IRAQ -- (House of Representatives - September 04, 2007)
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Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the Speaker for recognizing me for this hour. We are up here this evening because I have had a chance to go to Iraq recently, and some of the things that I have heard in the House just a few minutes ago don't ring up with what I observed when I was in Iraq.
But I want to start off by saying this: When I went back home this past month, all over my district the main thing I heard from the people on Iraq, get the politics out of it and just tell us the truth of what you know and let us try to figure it all out together, and why don't we try to figure this out together instead of thinking about who is going to win the next election or who is going to get the next advantage in the political process. I kept hearing that over and over.
I want to get up, and some of my colleagues tonight are going to talk about what they know. Some of them have a lot more wisdom than I do because they have been there more times than I have and have had more experiences.
My experience is relatively limited. I have been to Iraq four times since I have been in Congress, the last time being late in the month of July. I went on a long weekend to Iraq. So I was there the first time right after we caught Saddam Hussein. The second time I was there was just before the elections took place. The third time was May a year ago when we were pondering what to do and there was discussion of Petraeus having a plan. And then recently this July.
I can tell you that the difference between May and July is the difference between daylight and dark as far as the comments that I received from American fighting men and women and from Iraqis that I visited with while I was there for what was just a real long weekend.
Soldiers are always proud of their mission and accept their mission, and they do their mission and duty and we should always be proud of them. But you didn't hear the kind of comments that we have heard now about the enthusiasm that our soldiers have for the fact that ordinary Iraqi citizens, as we say in baseball, are stepping up to the plate and they are taking a swing, and that swing is helping our soldiers and our marines as they do their duty to try to eliminate al Qaeda from being that thorn in the side of Iraqi freedom that is causing the ultimate cause of all of this violence that is going on in Iraq.
Someone here tonight said there is brazen political maneuvers. Well, what I am saying has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the fact that within my district, I have 52,000 soldiers who reside within my district, all of whom have been deployed at least once and some as many as three times in Iraq. I have the largest military facility that exists in the United States, Fort Hood.
Our guys told us a lot of good news, and I will report the bad news. The bad news they told us is that 15 months is tough and it is hard on their families and they hope we can get this mission done so we don't have to continue 15-month rotations.
So I don't come back just preaching good news. Our military, our soldiers don't like the 15-month rotation, but they do their duty. But time and time again I had soldiers tell me: Man, whatever you do, don't pull the rug out from under us just as we are starting to see daylight. We are committed in blood, sweat and tears over here, and the Nation has committed its resources and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Don't pull out the rug now. If you do, don't ask me to come back when this place goes to hell in a handbasket. That is a quote from a sergeant.
We have to think about this. We have big decisions to make this fall. General Petraeus is going to come over here, and he will tell us the truth about what is going on, and I don't think it is all going to be a beautiful, rosy picture. But I do think he is going to tell you what ordinary soldiers and ordinary marines told me, and that is, as compared to 6 to 9 months ago, it is substantially better. It has to do with the fact that we now have the necessary troops on the ground.
I would like to correct an error that a general asked me to correct. The surge did not start in February of this year. The surge was announced. The surge started the second week in July of this year. That is when the entire 30,000-soldier contingency was in Iraq, and at that point in time the plan began to be executed.
But the idea that we were building up troops brought good news. The surge is now less than 6 weeks old. That's the truth about what the surge is. In fact, one of the people who is in charge of bringing these additional forces to Iraq told me, he said: You know, I hear you are having votes to pull out in 2 weeks or 2 months. Well, just tell somebody it took us a hard 6 months to get 30,000 soldiers over here, and if you think you can move 160,000 out of here in 120 days, you have lost your mind. It can't be done.
The reality of that war is they come over there on ships, and just like they did in the Second World War, they train before they go in, and when they are ready, they go in. And the whole 30,000 finally arrived in July.
So the picture, as I see it, is good news because of Iraqi involvement, and we will talk some more about that. Right now I would like to recognize CHRIS SHAYS, my colleague who has probably been to Iraq more than any Member of this Congress. Congressman Shays, do you want to share your feelings.
Mr. SHAYS. I appreciate you holding this very important dialogue about Iraq. I appreciate your taking this Special Order to share what many of us have seen in Iraq.
I want to say that I go where the truth takes me, even if it counters something I believed and thought. I just go where the truth takes us. There is no question that 2003 was not a good year. When we attacked Iraq, there was tremendous euphoria and then we made mistake after mistake after mistake. Those have already been discussed. Half of 2004 wasn't particularly good, but when we transferred power to the new Iraqi Government, the Iraqi people, we began to see noticeable changes.
And then 2005 was a pretty amazing year. They had an election to create a government that would form a constitutional convention. They met the deadline to form a constitutional convention. They wrote their Constitution and adopted it in a plebiscite throughout Iraq, and then they elected a government under that new Constitution. So 2005 was a pretty astonishing year, a very successful year.
They basically had 18 months of progress from the deep hole we dug in 2003 and part of 2004, and then came 2006. It took them 4 months to establish a government, and then the Maliki government didn't do the kind of heavy lifting we were hoping they would do.
I took a position that I took then and hold today, that we need to prod the Maliki government. I believe the timeline is important, but not a timeline based on basically pulling the rug out from them and just leaving. We attacked them. They didn't attack us. We got rid of all their army, their police and their border patrol. We left them totally defenseless in a country where all their prisoners were let out, and then we would walk away? The neighbors to Iraq said we may not have wanted you to go in, in fact, said we did not want you to go in, but it would be an outrage if you left. And so now this is where we're at. Do we leave now? Do we leave sometime in the future? What do we do?
I think that what we knew we needed to do was have a new Secretary of Defense. That's what the American people asked. That's what some of us wanted to see happen, and we got someone who wasn't tied to the past in Mr. Gates. Then I think all of us were hoping and praying that Mr. Petraeus would be the general in charge to serve under Secretary of Defense Mr. Gates. General Petraeus who had been there three times, been involved in this effort, and knows Iraq cold and knows the insurgency concerns extraordinarily well, given that he spent a year of his life just studying it. He basically said, give me more people to see what we could do in the greater Baghdad area. It was referred to as ``the surge.'' He said give me more troops; we need to establish some security, and then we'll reappraise. And now we're coming to that point.
When I was there in December last year, they said we have lost Anbar province. We've just given up on it. We have no troops. It's totally in the hands of al Qaeda, and it sounded to me like a mini-Afghanistan. I go back in April. He said, we're winning Anbar province. I said, what do you mean you are winning Anbar province? You told me you'd given up on it. Well, the Sunni tribal leaders came to us, said we want al Qaeda defeated, we want your help, come on in and we will work with you.
That's what happened. It was a model that wasn't part of the surge, but then when I went back in May, he said the surge is working; we're starting to see some progress from the full complement in July. And when I went back this past August, they said the story is the surge is continuing to go in the right direction, and we have won Anbar province, and we are winning some of the other Sunni provinces. The tribal leaders have bought in to what happened in Anbar and said we want the same thing.
It's almost like, to some of my colleagues in this Chamber, that to say the surge is working and to say that there is progress, it's like they're angry and disappointed: how dare you say that. You had Mr. Baird, a Democrat, who voted against going into Iraq, who said what he saw, and he goes where the truth takes him, was that there is progress, and it would be a mistake to leave prematurely.
So this is what we're going to be debating. Do we leave right now or leave by April of next year or do we maintain the surge a little longer? We know we're ultimately going to bring a good number of our troops home. We can't maintain that surge, and Mr. Carter's right. I have heard more of my constituents who serve in the military and those who don't, who I've met in Iraq. They said we could accept 12 months. Fifteen months is just too much. And I've had parents, they've come up to me, and they never did this in the past. They kind of put their arm around me. They whisper in my ear practically, and they say, my son or my daughter is in Iraq and they're exhausted.
We know that we have to reduce the workload of these troops. We have to start to tell Prime Minister Maliki what he needs to know, and I'll conclude by making this point: we can lecture Prime Minister Maliki all we want. We can do that if we don't mind being the biggest hypocrites around. So why would I say that? Well, we say, why don't you Sunni, Shias and Kurds get your act together, and I'm thinking, Republicans and Democrats can't even work together on this.
We have asked our Democratic colleagues to allow for some amendments, bipartisan amendments, amendments that would have support on both sides of the aisle. They don't want it. They have simply refused to allow any Republican amendment or any amendment that even their own side wants that would have attraction to Republican Members.
Too many on that side of the aisle want to continue to make this a partisan issue when the fact is we went into Iraq on a bipartisan basis, two-thirds of the House of Representatives, three-quarters of the Senate. The only way we're going to successfully disengage in a way that will enable the Iraqis to stand on their own and bring our troops home is if we do it on a bipartisan basis. I'm prepared to vote for some things that I don't want if it is a bipartisan effort that will ultimately lead to some common ground.
So I just want to say that it strikes me that we ask our troops to risk their lives. They have one request from us, that we, Republicans and Democrats, start working together for the common good of this country. That's their one request, and it strikes me that when we lecture Prime Minister Maliki, he's trying to run a government by consensus, Sunni, Shias and Kurds, all agreeing to take action. He could cut out the Sunnis and just simply agree with the Kurds, and they could run the government. The Shias and Kurds, they could get their more than 50 percent vote, but he is making a sincere effort to try to find common ground.
I thank my colleague for having this Special Order. I'd like to listen to my other colleagues, maybe jump back in, but my report to this Congress is this surge is working. My report to this Congress is that the tribal Sunni leaders that have asked us to help have seen a tremendous benefit in their provinces, and that has benefited them. It's benefited the Iraqi people, and it's benefited our troops. And so I can't say what will happen two months from now or four months from now; but as God is my witness, we are seeing progress in Iraq, as much as some of my colleagues don't want me to say that.
Mr. CARTER. Well, I thank my colleague for those very, very intelligent comments and for your experience. How many trips have you made?
Mr. SHAYS. I go every 3 to 4 months, and I've been there 18 times.
Mr. CARTER. Eighteen times. Well, my little four don't sound like a whole lot.
Mr. SHAYS. Well, you've been going more recently. I got elected before you.
Mr. CARTER. Well, that's true. I want to thank you and I'm sure our soldiers want to thank you, too.
The trip that I was on, I had some wonderful Members of Congress who are here. A couple of them are here tonight. My friend Mr. Davis from Tennessee was there with us, and I believe that was his first trip to Iraq. I would like to yield to Mr. Davis.
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Mr. CARTER. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, as I was listening to everybody talk here and listening to people talk earlier today, I get struck by the history of this Chamber. And as I was sitting here, I wondered how often this debate had occurred during my lifetime or did it occur during my lifetime. I would like to think I am a student of history, but I will admit that my concentration on history from the end of the Second World War until I was in high school, there is a gap there where it is only kind of the history of me and not the history of the United States. So I don't know a lot about it, but I was thinking the Second World War in Europe ended in 1944. Germany was divided into zones, I believe, until 1952. So we actually were the government of a zone, as were Britain and France, from 1944 to 1952. I wonder if this debate took place in this Congress during that period of time: Bring our troops home. Why don't those people stand up a government over there? Why can't they get their act together? I wonder if that debate took place. I don't know. I might go look it up and try to find out.
Japan we defeated in 1945, unconditional surrender. And yet MacArthur established the occupation of Japan and, in fact, was heavily criticized when the Korean War broke out for still being the czar of Japan. And occupation forces remained in Japan until some time in the mid 1950s. I wonder if that debate went on about Japan. The last time I checked, which was the day before yesterday when I was talking to some soldiers at Fort Hood, we still have troops in Korea, and that war technically ended in 1954 I believe it was, 1952 or 1954, and we still have troops there. And I don't know if during the 1950s we had debates about why can't those people get their act together? Why do we have to defend that country? Why do we have to defend them? I don't hear that debate anymore, and there are still American soldiers standing watch in Korea.
I am not saying that we are going to occupy for this period of time, but where is our commitment to the commitment that our soldiers have given us? That deeply concerns me. I worry about it. And I can tell you our fighting men and women worry about it too.
So I guess that is why we get up here on the floor of the House and we want to let the American people know what we saw and what we heard and what we experienced. And I know the fighting generation that are living today; those soldiers are a great generation. The question is, will we be also ranked as a great generation, the people back home, for standing behind this great generation as they have done an outstanding job in defeating our enemy.
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