BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, today we are embarking on another very important chapter in our ongoing Iraq debate, and it is very appropriate that we do so because we are receiving testimony and reports from two great American leaders who have been forging our cause there--GEN David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. In that context, I wish to begin to offer some preliminary thoughts of my own as we reenter this debate. They are forged in particular by a recent experience, my recent visit to Iraq with three of our Senate colleagues during the August recess. I was able to go there with Senators VOINOVICH, ALEXANDER, and CORKER. We had a very good review of many issues there, as well as, obviously, a great opportunity to converse and study and talk with experts on the way there and on the way back.
I guess out of that trip in particular--it was my second trip to Iraq; the first was just about a year prior to that, and this was my fourth trip to the Middle East--three things struck me in particular, that while many of them have been stated before, they are very important to get out on the table and reaffirm at the beginning of this debate.
One is, it is very clear--in fact, I think it is largely beyond dispute--that in recent months, because of not just the personnel and the extra manpower given to the effort through the surge but because of the excellent strategy, the strategic thinking largely of General Petraeus behind that effort, there have been real and meaningful gains made on the security side. There have been enormous gains made against al-Qaida in Iraq in particular and in tapping down the sectarian violence more generally, although perhaps gains there to a lesser extent.
We have heard a lot about the Anbar awakening and the enormous gains made against al-Qaida in Iraq.
But I think those who try to isolate those gains just to that region, just to that situation are missing the full picture.
We got a fuller picture of the gains while we were there. Not perfectly even gains, not all across the country but significant gains made in a number of different places, in a number of different contexts, and not just in that one region. The security gains, again because of our greater numbers but even more so because of the strategic thinking that was placed behind that surge, I think those gains are very real and very meaningful. They were evident to us, to myself and Senators VOINOVICH and ALEXANDER and CORKER, because of a number of factors and a number of parts of our visit.
What got the message through particularly forcefully was the last part of our visit in Iraq, when we went to Combat Outpost X-ray near Taji, outside of Baghdad about a half-hour, 45 minutes by helicopter. This was a very instructive and, indeed, inspiring visit. Because, again, we saw the very real fruit of our new strategy and the surge force put behind it. And it wasn't just in that situation of Al Anbar, that many folks try to portray as extremely unique and not being able to be replicated anywhere else; it was in this combat outpost outside of Baghdad. And it wasn't just among a Sunni population or Sunni insurgents; it was in an area that was roughly half and half, Sunni-Shia.
Two things struck me about that visit more than anything else. One was talking to a young African-American soldier from Louisiana, an enlisted man, who in casual conversation--he wasn't quoting any talking points, he wasn't giving any formal brief--who said how motivated he was and what a greater sense of progress he thought they were making during his work there at Combat Outpost X-ray as compared to his previous deployment about 2 years before. He said the difference was night and day, and he felt so much more optimistic because of the surge and the strategic thinking behind the surge and the results it was having that he could see, face-to-face, on the ground.
Some of those results we saw on that visit. Because we not only visited with U.S. military commanders and their military personnel, such as this young soldier from Louisiana, we also sat down with four sheiks from the region who had become full and active partners with our military and the Iraqi military in getting after the bad guys. It so happened, as is representative of that area, that two of the sheiks were Sunni and two of the sheiks were Shia, but they had come together as true brothers in arms and as true brothers in arms with the U.S. military and the Iraqi military to get after the bad guys, particularly al-Qaida in Iraq but also insurgents who were causing violence and terrorizing their families.
That is the sort of real progress the Louisiana soldier was talking about. That is what was exciting him and had gotten him so motivated, particularly compared to his previous tour of duty about 2 years prior.
The second thing I saw firsthand during that visit to Iraq is on the other side of the ledger and is also talked about quite freely and quite openly, and that is that while we have this meaningful security progress, while we have real results from the surge and the strategic thinking behind the surge, unfortunately we don't have a lot of political progress produced at the Iraqi central government level. Again, this was very evident from our personal experiences on the ground, particularly two meetings we had, one with the Sunni Vice President of Iraq and one with the Shia Vice President. Those two meetings, separate meetings, helped to underscore the enormous need we have for further reconciliation and for further political progress on the ground at the central government level.
I remarked during our visit to Combat Outpost X-ray that I would like to nominate those four sheiks to help form a new central government because their reconciliation was in stark contrast, their friendship and partnership was in stark contrast, quite frankly, to the discussions we had with the two Iraqi Vice Presidents, one Shia, one Sunni. So, again, we saw firsthand the unfortunate lack of political progress. Of course, the surge was designed to create breathing room and time for the political process at the central government level, but that lack of progress has been very frustrating.
Now, I do have to say there has been a little progress since then. Since we came home, the big five Iraqi leaders, if you will--the President, the two Vice Presidents, the Prime Minister, and also the Kurdish leader--have signed a joint communique and have laid out a path to reconciliation and progress on the key political issues facing them. That is encouraging. But certainly it doesn't completely change the situation on the ground politically, which wasn't particularly encouraging when we were there.
The third and final thing which I observed very directly, and which is perhaps the most important, in my opinion that we focus on this week, is the enormous integrity, focus, dedication, and intelligence of our two primary leaders on the ground in Iraq--GEN David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Again, our four-Senator delegation had a great opportunity to sit down with them for about an hour and a half, and we had a very meaningful, indepth discussion, hearing recent progress and lack of progress from them. They gave us their own personal observations, and they responded to all of our queries and questions. There were a lot of details and facts that came through during that meeting. But what most came through, to me, was their enormous credibility, in terms of what is going on there on the ground, and their enormous dedication, focus, background, and real intelligence about the challenge they were leading there on the ground.
I think that is perhaps the most important of my three observations as we begin this new chapter of the Iraq debate, for a very simple reason. Those gentlemen are testifying, as we speak, before the House. They will testify tomorrow before the Senate. This is following the lead-up of many months, where we have been looking forward and waiting to hear their direct observations and their testimony. This is after it is universally acknowledged that they are very smart, qualified people; there to lead our military and diplomatic effort. Yet, even having said all of that, I think the rush of all of us in Congress, House and Senate, is to talk and debate and offer our own opinions without taking a little time to be quiet, to take a deep breath and listen to the observations and opinions of those two highly qualified leaders.
So I end with that observation, of their enormous credibility, dedication, focus, and intelligence, in terms of the task before them. I end on that observation to
encourage all of us not to reserve our opinions forever, not to shy away from an important debate, not to disagree, if we truly disagree in our minds and in our hearts, but to take a deep breath for a few days, for a few moments, to listen to the observations and the suggestions of these very capable leaders.
That is the third thing I brought back from my personal trip to Iraq during August with Senators VOINOVICH, ALEXANDER, and CORKER. Today, tomorrow, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testify before Congress, perhaps that is the most important observation. We will have plenty of time to debate, argue, disagree, propose resolutions, move forward with legislation, and take votes. But surely, given the universal credibility of these two men, we should take a deep breath and listen carefully to their observations, their suggestions, and their plans. That is certainly what I am going to do as we begin this new chapter of the debate.
With that, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT