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National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise today to speak out once again against the war in Iraq and in support of our troops. Today, we had an opportunity to do just that--to support the troops, troops such as these who are pictured here who actually have been serving our country and recently became U.S. citizens.

``Support the troops''--how many times have we heard that said on the floor of the Senate? We have heard that refrain time and time again from the very people who earlier today voted against the very essence of what it is to support the troops.

From the beginning of the Iraq war, we have heard its supporters say that somehow supporting the war equals supporting the troops. But from the beginning of this fiasco, it has been clear that the troops have been a secondary consideration for those who were bent on rushing into an ill-conceived war. Going to war without a postwar plan to stabilize Iraq, is that supporting the troops? Refusing to listen to generals about the troop levels needed to win the peace, is that about supporting the troops? Sending our soldiers into a war zone without the appropriate bulletproof vests, without the appropriate vehicles, with inferior equipment, is that supporting the troops? Letting Walter Reed's conditions worsen, is that supporting the troops? Extending tours of duty without regard to the consequences to our soldiers and their families, is that supporting the troops? Giving our soldiers only a brief stop at home before shipping them back in to a civil war in Iraq, is that supporting the troops?

It seems to me that the very least we can do for our brave men and women who carry out their orders with exquisite skill and bravery in an unimaginable situation in Iraq is to give them enough time to catch their breath before they are sent back.

Clearly, never have so few been asked to do so much in these continuing deployments. If one thinks about it, the number of men and women who are presently deployed and have been deployed compared to 300 million people in this country, how is it so few have been asked to do and sacrifice so much.

Today, the Republican leadership wouldn't even let them have the right opportunity for the respite they need in between these continuing deployments, deployments that are taking our troops and virtually grilling them into the ground. A Republican minority stopped a majority of the Senate and overwhelmingly the will of the American people in supporting the troops through a procedural roadblock. This should not have been a partisan effort by Republicans. It should not have been. In essence, those who put those roadblocks up have voted once again to stay the course, no change to the President's failed war policy, no alteration to this dead-end course, not even to give our troops some well-deserved rest.

I applaud my colleague from Virginia, Senator Webb, as well as my colleague from Nebraska, Senator Hagel, both decorated combat veterans who stood up for our troops in their amendment. They know personally--this is not esoteric for them--they know personally of the sacrifice our soldiers make each and every day for the country they love, the country we all love. But they are not pawns. They are the best and bravest, and they deserve better than what the Senate did today.

I hope the American people speak out in support of our troops. I ask those Senators who oppose giving them the appropriate recess between deployment, the appropriate time so that they, even having to go back into the war, could have the appropriate time, as the military itself devises and has as goals as to what it should be, that at least for whatever time they are deployed abroad, that they have that time back here at home, back here with their families, back here to be able to rejuvenate themselves and go back to do the mission which they willfully do, could we not do that much for them? I hope the American people will speak out with an incredibly loud voice to our colleagues who don't believe they deserve that much, who used a procedural roadblock.

Mr. President, I am outraged.

As someone who voted against the war, I am outraged that 4 years after the start of an elective and unnecessary war which we were led into based on false premises and false promises, we have not yet ended it.

I am outraged that every delay in moving toward a transition out of Iraq and ending the war in Iraq means more American lives lost.

I am outraged that we have spent $450 billion on this war and that for each additional month we continue to be engaged in Iraq under the present course, we spend another $10 billion a month.

I am outraged that the President's war has cost us our prestige and influence abroad and has undermined our security around the world.

I am outraged that the war in Iraq has kept our focus away from the war in Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban, home to al-Qaida, the land of Osama bin Laden, and the place where the attacks of September 11 were planned.

I am outraged that we always hear the same story and the same promises from this administration.

As I listen to some of my colleagues, as well as the administration, fear should not be the basis for our policy. But that is what the administration and its supporters in the Senate offer each time--fear. The Bush administration always says that change is just around the corner, that we should wait just a little longer for success. The Bush administration always has a new plan with new benchmarks and new deadlines, but they never meet those benchmarks or those deadlines, so they just change them. The Bush administration always says we are making progress on the ground. Yet the facts contradict them.

The truth is that we still haven't stopped the insurgency, that hundreds of Iraqis are still being killed each day, and that the Iraqi Government still hasn't acted on key benchmarks. The truth is that we are being driven down a dead-end street by an administration without a roadmap for a lasting peace.

So I say, as Senator Robert Kennedy did in March of 1968 in a speech about Vietnam:

We are entitled to ask--we are required to ask how many more men, how many more lives, how much more destruction will be asked, to provide the military victory that is always just around the corner, to pour into this bottomless pit of our dreams?

But this question the administration does not and cannot answer. It has no answer--none, but the ever-expanding use of military force and the lives of our brave soldiers, in a conflict where military force has failed to solve anything in the past.

Those were his words then. I believe they ring true today. Today, we are living with the consequences of the administration's failed policy. Over 3,600 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of this war, including 87 servicemembers with ties to my home State of New Jersey. April and May was the deadliest 2-month period of the war for U.S. troops, with 230 servicemembers killed. We have now spent over $400 billion on the war in Iraq. We continue a burn rate of about $10 billion a month. Frankly, as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I never believed the administration's estimate that the so-called surge would cost only $5.6 billion, and these new numbers prove once again that we have been misled.

This was a terrible weekend, with over 250 people killed in Iraq, including 150 Iraqis who perished in a bombing that the New York Times described as ``one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest'' single bombing since the start of the war.

Suicide attacks have more than doubled across Iraq, from 26 in January to 58 in April.

In terms of reconstruction, oil production in Iraq is still lower than it was before the war 4 years ago. Baghdad is getting under 6 hours of electricity a day, significantly less than before the war. And the President's escalation plan, the so-called surge, simply isn't achieving the results we were promised.

Imagine that, another broken promise. Just like when we were told: We know where the weapons of mass destruction are. Just like we were told about the yellow cake uranium from Niger, when the President came before the Congress in his State of the Union speech and used that term to engender support for his war policy. We found out it wasn't true, and that ended up having a CIA agent outed because her husband, a former United States Ambassador, proved that, in fact, that wasn't true. If that had been under any other administration, it would have been called treason. Just like we were told: We will be greeted as liberators. Just as the President landed on the aircraft carrier with a big banner behind him saying ``Mission Accomplished.'' How many lives have been lost since mission accomplished? Just like ``the insurgency is in its last throes.'' We have heard that so many times.

Well, it is about time to add the surge to that infamous list. I think we all knew that the strategy to secure Baghdad would simply lead insurgents to move into other areas, and that is exactly what has happened.

As Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in recent testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

The U.S. is having to expand its counterinsurgency operations broadly outside Baghdad. Limited tactical successes really don't matter unless such casualties include substantial cadres of leaders and experts that cannot be easily and rapidly replaced. The insurgents can simply disperse, stand down, and regroup.

Now, I know the administration likes to tout victories in individual Iraqi provinces or cities as markers of success, but I believe all we are seeing is what is sometimes called the balloon effect. We clamp down on insurgents in one area, they spring up in another. We never actually solve the problem.

Let's be frank about the status of the Iraqi Government. The New York Times describes the Iraqi Parliament and Cabinet as ``barely able to function.'' Apparently, 12 Cabinet members aren't even attending Cabinet meetings anymore; 74 out of the 275 Members of Parliament are boycotting the Parliament. And numerous others don't attend anyway.

We have heard a lot about benchmarks. They keep changing, of course. It is now clear to anyone and should be to everyone that the Iraqi Government will not meet any of the much-touted benchmarks the Bush administration has outlined. I believe we are engaged in a ceaseless act of repetitive denial by this administration.

In fact, the Bush administration is shortly going to try to present a completely new set of ``accomplishments'' and downplay their previous benchmarks. A recent Washington Post article notes:

Those achievements are markedly different from the benchmarks Bush set when he announced his decision to send tens of thousands of additional American troops to Iraq.

Let's take a look at the benchmarks the Bush administration told us would be met.

We were told that by the end of 2006 a provincial election law would be approved and new election laws would be put in place. It is the middle of 2007. That benchmark has not been met.

We were told the Iraqis would approve a law for debaathification. But that benchmark has not been met.

We were told the Iraqis would create a law to help restrain sectarian militias. That benchmark has not been met.

We were told the Iraqis would establish a law to regulate the oil industry
and share revenues. That benchmark has not been met.

We were told by March the Iraqi Government was supposed to hold a referendum on constitutional amendments. But, again, that benchmark has not been met.

As I have said time and time again, benchmarks without consequences are just aspirations. And I am sick and tired of hearing about goals that are never met. Yet despite this lack of results, the administration refuses to admit their strategy has failed. Instead, they want to move the goalpost. They just want to alter their perception of reality.

Finally, I cannot close without discussing the cost of the war in Iraq. Our expenditures in Iraq saddle our Nation's finances and our children's future. We spend approximately $10 billion a month in Iraq. We spend $2.5 billion a week in Iraq. We spend more than $328 million every day in Iraq. And we spend more than $13.5 million an hour--an hour--in Iraq.

Let me just put our Iraq spending in perspective. For what we spend in a month and a half in Iraq, we could fully fund No Child Left Behind next year, ensuring that every school district in the United States has the funds promised to them to meet the goals of the law for a quality education for every child. Just for what we spend in 1 1/2 months, we could meet all of that goal next year.

For what we spend in approximately 3 days in Iraq, and with an additional $1 billion, we could substantially improve security at our Nation's ports, including increased scanning of cargo containers. I represent one of the largest ports on the eastern seaboard, clearly one of our huge gaping holes to our domestic security.

For what we spend in just over 2 months in Iraq, we could pay the $21 billion cost of implementing the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations to secure our homeland, implementations that would truly make our country, its communities, and its families far more secure. Yet we need to look beyond the economic cost of the war at its true cost: 3,609 American lives. That has no price to it. It is invaluable. These are the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives of fellow Americans, and we now have more than 26,695 sons and daughters of America who are wounded in ways that will affect their lives forever. I hope a grateful nation remembers them now and in the future.

In conclusion, I ask, Mr. President, how many more deadlines will be missed? How many more benchmarks will be set, not met, and then forgotten? How many more times will we be told to wait just a few more months? How many more

times will the administration say that change will happen soon, 4 years later? How many more broken promises? And how many lives must be lost in the meantime? How long will this administration wait to come to the inevitable conclusion that we must transition out of this war?

Mr. President, it is over. Your failed strategy, your ill-conceived war must come to an end before more damage is done, before more lives are lost, before more national treasure is squandered. Let's get our troops home so we can start the hard work of meeting our domestic homeland security challenges, of meeting our security challenges elsewhere in the world--for which we have real challenges--of strengthening our foreign policy and mending our international relations.

I know as I visit back in New Jersey, so many of my constituents say to me: Why is it that you all in the Senate cannot just simply put an end and seek the transition to this war? To do that, we truly need profiles in courage in the Senate. We need bipartisan support. Democrats do not have the 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, the procedural process by which the Republican minority thwarts the will of a majority of the Senate and the American people, nor do we have the 67 votes needed to override a Presidential veto. It will take colleagues from both sides of the aisle to meet that challenge.

I challenge my Republican colleagues, who now say they are dismayed and have a different view than the President--and I applaud them for coming to that conclusion. And I say it is time to back their words with meaningful votes here on the floor of the Senate--now, before we lose more lives and national treasure. Now is the time, not tomorrow. Now is the time, not next month. Now is the time, not next year.

I will end today by reminding all of us of what Senator Robert Kennedy said about the war in Vietnam. He said:

Past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now, as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles, where he said, ``All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.''

The only sin is pride. The only sin is pride. Let's not allow pride to be the obstacle to changing our course in Iraq, to making sure we save more lives of the men and women who bravely answer the call of the Nation's trumpets. Let's make sure ultimately we strengthen our security by having the resources both at home and abroad to meet our real challenges. Let's change the course. And over the next week, we will have that opportunity.


Mr. MENENDEZ. I appreciate the Senator yielding. I don't know whether he voted for cloture on the amendment offered by Senator Webb and Senator Hagel. But when we talk about supporting the troops, here are two Members of this body who are distinguished, decorated combat veterans who know what it is to fight a war, and they both, as well as others, said it is critical for our troops to have a rotational cycle that gives them some respite equal to the time they are deployed. I don't know why we couldn't have had a straight up-or-down vote. That would be about supporting the troops.

Last, I say to my distinguished friend, we can have differences on the war. I believe that, in fact, having these blinders in which we continue to say ``stay the course regardless of consequences'' is ultimately leading us down a road that is not in the best interests of the United States and its security. So we differ.

I hope you will consider voting for the Levin-Reed amendment. That will give us an opportunity to begin the end of the war and transition out in a way that ultimately will secure the United States.


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