FLOOR STATEMENT BY SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON IRAQ SUPPLEMENTAL
Mr. President, I oppose the Republican effort to strike the critical section of this bill requiring our troops in Iraq to begin to come home in 120 days and that we finish the job in 2008.
This is a defining moment for our country. The American people are watching, and the world is watching. The issue is clear. Will we stand with our soldiers by ending their misguided mission and beginning to bring them home? Or will we stand with the President and keep our soldiers trapped in Iraq's civil war?
History will judge us. We can either continue down the President's perilous path, or insist on a new direction. If we don't change course, we know what lies ahead - more American casualties, more deaths, more destruction, greater loss of respect for America in the wider world, and greater danger to our national security.
A new strategy that makes Iraqis less reliant on our military is the best way forward.
More of the same misguided policy will result in more of the same tragedy for our military. We need a realistic strategy, and we need it now. Iraq is the overarching issue of our time. Our national security itself is at stake.
In this debate, we hear echoes of the past.
We are accused of cutting and running.
We are accused of giving comfort to the enemy.
We are told we need to be patient and to accept the importance of staying the course.
We are told we have to give the latest escalation a chance to succeed.
Listen to this comment from a high-ranking American official: "It became clear that if we were prepared to stay the course, we could help to lay the cornerstone for a diverse and independent Asia If we faltered, the forces of chaos would scent victory and decades of strife and aggression would stretch endlessly before us. The choice was clear. We would stay the course. And we shall stay the course."
That is not President Bush speaking. It is President Lyndon Johnson forty years ago, ordering a hundred thousand more American soldiers to Vietnam.
Here is another quotation. "The big problem is to get territory and to keep it. You can get it today and it will be gone next week. That is the problem. You have to have enough people to clear it and enough people to preserve what you have done."
That is not President Bush on the need for more forces in Iraq. It is President Johnson in 1966 as he doubled our military presence in Vietnam.
Here's yet another familiar argument. "We are not going to tuck our tail and run " Those are not President Bush's words. Those are the words of President Johnson in 1966.
Here's another familiar argument. "We are being steadfast in Vietnam because we don't want the next generation of Americans to have to fight another war." That is not President Bush, but it sure sounds like him. It is Vice President Agnew in December, 1969.
Here's another familiar argument being used in the Iraq debate by the stay-the-course Republicans that we've heard before. "We think we can bring peace. We will bring peace. The peace that we will be able to achieve will be due to the fact that Americans, when it really counted, did not buckle, did not run away, but stood fast " That is not President Bush. It's President Nixon in September, 1969.
And here's another. "If, when the chips are down, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world." That's not President Bush. Those are the words of President Nixon in April of 1970.
These words from the past resonate painfully in today's debate on Iraq. In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy. The Department of Defense kept assuring us that each new escalation in Vietnam would be the last. We were told to be steadfast, to stay the course, and not to retreat.
There was no military solution to that war. But we kept trying to find one anyway. In the end, 58,000 Americans died in the search for it.
Echoes of that disaster are all around us today. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.
But we've heard all that in the current debate about Iraq as well. We've heard for years that the administration has a plan for success, that progress is just around the corner.
But the plans for success keep getting tossed aside for new plans. The Administration has benchmarks to measure success, but there are no consequences when the benchmarks are not met. The timelines for progress keep getting extended.
We've turned so many corners that we've ended up back where we started - trying to control Baghdad.
It's time to change direction. 3,200 members of our forces have been killed, and more than 24,000 have been wounded. The casualties keep mounting. The violence continues to spiral upward. Our troops are in the impossible position of trying to stabilize a country at war with itself.
The recent National Intelligence Estimate confirms the nightmare scenario unfolding for our troops. Iraq is sliding deeper into the abyss of civil war, and our brave men and women are caught in the middle of it. Prospects for halting the sectarian violence are bleak.
Greater chaos and anarchy are looming ahead. Needless additional U.S. causalities are inevitable.
The facts speak for themselves. According to the United Nations, nearly 35,000 civilians were violently killed in Iraq last year. Most were killed in Baghdad, where "unidentified bodies killed execution-style are found in large numbers daily."
More than 2 million refugees have fled the violence in Iraq, and another 1.8 million have been displaced internally.
Our military should not be caught in the middle of this quagmire. Only a political solution can solve Iraq's problems.
General Casey, in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2005, called for a political solution. He said, "If you look back historically at how insurgencies have been defeated, they have been defeated when the insurgents saw their options as better protected in the political process and their prospects for economic advancement can be better protected by the political process than fighting for them. And that's the essential element here."
Last August, General Abizaid spoke about the need for a political solution. He said, "Our troops are the best equipped, the best trained, the best led in the world. And I am enormously proud of them, and I have the utmost confidence in their ability to handle any mission. Yet, sectarian violence is worse than ever in Baghdad in particular. And I wonder about the validity of a strategy that says that less capable troops that are not as well equipped, trained and led as the best troops in the world can handle the security of this country if the upswing in violence has occurred despite the presence of the best troops in the world. It doesn't give me a lot of confidence in our underlying strategy. And it suggests to me that what we need is a political rather than a military solution."
General Petraeus, the new Commander of our forces in Iraq, recently emphasized as well that there is "no military solution" in Iraq. But no one in the Administration has been able to clearly articulate a political solution or how it can take hold in the midst of this chaos.
Instead of giving the Iraqis a necessary incentive to get their political house in order by beginning an orderly redeployment of our troops out of Iraq, the President stubbornly insists on sending more and more American troops into Iraq's civil war. Escalation didn't work in Vietnam and it won't work in Iraq either.
Even worse, the administration has not been honest about the number of troops the President plans to send to Iraq for the surge.
On January 10th, he announced that he'd committed "more than 20,000" additional troops to Iraq. Within a few days, we were told the number was 21,500.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would be far higher - as much as 35,000 to 48,000 troops when support troops are included.
On February 6th, I asked General Pace and Secretary Gates for the best military estimate as to the actual size of the escalation. Their answer was an additional 10 to 15 percent. General Pace said, "you're going to need no more than another 2,000, 2,500 troops on the ground."
Nine days later, the number more than doubled. General Schoomaker told the Armed Services Committee his estimate was somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 troops when he included imbedded trainers. Then, on March 6th Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told a House Committee "about 4,000, maybe as many as 7,000."
On March 7, at the request of General Petraeus, Secretary Gates authorized an additional 2,200 Military Police troops.
We still don't have an accurate total for the size of this escalation. The Administration refuses to speak with clarity and candor.
Since the current surge began, Shiite militias in Baghdad may be lying low, but violence has increased elsewhere in Iraq.
In Diyala province, in just three months, American casualties have exceeded the number for the entire year of 2006.
In January this year, 83 American soldiers were killed, compared to 62 in the same month a year ago.
80 more American soldiers were killed in February this year. In the same month last year, we lost 55 soldiers.
In March, we have already lost 76 soldiers, compared to 31 in March 2006.
Continuing our open-ended commitment to stay in Iraq will not bring victory. It will not stop the violence, and it will not protect our national security.
The Administration has outlined military, economic, and political benchmarks to measure success. But it has not given any timeline to achieve them, and it has not specified any consequences if the benchmarks are not met.
This same Administration supported timelines for every Iraqi election and for drafting the constitution. Yet, it remains emphatically opposed to any timeline for the redeployment of our military.
The American people have been patient. But America has now been in Iraq longer than it took us to win World War II. Instead of progress, we continue to see unacceptably high levels of violence, death, and destruction.
We're putting too much strain on our Army, especially the Army National Guard. Our forces are overextended. Many soldiers are now on their 3rd rotation. In the long run, we can't protect our Army if we don't end the war.
Our troops have done their part. They have served with great courage. We're proud of their service, and we're ready to welcome them home.
It's time to change course. It's time to insist that Iraqis step up to the plate and take responsibility for their own future. It's time to begin to redeploy our troops out of Iraq. It's time to put the Iraqis on notice that our military will no longer be a permanent crutch for them to lean on and avoid their responsibility to achieve a political solution. As General Abizaid told the Armed Services Committee last November, "I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future."
The only practical way to accomplish the change that is long overdue is for American combat troops to begin to come home.
Those of us who opposed the war are used to the Administration's attacks when we disagree with their wrongheaded policy. We have come to expect that.
They have questioned our patriotism and called us defeatists.
When we challenged the President's misguided policy, they accused us of having political motives and being partisan.
But all of their criticisms have a hollow ring, because the Administration has been so consistently wrong about the war in Iraq.
They were wrong about the link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
They were wrong about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
They were wrong about America being greeted as liberators.
They were wrong about the insurgency being in its last throes.
And they are wrong to deny that Iraq is in a civil war.
The American people are far ahead of the Administration. For all of us who oppose this misguided war, our goals have always been clear: to protect the lives of our soldiers and to protect our national security.
We have an obligation to stand up for our troops and stand up to our President when he stubbornly refuses to change course in Iraq.
This legislation will do that. It will change the mission of our military away from combat and require the President to begin to redeploy American combat troops out of Iraq in four months. The target date for the completion of the redeployment is March 2008 - one year from now. A limited number of troops would remain in Iraq after that, to train and equip the Iraqi Security Forces, to conduct counter-terrorism operations, and to guarantee the safety of our soldiers.
Legislation is clearly necessary to give the Iraqi Government enough incentive to step up to the plate, work out its political differences, and take responsibility for Iraq's future.
Our proposal is consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's findings.
It is also consistent with the wishes of the American people, who want most of our troops home within a year. How much clearer does it have to be before Republicans in Congress and the President finally respond to the voices of the American people?
We are meeting our responsibilities by changing the mission of our military. We are not micromanaging the war.
Many of us oppose the war, but all of us support our troops. We don't want to keep sending more and more of them into the middle of a civil war. Under no circumstances do we want them to go to war without proper armor and equipment. Our troops deserve better. Their families and loved ones deserve better.
For the sake of our men and women in uniform in Iraq and the American people, it's time for us to take a stand. We need to adopt a new strategy. We need to make clear to the Iraqi Government that the mission of our troops must change and that we have a clear timeframe for their departure from Iraq.
The Senate will fail our troops unless we vote to change course and begin to bring our soldiers home.
At the end of this debate, the American people will know where each of us stands. On our side of the aisle, we stand with the American people. The voters told us in November to change course and begin to bring our troops home, and that's what we want to do.
We stand with our troops. We and we alone are the ones insisting on a policy worthy of their courage and sacrifice.
We stand for protecting America's national security. The war in Iraq has been a disaster from the start. It has made America more hated in the world. It has made it harder to win the war against terrorism. It has made it harder to work with other nations on every issue.
Peace and progress in Iraq must be earned by Iraqis and their neighbors.
We must no longer send our brave soldiers to an uncertain fate on the streets of Baghdad.
We must begin to bring them home, to the hero's welcome they have surely earned.