vote on a resolution opposing the escalation and one that supports the President's escalation. What could be more fair? What could be simpler? Yet we continue to see the minority block the efforts to bring us to a vote.
For over 2 weeks now, I have watched the Republican leadership engage in legislative games and political posturing to avoid taking a vote on the most pressing issue of our time, the war in Iraq. They say they support it, but they will not vote on a resolution, up or down, whether or not to support the President's escalation. I believe it is because they do not like what they know the outcome will be if we are able to have that vote. They have turned their backs on their responsibility to the people who elected them and to our troops because they may lose a vote.
Four years ago, 23 of us stood on the floor of the Senate and lost a vote. It was a vote to go to war. It was a vote to give the President the authority to go to war in Iraq. It was a tough vote. We knew we were not going to win that vote, but we all--those for and against--made a determination and voted because we are elected officials, charged with overseeing the U.S. Armed Forces, and we had a responsibility to voice our opinions for the record on the question of war.
I have stood on the floor of the Senate time and time again to voice my opposition to this President's proposals of escalation--more of the same, calling it a different strategy, and yet doing the same thing over and over again. Sending more Americans into combat without a strategy for success will not improve the situation on the ground in Iraq. And it will not bring our men and women in uniform home any sooner.
Only the Iraqis can secure Iraq. Only the Iraqis can secure Iraq. We have heard that from generals and military experts and the Iraq Study Group and learned colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The American troops cannot be seen as a substitute for Iraqi resolve. Why would we go further down the path that has led us to this point? Why would we repeat our previous mistakes and call it a new strategy?
Unlike the President, all of us and our counterparts in the House will go home over recess and on weekends and face our constituents, our neighbors. We see them and talk to them at church, in the line at the bank, at our kids' schools, in the grocery store, and at countless events and meetings as we travel throughout our States.
And we are here because they elected us to be their voice.
This is not Washington, DC's, war. We may set policy here, we may make speeches here, and we may take votes here, this is America's war.
The men and women putting their lives on the line in Iraq every day are from our smallest neighborhoods and our biggest cities, from farm communities and factory towns, from places many of us have never heard of and few of us will ever go. Flint, Howell, West Branch, Hemlock, La Salle, Port Huron, Ypsilanti, Muskegon, Ann Arbor, Byron, Flushing, Bay City, Canton, Paw Paw, Lake Orion, Saginaw, Sand Creek--these are only some of the dozens of communities in my home State of Michigan that have given up a son or a daughter to this war.
We sit in this historic Capitol and argue over whether we should dignify this war with a simple vote, while these and other communities across the country bury their loved ones, while high schools hold vigils for alumni laid to rest too young, while churches comfort parishioners who have lost sons and daughters and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers.
We are the voice of these communities, of these towns and cities and counties. We were elected with their sacred trust to come here, to Washington, and to speak out for them, to make our mark for them on the issues that face this country. There can be nothing more important than the issue of war.
By continuing to stonewall a vote on this resolution, the Republican minority has stripped all of America of their voice in this debate. They have said to the people who elected us that this issue--the issue of an escalation of war--is not important enough for their elected representatives to consider.
Too often in the white noise of politics we lose sight of the responsibility we bear. We get bogged down in the politics of partisanship and lose sight of why we were elected. We owe it to the American people to take this vote. This is the most serious issue of our time. There is nothing more important or more pressing than our Nation being at war. It is the responsibility of the Congress to engage in shaping policy concerning the war on behalf of the American people.
Let me take a few moments to remind everyone what is really at stake. While some posture and jockey for legislative position, lives are on the line this moment and every moment the war goes forward. It doesn't matter if you support or oppose the war. Anyone involved in slowing a vote on this resolution should be ashamed. Our military has not failed us at any turn in this endeavor. But we are failing them as a body by failing to lead. What is at stake?
On January 21, the Grand Rapids Press published the following account on the war in Iraq:
The first roadside bomb four months ago knocked a front tire off Kyle Earl's Humvee, rang his head like a bell and made his ears bleed.
The second bomb a couple of weeks later blew out the front tires and took out the transmission but, again, spared Earl serious injury.
The third one, on Oct. 17, was his last.
With the headlights out for security and wearing night-vision goggles, the 20-year-old Marine lance corporal from Cedar Springs was driving the lead Humvee returning from a night patrol in Iraq's Al Anbar province near the border with Syria. He and a Marine manning the Humvee's machine gun saw it at the same time: a hump in the road ahead, a sure sign of a buried improvised explosive device (IED).
Earl instantly made the calculation: If he swerved, the trailing Humvee carrying the company commander would hit the IED, so ``I drove right into it, knowing it was probably going to kill me,' he said.
He ran over the hump, igniting three 155-mm artillery shells and five propane tanks. The flash, amplified by the night-vision goggles, was brighter than anything he'd ever seen. A fireball shot through the cab, and shrapnel pierced his right leg, arm and face. The shock wave felt like someone had placed him inside a plastic bag and sucked out all the air.
Still, he remained conscious, as the Humvee rolled off the road and came to a stop. Blood streamed from his eyes, ears and nose. He reached for his 9 mm handgun, but noticed something about the size of his palm on it. He picked it up and examined it, unaware it was a chunk of his flesh, ripped from his right forearm.
He smelled something burning and realized he and the Humvee were on fire. He rolled out onto the ground as his fellow Marines kicked him to extinguish the flames.
We are here because of that lance corporal. He and his comrades, the men and women serving, deserve our best--our best judgment, our best decisions, our best funding, our best strategy for them.
On November 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press gave us this insight into life on the ground in Iraq:
``A few days ago, from out of a crowd of kids, one of them threw a grenade and it went off under the vehicle, and my executive officer's door was peppered,' said Lance Cpl. Michael Rossi, a 28-year-old student majoring in urban planning at Wayne State University who lives in Detroit. ``A crowd of kids, and one of them threw a grenade.'
``Out here,' he said, ``nobody is safe.'
On January 5, the editorial page of the Flint Journal paid its respects to one of Flint's fallen sons:
It's touching and laudable that the father of Marine Cpl Christopher Esckelson would want the family of a fellow Marine to understand the full heroics these men displayed in Iraq combat that claimed both their lives.
They are among more than a dozen local military men whom the Iraq war has claimed, with each succeeding loss being no less painful to an area that has supplied an ample measure of these patriots.
Of course, the grief is much greater for the families who knew the men in so many other wonderful ways. Those memories undoubtedly will be recalled during services for Miller and Esckelson Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
All of us have stories of the men and women who have served heroically and lost their lives, men and women who have come home and need our assistance now as veterans while in our hospitals and will forever carry a remembrance of this war through lost limbs and other health conditions. They deserve a vote on whether we believe this strategy for them and their colleagues is the right strategy. They deserve this. They expect us to stand up and speak out and work as hard as we can to get it right.
Too often on the floor of this Chamber and too often in politics, we use words such as ``bravery' and ``toughness' and resolve.' We describe votes as ``tough.' We describe speeches as ``brave.' The men and women serving in combat know the real meaning of these words. They go about their dangerous duty with the pride of professionals. They live and work under the shadow of violence, never knowing what might be facing them around the next corner, and they do it with stoic resolve that reflects their character and their training. They do not have the luxury of picking and choosing when and where to fight. They go where their country sends them and stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters in arms and face whatever is thrown at them. What we consider heroic, they consider doing their job.
Their sacrifices deserve and demand leadership, our leadership, collectively. We owe to it them and to every person we were elected to represent to vote on this resolution, to take a stand about how this war will proceed. It is our job. It is time to stop stalling and face our responsibility, a responsibility that pales in comparison to that which is taken every day by our troops in Iraq.
I thank the Chair.