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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2006--Continued

Location: Washington, DC




Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today, in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush gave a vivid and, I believe, compelling description of the threat to America and to freedom from radical Islamic fundamentalism. He made, in my view, a powerful case for what is at stake for every American.

Simply put, the radical fundamentalists seek to kill our citizens in great numbers, to disrupt our economy, and to reshape the international order. They would take the world backwards, replacing freedom with fear and hope with hatred. If they were to acquire a nuclear weapon, the threat they would pose to America would be literally existential.

The President said it well. The President is right that we cannot and will not retreat. We will defend ourselves and defeat the enemies of freedom and progress. But in order to know where we are going to go from here, we have to understand, in my view, how we got to this point in the fight. Unfortunately, the many fundamental mistakes this administration has made over the past 4 years have dug us into a hole that is making it harder for us to get out.

First, the administration took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and diverted our attention and resources to Iraq prematurely. As a result, while we made progress in Afghanistan, violence in Afghanistan is now worse than it has been since the war, and the Taliban, al-Qaida, and the warlords are, once again, on the move in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, we have captured some al-Qaida leaders, but many others have risen to take their place, and the terrorist threat has literally metastasized to many other countries. Around the world, terrorist attacks are on the rise, not decline.

Second, this administration turned unilateral military preemption from the option it has always been into a one-size-fits-all doctrine in the war on terror. We forgot that the power of our example is as important as the example of our power, that our ideas and our ideals are among our greatest assets. We forgot to draw on the totality of America's strength in order to be able to deal with the hearts and minds of 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.

Third, once we decided to focus on Iraq, we went to war too soon. We went without the rest of the world, and we went under false premises.

This administration told us we would be greeted with open arms, that we had enough troops to stabilize the country, that Iraqi oil would pay for the reconstruction. They were wrong on each of these counts and many more.

The result is a terrible irony. Iraq now risks becoming what it was not before the war: a haven for the very radical Islamic fundamentalists who would do us such harm.

But today the President of the United States seemed to recognize some of this self-inflicted damage. That is a good thing, and I applaud him for it. He said: ``the terrorists have now set their sights on Iraq''--finally acknowledging that they did not before the war.

He said that in the broader fight against the radical fundamentalists and in Iraq itself, we can't succeed alone, that we need partners--finally acknowledging what many of us on both sides of the aisle have been saying for years.

He implied that while our military might is essential, it is not sufficient--finally acknowledging that we can and must call on the totality of America's strength, including our economic and political might and the power of our example.

He said that the fight for freedom is long term and that democracy can't be imposed by force--finally acknowledging that we can't simply topple tyrants and leave, that we have to work day in and day out to support moderates and modernizers and build the institutions of democracy.

And he said that much more sacrifice will be required--finally acknowledging the difficulty of the challenge and the burden every American must bear.

So the President said some very important things today. But there are also a lot of things he did not say that leaves me, and I suspect many others, feeling frustrated. He told us broadly what we have to do, but he said virtually nothing about how he plans to go about doing it and what the American people can expect.

Consider what he said, and what he did not say, on Iraq.

Yes, we have to train Iraqi forces, as he said. But we still do not know how many of those forces must be capable of operating on their own or with minimal U.S. support before we can begin to reduce our military presence in Iraq. And we do not have any idea when those numbers might be reached.

Yes, we have to support the creation of a strong Iraqi political system that enjoys legitimacy with all the major groups, as the President said. But we still do not know what the plan is to overcome deep Sunni hostility to the constitution and to reconcile the growing sectarian differences that threaten to divide Iraq, not unite it.

Yes, we have to engage the international community to stabilize Iraq, as the President has said. But we still do not know what concrete actions the administration is taking to do just that. We still do not know why it will not organize a contact group of leading nations to show a united international front. We still do not know the plans for getting Iraq's neighbors to act responsibly, as we did in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.

Yes, we have to continue to help the Iraqis rebuild, as the President said. But we still do not know what the administration is going to do to actually deliver more electricity, to clean up the sewage, to get the oil flowing.

My colleagues remember, right after we went in, Mr. Bremer laid out a game plan. He said: By August we will have X number of megawatts and pump Y numbers of barrels of oil; and by December we will have--and there were goals. If you notice, we have not heard a thing, not a single thing about any of that. We have no idea what the administration's timetables or goals are, other than generically to help them rebuild.

What do we need to do to turn the tide on delivering basic services? And when can we expect them to succeed? Because in each of these areas, Iraqis today, as I speak, are worse off than they were before the war.

The President today was eloquent, and he was determined. But eloquence and determination, although necessary, are not sufficient.

The American people need--and our troops deserve--a clear plan for the way forward in Iraq, which has now become the central front in the war against radical Islamic fundamentalism.

As I have said many times before, the American people need this administration to speak openly and forthrightly about its plan for success in Iraq, for no foreign policy can be sustained--as we are noticing by the numbers--without the informed consent of the American people. They must be informed.

The American people also need--and our troops deserve--not the assertion that we finally have a comprehensive strategy in the fight against the fundamentalists but a detailed explanation of what that strategy is and the steps the administration is taking to build it.

It is precisely because all of us recognize what is at stake for our generation and those who follow that we will continue to speak out and insist that our Government act not only with determination but with effectiveness, not only with conviction but with wisdom.

Finally, though I continue to have differences with the President about how he has gone about prosecuting the war on terror--and I have spoken out as forcefully as I know how--let our enemies make no mistake--make no mistake at all--Americans are united in the struggle for freedom. We stand together in our determination with the President to fight the forces of tyranny and terrorism. In this right, America will prevail.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

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