MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2008)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, we are in the sixth year of the war in Iraq, and the costs to our troops, our security, and our country rise by the day. With the current course still not working, I have no choice but to vote against amendments 4817 and 4818 to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008. It is clear that these measures continue to give President Bush a blank check to continue his chosen policy, despite the constant warnings of military experts who tell us that there is no military solution to Iraq's civil war and that political compromise in Iraq will not occur absent meaningful deadlines for the transition of our mission and the redeployment of U.S. troops.
I believe this was an occasion where Congress had the responsibility to force the President to change a policy that is broken. Not to caution, warn, or cajole--not to give a blank check and hope for the best--but to force a change in a policy that is making us weaker, not stronger.
Make no mistake--on the core issue of changing our deployment in Iraq, these amendments are deficient, and that is why I must oppose them. However, they contain provisions many of us have supported time and again.
Particularly, the first amendment has many important provisions that I support, including mandating dwell time between deployments for our troops, a prohibition on permanent bases in Iraq, and the requirement that any long-term security agreements with Iraq be subject to approval by the Senate. But because the language with respect to Iraq--setting a nonbinding goal of completing the transition of the mission by June of 2009--is not strong enough, I cannot support the amendment.
I also oppose the second amendment, which provides billions and billions more in funding for the war without any policy corrections at all. This is tantamount to giving the President another blank check to continue with an Iraq war policy that I strongly believe is making America less safe. There is no requirement to transition the mission and no deadline to leverage political progress. And there is no relief for a military stretched to the breaking point. That approach will not resolve the sectarian divisions that have fed this civil war, it will not bring long-term stability to Iraq, and it will not protect our national security interests around the world.
All of us--and I would underscore, all of us--are incredibly grateful for the remarkable sacrifices our troops have made in Iraq. They have done whatever we have asked of them, and they have served brilliantly. The question before us now is whether we have a strategy that is worthy of their sacrifice.
We can all agree that there is no purely military solution to the problems in Iraq. All of our military commanders, including General Petraeus, as well as Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice, have told us as much. And when the President announced his escalation to the American public last January, he said the purpose was to create ``breathing room'' for national reconciliation to move forward.
Over a year later, it is clear that this escalation did not accomplish its primary goal of fostering sustainable political progress. General Petraeus himself recently said that ``no one'' in the U.S. or Iraqi Governments ``feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.''
I don't believe that it is too much to ask of Iraqis to make tough compromises when over 4,000 of our troops have given their lives to provide them that opportunity. In fact, I think the only strategy that honors the tremendous sacrifice of our troops is one that pushes the Iraqis to solve their own problems. And by General Petraeus's own account, the current strategy is not accomplishing that.
By my count, we are now entering the fifth war in Iraq. The first was against Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction. Then came the insurgency that DICK CHENEY told us nearly 2 years ago was in its last throes. There was the fight against al-Qaida terrorists whom, the administration said, it was better to fight over there than here. There was a Sunni-Shia civil war that exploded after the Samara mosque bombing. As we saw in Basra, there may be a nascent intra-Shia civil war in southern Iraq. And nobody should be surprised if we see a sixth war between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs over Kirkuk.
We are also on at least our fifth ``strategy'' for Iraq. First there was ``Shock and Awe,'' which was supposed to begin a peaceful transition to democracy in Iraq. Then there were ``search and destroy'' missions designed to fight the growing insurgency. There was the era of ``As they stand up, we'll stand down,'' focused on transitioning responsibility to Iraqi security forces. That was followed by the ``National Strategy for Victory'' and the introduction of the ``Clear, Hold and Build'' approach. And last year, we had the ``New Way Forward,'' with the troop escalation that was supposed to provide breathing room for the Iraqis to make political progress.
What we have never had is a strategy that brought about genuine political reconciliation or that made Iraqis stand up for Iraq or that allowed us to meet our strategic objectives and bring our troops home. What we have never seen is an exit strategy.
In fact, at the beginning of the war in 2003, we had about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Today, there are still about 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground. After more than 5 years, after more than 4,000 U.S. lives lost, after more than $500 billion dollars spent, we are basically right back where we started from--with no end in sight.
And we know that after the escalation ends in July the plan is to keep some 140,000 troops in Iraq--slightly more than the levels of early 2007, when the violence was out of control and political reconciliation was non-existent.
So it looks like the sixth strategy is basically to repeat what didn't work the first time and hope for a different result. And we keep hearing that approach justified with the twisted logic that because we cannot afford to fail in Iraq, we must continue with a strategy that has failed to achieve our primary goals.
We clearly need a new approach that fundamentally changes the dynamic, and I continue to believe that Iraqis will not make the tough political compromises necessary to stabilize the country while they can depend on the security blanket provided by the indefinite presence of large numbers of U.S. troops.
One thing we know is that the costs of continuing down this path are extraordinary. Over $12 billion per month and over 900 soldiers dead since the surge began. And while we are bogged down in Iraq, we continue to neglect the most pressing threats to our nation's security.
Let's be clear: The war in Iraq is not making us safer--it is making us less safe. Iran has been empowered in the region and emboldened to defy the international community in pursuit of its nuclear program. Hezbollah and Hamas are stronger than ever. Our military is stretched to the breaking point. Our intelligence agencies have told us Iraq is a ``cause céle 2bre'' for al-Qaida that helps ``to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for homeland attacks.'' So it is no surprise that terrorist incidents outside Iraq and Afghanistan have risen dramatically since the war began and are now at historic highs.
And we know where the real threats lie: Our top national security officials keep warning us that the next attack is likely to come from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border--not Iraq. Meanwhile Afghanistan slides backwards, in part because--as Admiral Mullen has acknowledged--with so many troops tied down in Iraq, we simply don't have the manpower available to give our military commanders the troops they need.
Every day we fail to change course we play further into the hands of our enemies. We need a fundamentally new approach to our Nation's security in the region and around the world--and that starts with a new strategy that in Iraq. The events of the last year have shown once again a basic truth: Iraqis will not resolve their differences and stand up for Iraq while they can depend on the security blanket provided by the indefinite presence of large numbers of U.S. troops.
As we redeploy, we need to engage diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors in a way that creates a new security structure for the region. And we must responsibly redeploy from Iraq so we can refocus our efforts on fighting al-Qaida around the world--especially on the real front line in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.