RECENT BIG EVENTS -- (House of Representatives - May 05, 2005)
Mr. KLINE. Mr. Speaker, we have had several important events occur in the last weeks and days, and today of course we passed a very historic piece of legislation in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to make sure that our country is safer, that our troops have what they need for this war on terror.
All of this prompted me to think that it was time to sort of recap where we are, where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in this war against the Islamic extremists who attacked us so horrifically and so viciously on September 11.
We also have coming up tomorrow Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and that certainly is one of those events that the timing of which has come together to make me want to come to the floor and discuss with my colleagues our progress in this war on terror.
I hope to be joined by some more of my colleagues here in a minute. We had a little bit of scrambling to get the timing right. The early vote today had people out of pocket, as we used to say.
Let me start by just recapping some of the really, really big events that we have seen happen in the last few months. I have a picture here next to me that I think is absolutely astonishing in its implication.
These are women in Afghanistan who are serving now as police officers in the Afghani security forces. Just think about that. Before September 11, before we were attacked, before our country decided to step out and defend itself and freedom loving nations of the world by going after the brutal terrorists who had attacked us in Afghanistan, these women could not be seen in public without being shrouded from head to toe. They had no place in official Afghani society. They could not go to school.
It is remarkable to think what has happened with the free elections last year in Afghanistan that elected President Karzai and has resulted in women going to school, a woman, a 19-year-old Afghani woman being the first Afghani in history to cast a vote in a free election, and look at them today. To me it is just remarkable and speaks volumes about what has happened in the last couple of years and in the last few months.
Often we see the news here and I have got to tell you that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq see the news as well. I was just over in both Afghanistan and Iraq in January of this year before the elections in Iraq, and I had the chance to talk to many of our soldiers and Marines who were engaged in combat. And they almost universally, their only complaint was that their story, the story of their hard work and their successes was not being told in the news, because the news that shows up on television and in our newspapers is so heavily weighted to the tough events.
It is a tough security situation in and around Baghdad. There is no question about it. But those soldiers and those Marines, they see the stories of the explosions and the attacks and they do not see the stories of their successes and the friendships that they are making and the progress they are making in helping free countries to become established as democracies in this world.
There is another picture which I want to put up here and share. And I know many of you have seen this picture many times and it speaks absolute volumes about the difference in Iraq today and when Saddam Hussein had the Iraqi people under his iron fist. What a telling story this young woman with the purple ink on her fingers indicating that she had voted. And I know when I was over in Iraq with my colleagues in January, and this was before this historic election, and we were talking with American forces and with Iraqi leaders including then the Interim Prime Minister Allawi, and the then U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.
We were talking about the prospects for the election coming up and they were great concerns, you may remember, that the election could not go off on time, that no one would show up to vote. That it was going to be a disaster. And I can tell you that the American forces and the Iraqis and our coalition partners were adamant in saying that the elections must go forward. To not have those elections go forward on time would be a disaster, and one which it would be almost impossible to recover from.
And they told us, my colleagues and I, the five of us, three Republicans and two Democrats, and by the way, it is sometimes forgotten, I know that it is sometimes forgotten around America that we can come together and work together in a bipartisan way on a number of issues. And certainly taking care of our troops and doing everything we can to ensure victory in this absolutely tough war that we are engaged in is one of those times. But we were told by the leaders in Iraq that the elections must go forward, that they would go forward, and that there was security on a scale that had not been seen before, to do everything in the power of the Iraqi security forces and the Americans to make sure that the election took place.
I know that, like my colleagues, I was glued to the television and watching this election day unfold in Iraq, throughout the country; and I was astonished as the day unfolded that the Iraqis were coming, sometimes walking for miles, walking for miles to cast their vote and to proudly dip their finger in the purple ink and thus brand themselves to the terrorists as someone who has defied their threats, the threats to kill them and to cast their vote. They came by the millions and voted.
Today, we have seen this week the Iraqi government sworn in as a result of those elections. They get engaged in politics there like we do here, and not everybody agrees on everything. There was a great deal of wrangling going on there by people who do not have experience in a democracy, and I found that they engaged in it a lot of the same ways as we do here. They tried to cajole each other and threaten each other and twist each other's arms and make deals and move forward towards democracy.
So this week, May 3, Iraq's first democratically elected government in over half a century was sworn in. This event is yet another historic milestone in Iraq's progress toward a representative and transparent government. Our goal, can my colleagues imagine when we have a free Iraq, Iraq with a democratically elected government in power, the force that that free country will have in this region, the help that it will give us in the war on terror in which we are so heavily engaged?
The freedom epitomized by this picture in Afghanistan and this picture from Iraq is so important to our success in defeating these Islamic extremists in gaining back peace for us and security and safety for us and for our neighbors and for the world.
Iraq's new prime minister, Mr. Jafari, has completed the selection of cabinet members, and again, remember how tough this is to do, of different factions in Iraq. He is trying to work with all of them; and even though the Sunnis, in large measure, had boycotted the January election, they have been seeking to be included in this government. I think it is fair and safe to say that many of them wish that they had not chosen to boycott, that they, too, had chosen to walk the miles and stick their finger in the ink and be a part of this great step for freedom and democracy in the world.
According to the report that I am looking at here, the position of defense minister will now be held by a Sunni Arab, even though the Sunnis had largely boycotted the election. The current composition of the cabinet is as follows: 15 Shiite Arab ministers, 7 Kurds, 4 Sunnis, and 1 Christian. This newly formed cabinet is now tasked to write a permanent Iraqi Constitution and must organize fresh elections for the end of this year. This process continues, ever growing, ever adding to their freedom and to democracy in that country, and thereby, I believe, very strongly, adding to our own security and to a better world.
Now, we know that the fight still goes on, and we see those news reports that the soldiers and Marines were a little bit unhappy. But unhappy or not, the facts are that it is still pretty tough out there, and our soldiers and Marines are engaged in combat. U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured over 100 insurgents in Baghdad in 1 day this week. Twelve al Qaeda members were killed close to the Syrian border on Monday of this week. The fighting goes on.
We took, as I said in my opening comments, a very important step today in passing the supplemental funding bill. It did some very major things, and I see that one of my colleagues has walked in, and I do not know if he is ready to talk about that bill. I see a nod from his head, and so I would be happy to yield to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. McCaul).
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Mr. KLINE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his remarks today and for his passion about the issues.
We did many things in passing this supplemental, and the details on enhancing our border security are part of our war against the Islamic extremists in this war on terrorism. Those are important steps that we took today in terms of funding and beefing up that security that is so important to our safety here at home.
We did a number of other things in this bill that I think it is useful for us to think about and talk about for just a minute. Clearly, the bulk of the money that we are going to appropriate today, almost $76 billion, went for defense, things that our troops need in order to win in this war.
Today, in the Committee on Armed Services, we had a hearing and listened to testimony from generals in the Army and the Marine Corps about the progress that we are making in adding armor to our vehicles, to our wheeled vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, and we are making progress. It seems never enough, armor's not thick enough, there is not enough of it. We should never be satisfied, I suppose, until every soldier and Marine is fully protected; but that is simply not possible.
This is a war. It is combat. We need to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to provide our soldiers and Marines with the tools that they need and yet know that combat is a dangerous and, sadly, sometimes fatal business. I know in our office this week we have been very saddened. My Legislative Director, Miss Jean Hinz, lost her cousin, a Marine, who was killed flying an F-18 over Iraq. These stories wrench at your heart as you put the human and personal face on the result of the sacrifices that our troops are making in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world.
We did something else in this bill that I think is important that we remember. We need very much for our new Democratic allies in the region, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, to succeed. So we added money to help the people of Afghanistan, these women and their families and their fellow Afghani citizens, $1.7 billion to help them in Afghanistan. It is important for their development, it is important as they reach for democracy, and it is important for us as we seek victory in this war and peace in the world.
Well, it has been mentioned a time or two that we have a convergence of events here. I think most of my colleagues and most Americans know, or they will remember in sort of a cold sweat here in the next day or so, that this Sunday is Mother's Day, and I know there is always a rush to get those flowers and buy the candy and do those things. Tomorrow is also Military Spouse Appreciation Day. What a nice occurrence that we have Military Spouse Appreciation Day coming together with Mother's Day. This year Military Spouse Appreciation Day falls on the 6th, which is tomorrow. We celebrate this day each year on the Friday before Mother's Day.
So, you see, the confluence of those two events is not an accident, but a reinforcing one of the other. Military Spouse Appreciation Day is set aside to honor the many men and women who bravely support their spouses in uniform, and this reminds us of the importance of the families of our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines who are making such sacrifices. So in the supplemental bill which we just passed, we add money for life insurance, we add money to give to the families of the soldiers who lose their lives, a death gratuity increase from $12,000 to $100,000 and the life insurance from $250,000 to $400,000.
We need to keep these families in mind. And I have another picture here, a scene seen so often as a member of our Armed Forces prepares to leave or comes home from or to the loving arms of his or her family. We need to make sure that we are doing the things that we can, those of us in this body, my colleagues and I, to make sure we are doing everything, not only for the soldier, but for the child as well.
So as we recognize Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I think we need to do it in the context of the family, of the military family. Now more than ever it is particularly important to recognize and celebrate, and celebrate, our military spouses, those thousands who remain on the home front while their spouses have been deployed overseas to help fight in this war on terror. Like our military men and women, the military spouse's bravery goes unparalleled. They remain the strength that we do not always see but is ever present. And I know that is true from my own experience in the military, the importance of that family and the love that goes with it.
This weekend we take the time to appreciate all military spouses and moms nationwide for their strength, unity, patriotism and bravery. Their jobs are not easy, but it is these wonderful individuals that keep this country strong and remind us every day, remind us every day, of what we are fighting for.
So on this weekend we want to say thank you to the military spouses across the Nation and, of course, happy Mother's Day to our mothers. And I, like many of you, will need to be on my way to the store to buy that box of candy. Such a simple gesture, but every gesture we make reaching out to those that are so important in our own lives and to our men and women in uniform is something we have to do.
I have one more picture I would like to put up as a way of kind of wrapping up my thoughts and comments today. Thanks for your support, the sign says, with these servicemen and women. And that thanks for your support needs to go every way in our country; them to their families, them to the rest of us in America, and we, the rest of us in America, to them and to our neighbors around the world. It takes support, it takes family support, it takes all of our support for our men and women in combat. And I believe it is incumbent upon all of us, all my colleagues, all Americans, every day in every way that we can to tell our men and women in uniform how much we love them and care for them and want to ensure their success and make sure that they have everything that they need in order to win this war.
So sort of wrapping up, if you look back to what we have done, and sometimes we forget, we now have free men and women in Afghanistan for the first time ever. A democracy in Afghanistan. The first time ever in 5,000 years. There were women who could not go outside the house who are now serving proudly, serving their country and serving their fellow citizens proudly and looking forward to the advancements of democracy in that country and giving them some hope for the future. One of the poorest countries in the world beaten down by the brutal dictatorship under the Taliban and now free in a democracy growing with hope for the future.
And in Iraq, in Iraq, the purple fingers, the Iraqis walking for miles, defying threats of death to vote in a free election and establishing Iraq not as a haven for terrorists, not as the home of a brutal dictator killing tens and hundreds of thousands of his own people, but as a free democracy.
Then, as we look at the progress our troops are making, their successes in battle, their successes in establishing relationships with the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq, their successes in helping rebuild the infrastructure, we have much to be thankful for, my colleagues. But let us remember that it is not easy and it is not over, and it will take our continued vigilance in making sure that we are supporting our troops, expressing our love and support, and as we might say around here, making sure we are putting our money where our mouth is.