PROVIDING FOR THE SAFE REDEPLOYMENT OF UNITED STATES TROOPS FROM IRAQ--MOTION TO PROCEED--Continued -- (Senate - February 27, 2008)
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Mr. DeMINT. I want to thank you and all my Democratic colleagues for allowing me some time on the floor to discuss the progress in the war. This allows us as Republicans to contrast our position versus the position of retreating and announcing that we are giving up on Iraq.
We have heard a lot of talk here today, and apparently there is too high a pricetag for freedom. Certainly you can make an argument that it is expensive to be in Iraq, just as other wars have been expensive and deadly to our country.
World War II, the importance of that war can never be underestimated, and the price on it could not be estimated. The fact that we need to fight wars to show our strength as a nation has been proven time and time again. I am worried that the Senate is not united in the need to show strength against the war on terror.
Last year at this time, my Democratic colleagues had said that the war in Iraq was lost, and implicitly the war against terror, since the front line today on the battle against terror is in Iraq. It was announced here on the Senate floor that the war was lost, that we were in a hopeless civil war in Iraq. Since then we have had about 40 votes, or different variations of votes to cut funding, to withdraw, to retreat, sending a terrible signal to our troops and our enemies that we lack the resolve that is necessary to win this war. Whether we call it running and retreating or giving up or saying America cannot win, all of those words and ideas emanated from the Senate floor from the majority side in the past year.
Many even voted against the funds to surge the troops that has proven to be such a success over the last several months. Some of the funding as late as the end of last year was held hostage to gross earmarks that were unnecessary in a time of war. How can we talk about the war on terror being so expensive when we held those funds hostage to other things that were certainly not a high priority?
I am afraid my Democratic colleagues, at least many of them--I know this is not true for all of them, but too many clearly do not understand the threat of terrorism in our world today and what that means to our country and our freedom. Too many have forgotten the importance of a strong military and how that results in peace around the world when nations respect the power of the United States of America. But who can respect America any longer, after stating our resolve to stand Iraq up as a free and stable democracy, if in the middle of that challenge we decide to retreat and withdraw?
The very fact that we have talked about it so many times has sent a signal of weakness that has empowered our enemies and likely put more of our forces at risk. I hope this is the last time we do it this year.
Everyone has a right to dislike the war, to say it is too expensive. But our responsibility here in the Senate is much different than the average citizen. When we send a signal that we are not supporting the key mission of our military, we do much to demoralize our troops, and to strengthen the resolve of our enemies.
Again, I hope this is the last time we will do it. My Democratic colleagues cannot have it both ways. They continue to try to say they support the troops, but everything they actually do undermines them, pulls the rug right out from under what they are trying to do. It's a lot of empty rhetoric. But in the last week we have seen from the Democrats on the House side, a key essential part of our intelligence system is being threatened because we will not give the administration the tools to use our technology to intercept messages from terrorists who might be planning to attack us or our interests around the world.
I returned from Iraq a couple of weeks ago. This is my third trip. I saw a marked difference from anything I had ever seen before. The statistics have been talked about here on the floor of the Senate: The monthly attacks have decreased 60 percent since June of last year; civilian deaths are down over 75 percent in the last year; al-Qaida in Iraq remains a threat but their power and ability to do damage has been greatly diminished.
I wish to talk a little bit about the trip. I joined Senator Ensign and Senator Tom Coburn on this trip. Once we landed in Baghdad, we took a helicopter to a small community about 30 miles south of Baghdad. This was a community that was controlled and terrorized by al-Qaida up until about 3 months ago. You would not even go down Main Street in an armored vehicle, we were told by our troops there.
Yet we landed at an American outpost there, American soldiers were living in that community a couple of blocks from the Iraqi Army outpost where they were living in the community, and we walked out of our outpost on the main street and talked to the citizens who had opened their markets, talked to the Iraqi soldiers, and talked to the citizens who were helping to patrol the area. In this picture here I am talking with one of the local sheiks, Sheik Ali, who told us that al-Qaida only a few months before had dragged his father in front of him and shot him and killed him.
Next to him is an Iraqi soldier whom we helped to train. They are as sharp as any soldier you would expect to see. This community is well protected. Colonel Ferrell, who is in charge of the outpost, who took us down the main street, was giving us briefings and we were talking to the sheik as well as the Iraqi soldiers. They were proud to tell us what was happening there.
The sheiks and the local tribes are the key to working with the American surge and have freed much of Iraq in the last 6 months. These local leaders have turned against al-Qaida, because al-Qaida has done such damage and such brutality to their families and their communities that they are now talking with us and helping us to defeat al-Qaida in that area there.
I have another photo here. I know it is difficult to see. But we were walking down a street that was empty except for bodies a few months ago. These little markets have opened. As we walked down the street, in this case it was mostly American soldiers walking with us, except for this group--these young men in the green jackets which they called in this community the ``Sons of Iraq.'' Our military pays them to help patrol every day. When I asked the colonel, when all of these citizens came running out to us, why were they not worried about them blowing themselves up and killing all of the soldiers and us who were walking down the street, the colonel responded: Because we know everyone who is here.
A lot of these folks from the markets came out and hugged our soldiers. I tell you, I couldn't have felt better to see our soldiers so appreciated in that area, to see these young men with walkie-talkies. Their job is to patrol, to make sure if any stranger comes to the community, that they notify the Iraqi Army and the American Army so that these people can be checked out.
We saw a number of trucks with mattresses and furniture piled high, of people moving back to this little community--who had moved out months and years before because al-Qaida had run them out. We walked down several blocks. Probably 80 to 100 markets have reopened, and the people were glad to see us. They were cheerful. They feel as if they have their community back.
We have not won this war yet, but we can see everywhere we go that Iraqis are standing up and taking back their country for themselves. And our troops, along with the Iraqi troops whom we helped to train, and the Sons of Iraq are guarding and protecting their community.
I want to talk about one Marine here. This is Major Alston Middleton, who actually went to Porter-Gaud High School in Charleston. He is a Marine working in the base where we are training Iraqi soldiers. Every 3 weeks we are producing 2,500 new Iraqi soldiers who go straight from that camp to the battlefield. They are being trained with the same equipment and arms they will be using when they get there.
He is proud of what he is doing. Everywhere we went, our troops wanted to prove to us that what we were doing was necessary, it was right, it was working, and we could win it. It was important to them that we know it.
When I asked them what do they need that they do not have, the answer I got--more than any other answer--was: Do not forget us. Some of the rhetoric on this floor has sent the signal to our troops that we are forgetting them and do not appreciate what they are doing.
This Marine, away from his family, like all of the other Marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen we see there, many of them away from their children and spouses for over a year, we know what sacrifices they are making. But I am afraid these Marines are not respected in some parts of this country. I am afraid the Democrats on the Berkeley City Council in California--and some here may say that is an isolated situation, but it is not, because they are taking their signals from what they hear right here on the Senate floor. They called our Marine recruiters unwelcome intruders. They called them thugs. They called them Bush's murderers. When you see the video and what they called our Marines, while our Marines are sweating and bleeding and dying for us and our freedoms.
What the Berkeley city council did was not freedom of speech. The protesters had their freedom of speech for months, but that wasn't good enough for them. They wanted the power of government behind them to support their point of view at the expense of the Marines and all Americans who appreciate our Marines and love what they do. We need to recognize that some of the things that have been said right here are sending a signal to people like the Berkeley city council to show disrespect for people like Major Alston Middleton, who is willing to put his life on the line for us.
I have introduced a bill we call the Semper Fi Act, named after the Marine motto, which means ``always faithful.'' It is just to rattle the cages a little bit
of the city council in Berkeley, to tell them: OK, if you want to take exception to our Federal mission there in Berkeley, certainly you don't deserve these secret earmarks we have sent to Berkeley in the last several months. But the Marines are always faithful and always have been. They are faithful to our country, to each other. We need to be faithful to them and all those who are fighting for us.
This discussion on the floor is again trying to have it both ways, that we support our troops, but then we don't. We don't support them when we don't support the very mission we have asked them to give their lives for. We can't have it both ways. We can't keep having this discussion which questions, before the whole world, the very mission we have asked of our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen and all the civilian support staff we have in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the world who are fighting the war on terror. We are going to win the war on terror because of the resolve we have to be free and peaceful as a nation.
I hope we will get the message here that our troops have in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world, that sometimes you have to fight for the freedom we have here in this country. Now is the time we have to fight. The fact that we have shown resolve in the last year has resulted in clear successes in Iraq that are undeniable. We know we can win this battle, but this battle will not be the last one. The terrorists are going to be here for a generation or more. If they are not in Iraq, they are going to be in Afghanistan or they will be in Africa. They are going to be somewhere, if they are not here, doing their terrorist deeds against the peaceful people of the world. We have to show resolve. Our enemies must know that we will never stop until we root them out and do away with them.
I also want to make one last comment because the folks from South Carolina are in so many ways very involved with the effort in Iraq. In fact, over the last several years the airmen at Charleston Air Force Base flying C-17s carry more of the cargo, supplies, and arms into Iraq than any other base in our country. This picture is one of the crews that flew us out of Afghanistan back to Kuwait on our way home. But we actually had three teams out of Charleston that moved us from Kuwait to Baghdad, out of Baghdad and to Afghanistan and back. They are proud of what they do. They wanted us to know, and me to tell you, that they believe this mission is important and that we can win it. Every day they save lives and deliver freedom.
All they need is our support, not our empty rhetoric, our real support and our belief in them and what they are doing. I came back with that belief and that resolve, that what we are doing is right. If we continue what we are doing, we will win, and we will continue to set the terrorists back on their heels and keep our country safe.
I thank the men and women at Charleston Air Force Base who are making all Americans proud as they serve all over the world on their missions.
I yield the floor.