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Public Statements

CPC Hour: Iraq

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. LEE of California. Mr. Speaker, first, let me just say I'm very pleased to anchor this Congressional Progressive Caucus Special Order on Iraq with my colleague from California, Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Let me also take a moment to thank Congresswoman Waters, who is the founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus. Congresswoman Waters had the vision and the determination to pull together Members of the House who really needed some space, who needed to be able to provide legislative strategies and to beat the drum to end this war in Iraq. The country owes Congresswoman Waters a debt of gratitude, and we thank you very much for that.

I also want to acknowledge Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who retired from Congress at the end of last year, but who loomed so large during this Special Order, given her incredible leadership in working to end the war in Iraq and to bring our troops home. She is and remains our sister in arms when it comes to working for global peace and security for our children, all of our collective work.

It was no wonder that many observers called Congresswomen Waters, Woolsey, and myself ``The Triad,'' but it was actually Congresswoman Woolsey who coined this term in our formation.

We are here today to reflect back on the 10-year anniversary of the start of the unnecessary, immoral, and costly war and to remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices of our troops, those who lost their lives, the injured, their families, and their loved ones, many of whom are still grappling with the scars and the impact of the war. We are also here to reflect on the costs of this war in blood and treasure. On the costs of this war: $800 billion, 4,486 soldiers, an untold number of Iraqi civilians, countless refugees, and also on the lost opportunity costs of this war to our country.

Instead of spending $800 billion on Iraq, we could have created jobs, rebuilt our crumbling infrastructure or invested in our schools to provide every child with a 21st century education. Sadly, this list goes on and on. It is especially painful when we understand that this war never should have happened in the first place. It was a war of choice. It was unnecessary; it was immoral; and it was wrong.

Over 10 years now in the run-up to the war, there were those of us in Congress and millions of people in the antiwar movement who fought the launch of this war. We had questions about weapons of mass destruction claims. We pushed for hearings; we called for a full debate; and we called to halt the rush to war.

In October 2002, the Bush administration pushed for invading Iraq. During that time, I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I proposed an amendment, which the Rules Committee made in order. We brought that amendment to the floor, which would have required the United Nations to continue with weapons inspections. At that time, I stated on this House floor that unilateralism is really not the answer. If Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are a problem to the world community, yes, we must confront it. We must do so through the United Nations, and we must determine whether or not there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were 72 of my colleagues who voted in favor of this amendment, which would have led us to the same conclusion that so many soldiers lost their lives and limbs to reach--that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We all know the tragedy that followed.

The Bush administration launched its war of choice, claimed its ``mission accomplished,'' and chose to send pallets of shrink-wrapped cash and more of our brave young men and women to fight on and on--despite the fact that there was no real military solution to the quagmire that the Bush administration created.

It is important to remember that this war did not go unchallenged, that there was a tremendous groundswell of opposition and that that was critical in demanding its end and in helping to bring it to a close, finally, under President Obama. In Congress, this opposition was centered around the Out of Iraq Caucus, which Congresswoman Waters, whom I mentioned earlier, founded, and Congresswoman Woolsey and I helped cofound. This was in 2005. Together, we held ad hoc hearings that the Republican congressional leadership refused to hold or participate in. We held press conferences, wrote op-eds, and took the floor to sound the alarm.

Here I need to acknowledge, as I know Congresswoman Waters will--because I know this is a very important benchmark to acknowledge--that Congresswoman Woolsey on this point delivered 441 floor speeches over the last decade to call for the war's end.

We worked with our grassroots allies, like MoveOn, Win Without War, Progressive Democrats of America, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, and with great leaders like Tom Hayden and others, to help build a movement to bring our troops home.

I recall vividly when we marched here in Washington, D.C., past the White House, with hundreds of thousands of protesters in opposition to the war. These marches and rallies and actions happened all across this country. I have to say, in northern California and especially in the East Bay and in San Francisco--the entire Bay Area of California--they were really at the forefront of this effort. Of course we worked the legislative process as hard as we possibly could. There were many members of the Out of Iraq Caucus who led important legislative efforts to end the war:

I recall clearly the efforts of Congresswoman Woolsey, who offered the very first sense of Congress resolution calling for an end to the war and to bring our troops home. From what I remember, she received approximately 132, 133 votes for that resolution, but that was another defining moment;

There was a resolution that I offered very early on to repeal the doctrine of preemption--that's preemptive war. In other words, let's start a war to prevent a future war, which the President claimed in waging the war in Iraq;

There was the McGovern amendment, led by Congressman McGovern, who led on the effort to bring a responsible end to the war by calling for a timetable;

Then, of course, my annual Lee amendment: to limit the funding for the safe, timely, and orderly withdrawal of our troops. What this Lee amendment was trying to accomplish was to stop the funding and to end combat operations but to protect our troops and contractors and bring them home.

One of my amendments, the Lee amendment, eventually was signed into law, which was to prohibit permanent bases in Iraq. Now that is and was and continues to be the law of the land. There were so many other efforts led by members of the Out of Iraq Caucus--from amendments, to resolutions, to letters, and to floor actions.

I want to yield now to my colleague from California and just, once again, thank her for her tremendous leadership in case she has to leave early before this hour ends.

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Ms. LEE of California. Congresswoman Waters, thank you so much for that very eloquent and profound statement and for your kind remarks. Let me just say to you also that you have been a woman who has always believed that peace is possible and peace is patriotic. So I just want to thank you for your leadership, for being here with us, and just say how proud we are that you are our Financial Services ranking member also. Thank you.

Let me take a moment now to yield to the gentleman from California, Congressman Mark Takano, who has been way out there in terms of opposing this war from day one.

Thank you again for being here.

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Ms. LEE of California. Let me go back now to the 10th anniversary of this unfortunate war, Mr. Speaker.

I'm going to introduce now into the Record tonight a timeline of some of what we have talked about tonight because they should be remembered and because these efforts and the efforts of the movement that ended this war finally did make a difference, although obviously not as quickly as we wanted; but we did make a difference together.

After years of speaking out and as the toll of the Iraq war stretched the patience of the American people, public opinion started turning. People began asking what were we doing in Iraq. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration told us. Iraq had not been involved in the 9/11 attacks, as suggested by the Bush administration.

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a presentation at the United Nations that was greatly misleading, stating that Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction. Some of you may remember the smoking cloud that he talked about. It was just really very, very tragic. He described biological weapons factories on wheels, and estimated that Iraq had between 100 and 150 tons--no, I believe it may have been 500 tons--of chemical weapons stockpiled. All of those claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.

Secretary of State Powell's own chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, later said about his own participation in the deception at the United Nations, he said:

I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community, and the United Nations Security Council.

Iraq did not present a clear and present danger to the United States. Secretary Powell and his staff, they knew this. President Bush, he knew this. Vice President Cheney, he knew this. But they wanted their war and they deceived the United Nations and scared the American public to justify their war of choice.

I distinctly remember the day in May 2003, 10 years ago next week, when President Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and proclaimed ``Mission Accomplished.'' Of course, the mission was far from accomplished. The war was to drag on for another 8 years.

President Obama committed to ending the war during his campaign; and he, of course, did as President. While the war in Iraq is over, its legacy continues and the lessons still have yet to be learned. We need to look closely at the decisions made, understand the mistakes and misjudgments, and ensure that we never again repeat such a tragedy.

In Ghana, in the Akan language of Ghana, there is a mythical bird that's a symbol. It's called Sankofa. It's a bird flying forward looking back, and the message is that in order to not make the same mistakes as we move forward, we have to look back and we have to know our history. We have to know where we have come from, what we have done in order to move forward, and we should learn from those mistakes. Sankofa.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction issued its final report to Congress just last month, detailing billions and billions of dollars lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. The occupation of Iraq was characterized by poor planning by the Bush administration, who ignored State Department and USAID analysis envisioning protracted U.S. involvement in Iraq requiring substantial spending for many years.

The Pentagon was left in charge of managing postwar Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously underestimated the resources needed to stabilize the country. When Lieutenant General Jay Gardner told Secretary Rumsfeld that the United States might need to spend billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq, Rumsfeld responded:

If you think we're going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken.

Well, of course, it was Mr. Rumsfeld who was sadly mistaken, and the American public who was sadly misled, and the Iraqi people who sadly suffered from the chaos and destruction unleashed by ideologues who used Iraq as a laboratory for a light-footprint war.

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, those lost opportunities and tragic mistakes are not behind us.

I would like to take a moment now and yield to my friend and colleague, a woman who has consistently been against the war and has stood for peace all of her life, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

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Ms. LEE of California. Let me thank the gentlelady from Texas for that very profound statement and presentation. And just let me say to you that, as the daughter of a 25-year veteran of the Armed Forces, I am deeply thankful for your bringing forth the faces of our Armed Forces.

And also, talking about the obstacles now that they're facing upon their return, I'm especially concerned with the widespread and often undiagnosed incidents of PTSD and the alarming suicide rates among our soldiers.

The back claims, the Veterans Affairs losing records, denying claims that are clearly service-related. I want to acknowledge Congresswoman Jackie Speier and her work in our area and throughout the country to try to address the backlog of claims of our veterans who don't deserve to be treated this way.

Since the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, over 2,000 current and former servicemembers have committed suicide. The lessons from this tragedy cannot be any clearer. It's a lot easier to get into war than to get out of one.

It's my hope, Mr. Speaker, that this reckless and shortsighted decision will mark a turning point in American history, and that we will be more careful about war and use all of the tools of American power, as Congresswoman Woolsey so eloquently talked to us about and introduced over and over again, SMART security that should be used in resolving disputes, including diplomacy.

Let me ask you, Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have remaining?

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentlewoman has 21 minutes remaining.

Ms. LEE of California. I would like to know if the gentlelady from Texas has anything else to say. Otherwise, we will close.

Let me just use a bit more time and say that there's no military solution in Afghanistan either, so we must absorb that fact and learn, again, what we learned in Iraq. And we need to bring the war in Afghanistan to an accelerated end.

We need to stop throwing good money after bad, poorly conceived and poorly managed reconstruction efforts, and bring our troops home now.

And we need to repeal the 2001 Authorization For the Use of Military Force, which Congresswoman Waters mentioned, which I voted against right after the horrific events of 9/11. This overly broad blank check has underwritten the past decade of perpetual war.

I have a resolution, H.R. 198, it's the Repeal of the Authorization For the Use of Military Force. This will remove one of the underlying legal justifications for targeted drone killings that has been invoked over and over again, this time, targeted killings, to justify a wide range of activities, including warrantless surveillance and wiretapping activities, and, yes, a blank check for war anywhere, any time, for any length of time.

I hope those who are listening and who care about this, go back and read that resolution of 9/14. What it said was the President, and I'm paraphrasing now, but it was the President is authorized to use force against any nation, organization, individual, deemed connected to terrorism and the 9/11 attacks.

Now, this was in 2001. 2001. No end game, no timetable, a blank check, perpetual war until this is repealed. So Congress really needs to reassert its constitutional authority in the matters of war. Our Founding Fathers were very deliberate in placing war-making powers in this body. In a democracy, such as ours, we have this system of checks and balances.

On 9/14, we did not have a full debate. From what I remember, it may have been an hour, it may have been 2 hours. But we did not fully debate that blank check and what that meant by authorizing then-President Bush, now President Obama and any future President, to use force in perpetuity.

We can no longer abdicate our constitutional duties allowing any President to engage in hostilities without debate, without oversight, and without accountability.

And I want to commend Senator Durbin for conducting hearings this week looking at the constitutionality and the rationale for targeted killings using drones. This was a very important hearing. I was able to sit through some of that hearing, and it was very revealing. Actually, there was a young man from Yemen who received a State Department scholarship. He went to school here, had gone back to Yemen, and his village was devastated by drones.

So you can see what's happening now. There are more and more hostilities, unfortunately, toward the United States, unless we get this policy straight about the lethal use of drones and have congressional oversight and debate and really exercise our constitutional responsibility to really declare war, if that's what we're going to do.

And so as we embark into this new age of modern warfare, we do need rules. We need oversight; we need accountability; and we need to develop an international legal framework on drones.

And we understand asymmetrical warfare and the new world in which we live. None of us have our head in the sand about that. We just need to make sure that Congress has a role in debating exactly how we're going to, if we're going to, and when the appropriate use of force is necessary.

For me, personally, I believe in SMART Security; and I know that that will lead to a world that our children deserve and is worthy of our children's future.

So let's put this decade of perpetual warfare behind us. We should bring our troops home. We should invest in our veterans and our children, create jobs here at home and really begin to invest in our future for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.

I have this chart here to show you just in terms of the fiscal implications of what these policies have brought. When you look at the deficit, with the war and the economic policies of the Bush era, the tax cuts, we're looking at this line right here. Had these unfortunate policies not occurred, our deficit would be down here. This is very clear. This was put forth by the Congressional Budget Office in February. These are their estimates.

It's very clear, I hope, to everyone that the failed economic policies of the Bush administration and the wars in Iraq are the major contributing factors to the economic crisis that we find ourselves in. And so, aside from the human toll that this 10-year war and the war in Afghanistan has taken, we have a real crisis now, an economic crisis in this country that we need to come to grips with. Our senior citizens did not cause this crisis. Our children did not cause this crisis. The poor, our middle class individuals, and families did not cause this crisis. And we cannot forget what has taken place over the last 10 years of this unbelievably terribly sad time in our history, where we lost so many lives and we lost so much time in terms of rebuilding our country for the future of our children.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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