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National Defense Authorizaton Act for Fiscal Year 2006--Continued

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2006--Continued -- (Senate - November 10, 2005)


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, sometime later today when we dispose of a few of the next amendments, Senator Levin, on behalf of leadership and a group of Senators on our side of the aisle--and we hope others might join in--will be submitting an amendment with respect to the issue of Iraq. I am pleased to join in that with them. I look forward to participating in that debate at that time.

I have come to the Senate at this moment to introduce an amendment that lays out what, in my judgment, represents a comprehensive and new strategy that is essential for the President to implement in order to successfully complete the mission in Iraq, as well as to bring our troops home in a reasonable timeframe.

At a news conference a week ago I referred to this in a speech I gave recently. I left Iraq departing on a C-130 from Mosul, together with Senator Warner and Senator Stevens. The three Senators and the staff, all of us, were gathered in this cavernous C-130. In the middle of the cargo hold was a simple aluminum coffin with a small American flag draped over it. We were bringing another American soldier home to his family and to his resting place.

The starkness of the coffin in the center of that hold, and the silence--except for the din of the engines; believe me, there was a kind of silence notwithstanding--was a real-time, cold reminder of the consequences of decisions for which all of us as Senators bear responsibility.

As we enter a make-or-break 6-month period in Iraq, that long journey of that soldier and 2,000-plus more of them remind us, all of us, about our responsibilities with respect to the troops in Iraq. It underscores the need to help this administration take steps that will bring our troops home within a reasonable timeframe from an Iraq that is not permanently torn by conflict.

Some say we should not ask tough questions because we are at war. I say, no. A time of war, that is precisely when you have to ask the hardest questions of all. It is essential, if we want to correct our course and do what is right for our troops, that instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again, we ask those questions. No matter what the President says, asking tough questions is not pessimism. It is patriotism. We have a responsibility to our troops and our country and our conscience to be honest about where we should go from here.

There is a way forward that gives us the best chance to both salvage a difficult situation in Iraq and to save American and Iraqi lives. With so much at stake, we all have a responsibility to follow the best way forward.

No. 1, we cannot pull out precipitously, as many argue and call for, but also we cannot merely promise to stay as long as it takes. The promise simply to stay as long as it takes, in fact, exacerbates the situation. It is not a policy. To undermine the insurgency we must, instead, simultaneously pursue a political settlement that gives Sunnis a real stake in the future of Iraq, while at the same time reducing the sense of American occupation. That means a phased withdrawal of American troops as we meet a series of military and political benchmarks, starting, I have said, with a reduction of 20,000 troops over the holidays as we meet the first benchmark--the completion of the December elections.

Earlier today, my good friend, the Senator from Arizona, Mr. McCain, made a speech in which he mischaracterized my plan to bring our troops home within a reasonable timeframe and to succeed in Iraq. He mischaracterized how one arrived at 20,000 troops. The fact is, that is a benchmark. It is a benchmark set by this administration itself. The fact is, most of last year, during which time the administration says we have adequate troops to do the job, we had about 138,000 troops in Iraq. The fact is, for the purposes of the constitutional referendum and for the purposes of the election, the administration upped the number of troops in order to guarantee security for the purpose of those two events.

I have said specifically that when those two events are completed successfully, and with the increased numbers of Iraqis trained, there is no excuse for not being in a position to go from the current 161,000 down to the 138,000, where we were before, where our generals told us we had enough troops to do the job. That figure is set not by any arbitrary standard but by the accomplishment of the specific benchmark.

It is also critical that we send this signal to the Iraqi people that we do not desire a permanent occupation and that Iraqis themselves must fight for Iraq. History shows again and again that guns alone do not end an insurgency, and guns alone, particularly, will not end this insurgency. The real struggle in Iraq is not what the President has described again and again as the war on terror as we know it against al-Qaida. The real struggle in Iraq is Sunni versus Shiite. It is a struggle that has gone on for years with oppressor and oppressed, and it will only be settled by a political solution. No political solution can be achieved when the antagonists can rely on indefinite large-scale presence of occupying American combat troops.

The reality is our military presence in vast and visible numbers has become part of the problem, not just the solution. Our own generals are telling us this in open hearings of the Senate. Our generals understand this well.

GEN George Casey, our top military commander in Iraq, recently told Congress that our large military presence ``feeds the notion of occupation'' and ``extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant,'' and Richard Nixon's Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, breaking a 30-year silence, writes:

Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency.

It comes down to this: An open-ended declaration ``to stay as long as it takes,'' lets Iraqi factions maneuver for their own political advantage by making us stay as long as they want. It becomes an excuse for billions of American tax dollars to be sent to Iraq and siphoned off into the coffers of cronyism and corruption.

When I was last in Iraq, at a dinner put on by the Ambassador and others with the Minister of Defense--the Minister of Interior, the Prime Minister, and others--we sat and listened while they told us themselves of the corruption that has been taking place in the disbursement of American taxpayer funds.

This administration needs to pay attention to that corruption. The administration must also use all of the leverage in America's arsenal--our diplomacy, the presence of our troops, our reconstruction money, all of the diplomacy--in order to convince the Shiites and the Kurds to address the legitimate Sunni concerns about regional autonomy and oil revenues and to make Sunnis accept the reality that they will no longer dominate Iraq. We cannot and we should not do this alone.

The administration must immediately call a conference of Iraq's neighbors: Britain, Turkey, other key NATO allies, and Russia. The absence of legitimate international effort with respect to this is, frankly, absolutely extraordinary. I am not alone in calling for that. Republicans, colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Senator Hagel, others, have talked about the need for an international leverage in order to help resolve this issue. Together we have to implement a collective strategy to bring the parties in Iraq to a sustainable political compromise that also includes mutual security guarantees among Iraqis. To maximize our diplomacy, the President should appoint a special envoy to bolster Ambassador Khalilzad's commendable efforts.

To enlist the support of Iraqi Sunni neighbors, we should commit to a new regional security structure. I have heard from countless numbers of members of government in the region that the old security arrangement that existed prior to the invasion of Iraq has, in fact, been altered by that invasion. And today there are great uncertainties with respect to the Gulf States--Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and obviously uncertainties with the saber rattling of Iran and the problems with Syria. We ought to be committing our efforts to create a new regional security structure that will include improved security assistance programs, joint exercises, and provide a greater confidence to the region about long-term strategy.

To show Iraqi Sunnis the benefits of participating in the political process, we should press these countries to set up a reconstruction fund specifically for the majority Sunni areas. The absence of specific economic transformation remains the heart of one of the reasons for people to move toward insurgency rather than the governance process. We need to also jump-start our lagging reconstruction efforts by providing necessary civilian personnel to do the job, standing up civil-military reconstruction teams throughout the country, streamlining the disbursement of funds to the provinces, expanding job creation programs, and strengthening the capacity of government ministries.

Prime Minister Blair, a few weeks ago, suggested that different countries actually adopt a ministry. I know in the Ministry of Finance there are precious few U.S. personnel helping that finance ministry to be able to do the job of administering payrolls and managing the budget of the country. It is unbelievable that at a time when our troops are making such a valiant effort to provide for this transformation we are absent the kind of diplomatic and civilian personnel necessary to make those things happen.

On the military side, we must make it clear now that we do not want permanent military bases in Iraq. We still have not done that. In the absence of doing that, we lend credence to the notion of occupation and of long-term designs on oil, on land, or other designs. Those lend themselves to the recruitment process.

The administration must immediately give Congress and the American people a detailed plan for the transfer of military and police responsibilities on a sector-by-sector basis to Iraqis so the majority of our combat forces can be withdrawn--ideally as a target by the end of next year.

Simultaneously, the President needs to put the training of Iraqi security forces on a 6-month wartime footing and ensure that the Iraqi government has the budget to deploy them. The administration should accept the long-standing

efforts and offers of Egypt, Jordan, France, and Germany to do more training. They should prod the new Iraqi government to ask for a multinational force to help protect Iraq's borders until a capable national Army is formed. And that force, if sanctioned by the United Nations, could attract participation by Iraq's neighbors and countries like India, and it would be a critical step in stemming the tide of insurgents and money into Iraq, especially from Syria.

Finally, we must alter the deployment of American troops themselves. I believe deeply that special operations obviously need to continue. They must continue in order to pursue specific intelligence needs and in order to ferret out those jihadist and other hard-core insurgents that we have in Tehran. But the vast majority of our troops could easily move to a rear guard, garrison kind of status in order to provide security backup. You do not need to send the young Americans on search-and-destroy mission that invite alienation and deepen the risks they face.

If the President were to do this, then the Iraqis would far more rapidly, according to our own generals, begin to assume the responsibilities which we are asking them to and which they need to and which, in the end, are the only way to be successful.

If the President refuses to move in this course, ultimately it is our responsibility, the U.S. Congress, to debate and ultimately help to put this policy in the right direction. If we take these steps, there is, frankly, no reason that within 12 to 15 months we couldn't be able to take on a new role--a role as an ally, not an occupier. And only then will we have provided our troops with what they really deserve, which is leadership equal to our soldiers' sacrifice.

I yield the floor.

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