National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2008--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: July 17, 2007
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008--Continued -- (Senate - July 17, 2007)

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we have had an extensive debate, obviously, on the floor of the Senate. I was scheduled originally to speak at 6 a.m. Because there was an enormous backlog, I have not had an opportunity to speak on this issue.

I rise this morning in strong support of the amendment offered by Senators Levin and Reed. I am proud to join them as a cosponsor of this amendment.

We have heard from the administration and from many of our colleagues in this Chamber that we need to give the President's surge more time, that we need to wait to hear the report in September before we make a binding decision to redeploy our troops. Yet, we learned just last week that the Iraqi political leaders have not met a single benchmark that they had agreed to in January. Not one.

We do not need to wait for another report. We have seen the results of a failed policy in the form of multiple deployments, more sacrifice from our military families, and a deepening civil war in Iraq that has caught our troops in the middle.

It is long past time to turn the page in Iraq, where each day we see the consequences of fighting a war that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged. The single most important decision a President or Member of Congress can make is the decision to send our troops into harm's way.

It is that decision that determines the fate of our men and women in uniform, the course of nations, and the security of the American people. It is that decision that sets in motion consequences that cannot be undone.

Since this war began, 3,618 Americans have been killed--532 since the President ignored the will of the American people and launched his surge. Tens of thousands more have been wounded, suffering terrible injuries seen and unseen.

Here is what else we know: We know that the surge is not working, that our mission in Iraq must be changed, and that this war must be brought to a responsible conclusion.

We know Iraq's leaders are not resolving their grievances. They are not stepping up to their security responsibilities. They are not improving the daily lives of Iraqis.

We know that the war in Iraq costs us $370 million a day and $10 billion each month. These are resources that could be spent to secure our ports and our borders, and to focus on a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and the wider war on terrorism that is yet to be won.

We know that because of the war in Iraq, America is no safer than it was on 9/11. Al-Qaida has gained the best recruiting tool it could ask for. Tens of thousands of terrorists have been trained and radicalized in Iraq. And terrorism is up worldwide.

If America is attacked again, it will be in no small measure a consequence of our failure to destroy al-Qaida at its roots in Afghanistan and our failure to adequately secure the homeland. The decision to authorize and fight a misguided war in Iraq has created a new cadre of experienced terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States and our allies.

If there is still any question about whether Iraq has been a distraction from this critical war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that should have been resolved yesterday with the release of the most recent national intelligence estimate. That report said that al-Qaida ``has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas, operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.''

And last week, a new threat assessment concluded that al-Qaida is as strong today as it was before 9/11.

Seeing yet another report like this, I can only repeat what I said nearly 5 years ago, during the runup to this war. We are fighting on the wrong battlefield. The terrorists who attacked us and who continue to plot against us are resurgent in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They should have been our focus then. They must be our focus now.

I opposed this war from the beginning, before the Congress voted to authorize the war in 2002. I said then that I could not support a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. I worried that it would lead to a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

I believed then--and I still believe now--that being a leader means that you'd better do what's right and leave the politics aside. Because there are no do-overs on an issue as important as war. You cannot undo the consequences of that decision.

In January, I introduced a plan that would have already started bringing our troops home and ending this war, with a goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. Seventy-eight days ago, President Bush vetoed a bipartisan plan that passed both Houses of Congress that shared my goal of changing course and ending this war.

During those 78 days, 266 Americans have died, and the situation in Iraq has continued to deteriorate.

It is time to set a hard date to signal a new mission in Iraq and to begin to bring our troops home. It is time to ensure that we complete the change in mission and the drawdown of our forces, by the end of April 2008--a date that is consistent with the date in my plan back in January.

As we redeploy from Iraq--as I believe we must do--we have to redouble our efforts on all fronts in Afghanistan to ensure we do not lose ground there.

Certainly, we have had some success there over the last 5 1/2 years, whether it is the five-fold increase in the number of Afghan boys and girls now attending schools or the free elections of a president and parliament.

Yet the remaining challenges in Afghanistan are enormous:

Opium production is expected to reach a record high this year, with revenues helping to fuel the Taliban and al-Qaida; the Taliban has increased its campaign of suicide attacks and roadside bombings in recent months; most troubling is this simple fact: The leaders of al-Qaida--Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, remain at large. They are now free to operate in a safe haven in northwest Pakistan.

That has to change.

First, the United States must increase reconstruction efforts, on both the civilian and military side. If we are serious about winning the war on terror, we must shift to greater investments in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans. The U.S. should allocate money in a way that allows more flexibility in our spending, permitting funding of local projects that benefit communities and promising local governments.

Second, the United States and NATO must turn around the security situation so that average Afghans regain their faith in the ability of their government and the international forces to ensure their security. Despite more than 5 years of an international military presence in their country, the sad reality is that most Afghans do not believe their government can guarantee their safety.

Taliban violence is on the rise, and is reaching into areas of the country, like the north, that had been relatively stable until a few months ago. Secretary Gates' commitment of an additional 3,200 American combat troops and the U.K. commitment of at least 1,000 new troops were positive steps. But we must also encourage other NATO allies to supply more troops and withdraw the caveats that prevent some NATO forces from assisting allies in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

Third, the Afghan Government, with our help, must do more to respond to the needs of its people, starting by combating its culture of impunity and rampant corruption. The Afghan people will never trust their government unless it begins effectively to combat the lawlessness that has long plagued the Afghan countryside.

Fourth, in order to make headway against corruption, the United States and our allies must revamp our counternarcotics efforts. For too long, the United States and NATO have combated this issue with, at best, half measures, and we now face a situation where the drug trade is exacerbating instability with drug revenues funding the insurgency.

Finally, any possibility of long-term stability in Afghanistan depends on addressing cross-border issues with Pakistan and other neighbors.

Simply put, Pakistan is not doing enough to deal with al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens within its borders. In the past months, Pakistan has arrested or killed several high value targets, but its overall record remains poor. Any solution must take the fiercely independent tribal culture of the border region into account. And we should ensure that when we provide money to reimburse the Pakistani military for fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban along the Afghanistan border, the Pakistani military is meeting that commitment.

The central front in the war on terrorism is not in Iraq; it is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As we change course in Iraq, we must correct course in South Asia. And it is long past time that we did so.

But to make that change, the American people need real leadership from this Chamber--not empty rhetoric.

We are engaged in important work in the Senate. If only the willingness to work toward solutions were commensurate with the importance of the topic we are undertaking, we might make some progress. I hope that our colleagues do not choose further obstruction over progress, delay over decision.

The only point I wish to add is all of us are patriots. The Senator who is managing for the minority at this point is a certified American hero. All of us want to see our troops come home safely. All of us want the best possible result in Iraq. The only thing I would say is, given that we have no good options at this point, that we have bad options and worse options, I think it is very important for us to take this debate seriously and to recognize that none of us are interested in dictating military strategy to the President but, rather, in setting a mission for the military, and that is what this debate is about.

Given the National Intelligence Estimate that has come out, I think it is
important for us to be prudent and consider what the best steps forward are now, and that is something I hope emerges from this debate. It is my belief the best thing to do now is to vote for Reed-Levin.