U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' HEALTH, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY ACT, 2007
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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I will vote for this Defense Supplemental conference report.
Earlier, when the House considered the Defense Supplemental bill itself, I voted for it to ensure that America's soldiers get the equipment and resources they need and the top-quality health care they may require when they come home.
And I think the conference report is an improvement on that House bill.
As I said when the House debated the initial bill and again during debate on the motion to instruct conferees, I did not believe it was a good idea for the bill to include a date certain for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq. So I'm glad that language has been made more flexible in the conference report. It includes a goal of March 2008 for completing the redeployment of U.S. combat troops, and allows sufficient troops to remain to protect U.S. military and civilians in Iraq, conduct counterterrorism operations, and train Iraqi Security Forces. I remain convinced that we should steer clear of arbitrary public deadlines for military actions and focus instead on realistic diplomatic and political goals. Our military needs flexibility to be able to link movements of U.S. troops to the realities of the situation on the ground, and successful diplomacy requires such flexibility as well.
My vote for the conference report is not a vote to support the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. We are 4 years into a war the Bush administration assured us would be short and decisive. The administration's misjudgments, lack of planning and poor leadership have made a bad situation worse--and the tactic of increasing troops for a temporary ``surge'' is no substitute for what is needed, namely, a strategy for containing civil war and a wider regional war.
But whatever may be said about the wisdom of invading Iraq 4 years ago--and I am one who believed it was a mistake to do so--the fact is that we are still deeply engaged in Iraq. So long as our troops are in the field, we must provide them what they need. Beyond supplying our soldiers, however, we must extricate them from what objective defense experts have characterized as an emerging civil war.
Disengaging from that civil war is the purpose of the provisions in the conference report designed to hold the president accountable to the benchmarks set by his own administration and the Iraqi Government--including enactment of a hydro-carbon law; conducting of provincial and local elections; reform of current laws governing the de-Baathification process; amendment of the Constitution of Iraq; and allocation of Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects.
I strongly support that approach because I am convinced that holding the president and the Iraqi Government accountable for achieving these benchmarks will provide us with the leverage necessary to pressure the Iraqi Government to forge the political solution we all know is required. In fact, Defense Secretary Gates has acknowledged that this provision in the House-passed bill has been helpful by showing the Iraqis that American patience is limited.
This conference report is an important step toward what I think must be our goal--a responsible end to the war in Iraq, based on a strategy of phased withdrawal of troops, accelerated diplomacy and redeployment that is based on Iraqi stability and not arbitrary deadlines.
The conference report fully funds our troops, providing $4 billion more for the troops than the president requested. It honors our veterans, providing $1.8 billion more for our veterans' unmet health care needs, including additional funds for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury care and research. It strengthens our military, providing $2 billion more to create a Strategic Readiness Reserve and address the serious readiness crisis our military is facing.
It also protects our troops by limiting deployment schedules and setting minimum readiness standards--based on current Defense Department standards--for U.S. troops deploying to the region. The president could waive these requirements but only by certifying in writing to Congress that waiving them would be in the interest of national security.
The conference report also provides $52.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and provides $9.7 billion for the Afghan and Iraqi Security Forces to help them assume greater responsibility for their nations' security.
And the conference report includes $3.1 billion to fully fund the Pentagon's FY07 request for the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission's recommendations, which is vitally important for Ft. Carson as it prepares to expand and for other military installations in Colorado.
On the non-military side, the conference report includes critically important funding for farmers and ranchers in southeastern Colorado who were recently hit hard by winter storms. Thousands of cattle were killed in storms worse than the October 1997 storm that killed approximately 30,000 cattle and cost farmers and ranchers an estimated $28 million. The struggles that family agriculture producers and small counties face are significant and are having a negative impact on the livelihood of hundreds of farmers and ranchers and their communities. So I am pleased that the Colorado delegation was successful in persuading the conferees to include financial assistance for farmers and ranchers, including for those affected by Colorado's recent blizzards.
Mr. Speaker, many of us who voted against authorizing the President to rush to war in Iraq were worried that while it would be easy to eliminate the Saddam Hussein regime, the aftermath would be neither easy nor quick. Sadly, our fears have proven to be justified. And now, as the Pentagon has finally admitted in its most recent quarterly report, the situation in Iraq is ``properly descriptive of a civil war.''
Insisting on keeping our troops in the middle of that kind of internecine war is not a recipe for victory; it is only a prescription for quagmire. And as a new Foreign Relations Council report notes, we bear responsibility for developments within Iraq, but are increasingly without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction.
We need to be scaling back our military mission in Iraq. We need to make the U.S. military footprint lighter--not in order to hasten defeat or failure in Iraq, but to salvage a critical measure of security and stability in a region of the world that we can ill afford to abandon.
But as we do so, we must work to avoid a collapse in the region--not only because we have a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, but also because our national security has been so badly compromised by the Bush administration's failures there. The President's decision to take the nation to war has made our country less safe. We need to change course and chart a path that enhances our national security and sets the right priorities for the war on terrorism and struggle against extremists.
This conference report begins to chart this path, and I will support it. I hope the president will reconsider his stated intention of vetoing it.
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