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Military in the 21st Century

Location: Washington, DC

MILITARY IN THE 21ST CENTURY -- (House of Representatives - April 27, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Fortenberry). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the minority leader.

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, our most important duty as Members of Congress is to ensure our Nation's security. National security is the single-most essential purpose of government. All of the other blessings of our liberty flow from it, our strength and vitality as a people depend upon it and, our economy and our way of life are reinforced by it.

A strong, bipartisan tradition has been at the core of America's national security policymaking for much of our history. A succession of American Presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman to John F. Kennedy, guided this Nation through two world wars and some of the tensest days of the Cold War. Their leadership was based on asserting America's power in a way that advanced the ideals of our Founders and which made America a beacon to millions of people who were suffering under fascism and communism.

Most importantly, these men knew the limits of any one nation's ability, and they saw the wisdom of marshalling our strengths with that of other freedom-loving people, and they listened to the counsel of these allies abroad and Members of both parties here at home.

Harry Stimson, who served as Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War throughout the Second World War, was a Republican. Harry Truman cooperated with a Republican Congress to pass the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, which were instrumental in rebuilding postwar Europe and halting Soviet expansion.

But unlike these giants of the 20th century, who put the Nation's security before chauvinism or partisanship, the current administration has too often believed that it had all the answers and did not need to pay attention to the ideas of others.

This refusal to listen to other voices and excessively partisan and ideological approach has resulted in an America that is more isolated than it should be and less safe than it needs to be. Around the world, among nations that should be our strong allies, we are often seen less as a force for good in the world, and this has jeopardized the cooperation that we need in the war on terror.

In Iraq, a stubborn refusal to commit enough troops to save the lives and pacify the country in the months after the invasion has led to a protracted fight against Baathists and Islamic insurgents and increasing sectarian violence that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and wounded thousands more.

At home we have wasted valuable time in making real strides to safeguard the Nation from terrorist attack. Most significantly, we have failed to reckon with the Achilles heel of our national security, our reliance on foreign oil to supply our energy needs.

Clearly, Americans want and deserve change. Last month, Members of our party from both the House and the Senate unveiled a comprehensive blueprint to better protect America and to restore our Nation's position of international leadership. Our plan, the Democratic plan, is called Real Security. It was devised with the assistance of a broad range of experts, former military officers, retired diplomats, law enforcement personnel, homeland security experts and others, who helped identify key areas where current policies have failed and where new ones were needed.

In a series of six Special Orders, my colleagues and I will share with the American people our vision for a more secure America. Two weeks ago, we discussed the plan as a whole and laid out the five pillars that make up that plan. I would like to go over some of these in summary before we turn to the pillar that we will discuss tonight.

These five pillars of security are the creation of a 21st century military, the successful prosecution of the war on terror, a more successful strategy to provide real homeland security, a way forward in Iraq, and the securing of energy independence for the United States of America.

One of the pillars of our Real Security plan focuses on the war on terror. It devises a strategy to destroy al Qaeda and finish the job in Afghanistan. It would have us double our special forces and improve our intelligence-gathering processes. It would eliminate terrorist breeding grounds. It would use preventive diplomacy and bring new international leadership, recognizing that we are strongest when we cause the world to join us in a cause.

Secure loose nuclear materials by 2010, this is one of the greatest vulnerabilities we have. You might recall in the debate between Senator Kerry and President Bush both acknowledged that the number one threat facing the country was that of nuclear terrorism. In fact, when we had testimony in the Nonproliferation Subcommittee, I asked Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA, what was the most likely suspect if a nuclear weapon went off tomorrow in New York, Los Angeles or Washington? He thought about it for a moment and then he said, ``al Qaeda.''

I said, ``I think that is exactly right. But if al Qaeda is the number one threat, then the most likely delivery vehicle is not a missile, it is a crate, and why are we not doing more to secure those materials that al Qaeda has said they want?''

Osama bin Laden, who has called it a religious duty of Muslims to obtain the bomb and use it against the United States, who wants an American Hiroshima, at the pace it is going it is going to take years, if not decades, to secure the nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, and this makes our Nation at risk of calamity.

If you think the debates we have now over civil liberties and national security are difficult, imagine the world after a nuclear detonation here in this country or against our troops in the theater. All of that debate would be moot. This Nation would be a very different Nation. It would be one we would not recognize. It would certainly not be one we would want to live in.

All efforts must be made to deal with this threat, and too little has been done. Precious little has been done, and time is not on our side.

We must redouble our efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea. Too often the administration's policy in this area has been on-again off-again, as if we can only focus on Iran right now and we can take our focus off North Korea, where 6 months ago we could focus on North Korea to the exclusion of Iran, or we couldn't focus on either while we were focusing on Iraq.

The reality is we must continually focus on all of the above, and we must marshal the international community to stop this weapons program in Iran and in North Korea. Only through sustained and vigorous and dedicated efforts to pressure Russia, to pressure China and to bring that world community together do we have a chance to stop that nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea.

Let me turn to one of the other pillars of our Real Security plan dealing with homeland security. In the weeks to come, we will be going through the details of this pillar, which involves implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. We support the immediate implementation of those recommendations.

The 9/11 Commission, probably no other commission in the last half century has done a more valuable job, a more bipartisan job of analyzing the vulnerabilities of the United States and making good, strong and sound recommendations about what we can do to address them, many of which affect this body. In fact, it is an irony not lost to anyone here, or shouldn't be: those recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that affect how we organize our business in the Congress are the last to have been implemented. Most of them have not been implemented.

But a great many of their recommendations are being ignored at our peril, and, indeed, what I was talking about a moment earlier, in terms of dealing with the loose nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, this was something that the 9/11 Commission paid great attention to and is one of the great deficiencies in our response to their recommendations. We should put those recommendations into effect now. Under the Real Security plan, that is exactly what we will do.

Another pillar: part of this pillar of homeland

security is screening all containers and cargo. Again, if the threat to this country comes in the near term, in the near term, in a crate and not on a missile, then why aren't we investing more in that portal technology to keep nuclear material out of this country, to keep a nuclear weapon out of this country, to keep a radiological weapon out of this country?

Why is it in terms of cargo coming in through our airports that when you go to the airport to get on a flight and you have to take your shoes off and your belt off and you have to be wanded down, that at the same time in the cargo hold of that plane, where half of the cargo on most passenger jets is commercial, it is not your luggage, it is commercial cargo, 98 percent of that cargo or thereabouts is never screened for explosives? So you have to take off your shoes, yes; but you could ship a bomb the size of a small piano in a crate, and it may never be inspected for explosives.

That doesn't make sense. That is a real deficiency that has to be addressed. We cannot afford to wait until there is a calamity. Terrorists don't need to fly planes into our buildings to destroy the economy of this country. It would be enough to destroy that plane in mid-flight. We simply cannot afford to take these risks, and we must screen all containers and cargo.

The job at our ports is an even more difficult challenge, but it is one that can be met. It can be met through a homeland security plan that is tough, that is smart, and where the priorities match the nature of the risk. That is exactly what we have to do in homeland security. We have to prioritize, what are the greatest risks facing the country, and that is where we need to devote our greatest resources.

We need to safeguard our nuclear and chemical plants, which still have not been adequately safeguarded.

We can't outsource our security of our ports or airports or mass transit to other interests. We have to train and equip first responders. I had a group of first responders from my district in to visit with me today from the cities of Burbank and Glendale and other parts of Los Angeles to talk about their lack of interoperable communications equipment. They can't talk to each other across the cities. They are starting to be able to. They are patching this system together.

But here we are, years after 9/11. Can it be that our emergency responders still can't talk with each other, don't have that capability? That is simply inexcusable. We saw on 9/11 the communication problems we had. The fact that we have not dealt with that problem still years later is beyond comprehension.

Finally, we have to invest in public health to safeguard Americans. You might recall it was just a few weeks ago the burning issue in the Nation was the avian flu. It still ought to be a burning issue in the Nation. Yet we saw when this was at the top of the news how unprepared we are.

We are still unprepared. That hasn't changed. The issue may have fallen out of the top of national news. It hasn't fallen out of the tomorrow of the national dangers facing this country. Those are not even man-made disasters.

Terrorists purposely attempting to spread a biological pathogen, perhaps at multiple locations in the United States at the same time, imagine the havoc that would ensue. Are we prepared? We are not nearly as prepared as we must be.

Let me turn to another pillar of the Real Security plan, that dealing with Iraq. The Real Security plan proposes that 2006 be a year of transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, that we have a responsible redeployment of U.S. forces, that we work harder to promote Iraqi political compromise to unite the country.

We saw this week that we had a change in the position of prime minister, and that is hopeful and we all hope that leads to the formation of a unity government. But those hopes have too often been disappointed. We must ensure that within the next 30 days that government is stood up, and it is a government that is representative of Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites that the Iraqi people will defend.

Ultimately, if the Iraqis choose civil war, if they choose to murder each other in large numbers, there is not much that we can do to stop it. But if they decide to be one country, if they decide as one country to take on the foreign jihadists and the terrorists, that is a fight they can win and a fight we can help them win. But if they are determined to squander this opportunity, if they don't form this unity government, then they have to understand that the patience of the American people is running out.

We must encourage our allies and others to play a more constructive role in Iraq, and we must hold the Bush administration accountable. We had a hearing in the International Relations Committee on Iraq this week. It was one of the first hearings we have had in years on Iraq.

I asked the panel, which included top level DOD, Department of Defense, and top level Department of State officials, I asked them, given the history of I think fairly well-recognized mistakes in the prosecution of the war, of course, the failure to find WMD, the standing down of the Iraqi Army, the failure to bring enough troops in to maintain order that allowed the insurgency to get out of hand, who has been held accountable? Who has been held accountable for these errors?

And I ask my colleague, Mr. Inslee from Washington State, do you know what the answer to me was?


Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman. This was precisely the nature of the testimony in the committee. When I asked that question of the witnesses, who has been held accountable, it was really quite remarkable what happened. There was an incredible silence as the witnesses looked at me and then looked at each other, and then looked at me, and then looked at each other. And it seemed like an eternity before anyone could respond.

And I said, your silence speaks volumes. To me, and I expressed this to the committee, the only one who has been held accountable was General Shinseki, and he was accountable for speaking the truth.

Now you mentioned the Truman Commission, and I was thinking about just the same thing when I was mentioning just a few moments ago that as part of our homeland security pillar we intend to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

And probably not since that Truman Commission have we had a group of former Members and elected officials, experts on national security, come together and had such a credible work product that was so deserving of our respect, attention, and implementation as the 9/11 Commission, not since the Truman Commission. Would you agree?


Mr. SCHIFF. If I can interrupt the gentleman, this has, I think, precisely been the problem. It has been a shared responsibility. There has been the failure of the executive to act promptly on the 9/11 Commission recommendations that have put us at risk, and most probably, I agree with you 100 percent, most prominently that risk is something coming in through our ports or on the back of a truck across the border that has nuclear material in it. That is, I think, the chief threat that we face.

But it is a shared responsibility, because we here in Congress have done nothing about that. Because there has not been oversight of the executive; the majority has been allergic to doing oversight. I am on the investigations and oversight subcommittee of the International Relations Committee.

We have had 6, 8, 10 hearings. The majority of them I believe have been on what, are they on overseeing problems within our own government? No. They have been on the United Nations. When you do not want to oversee what you are doing, what do you do, you oversee the United Nations.

Now, admittedly the U.N. has got plenty of problems and is in desperate need of reform, but that cannot be the sole area of our oversight. We have had hearings in the subcommittee on Iraq, as our chairman recently pointed out. You know what it was on? How bad a man Saddam Hussein was. As I said at the outset of the hearing, I think we can stipulate that Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, was a tyrant, was a dictator, was guilty of crimes against humanity. That is not in dispute.

But what we ought to be overseeing is whether we are implementing the Ð9/11 Commission recommendations that make us safe; we ought to be investigating the Inspector General's analysis that $9 billion in reconstruction funds in Iraq is unaccounted for. We ought to be looking into, this is something that has really troubled me, I raised it with the Secretary of Defense during our briefings, how is it that we continue to have problems with equipment and material to protect our troops.

How is that possible? I mentioned to the chairman of Armed Services that if this was a problem of production, my constituents would line up around the block to work on up-armoring vehicles, provide state-of-the-art body armor.

There was no lack of will. But none of the country, other than those people in uniform and their families, have been asked to sacrifice at all. And we are desperate I think around the country to make a sacrifice to be part of the greater good and the greater effort protecting the country. We have not been asked to do it. The Congress has not asked. The President has not asked. We have not done the oversight to even ask the hard questions.

And so we are a Nation at risk. A Nation that is not as well prepared as it should be, and as it really must be.


Mr. SCHIFF. I have to take my hat off to my colleague from Washington, because no one has led more consistently and more strongly on this issue than you have.

Before our caucus had a strategy jointly that we have put forward before the President came forward, JAY INSLEE was there, and you have been just the most powerful advocate for years for an Apollo-like project to bring about energy independence.

Let me touch on the first point you made, and then I want to go a little bit more into energy independence and talk about some of the other pillars, and then get to the pillar we are going to focus on this evening.

You mentioned that the priority has to be placed on securing this nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I agree with you exactly. When you look at what is preventing al Qaeda from detonating a nuclear weapon on our soil, you might look at the difficulty of getting the material in the country.

Well, that is not very difficult. Unfortunately, as we have discussed, we don't have the portal technology engaged to the degree that we need it, and how would you get a nuclear weapon in the country? Well, I like to quote the chancellor of UCLA, Chancellor Carnesale, who says, well, you could smuggle it in a bail of marijuana. That is one way you could get it in. That is sort of the magnitude of the problem of keeping it out. That is a tough strategy at the border.

Well, then, you might ask, what about the technology? Maybe it is tough to actually build the mechanics of the bomb. But that is not hard either. That is a 50-year-old technology. Cal Tech is in my district. I bet I could pick any two Cal Tech students and they could design a crude nuclear weapon for me using information on the Internet.

What is the obstacle? Is it the will of al Qaeda? It is not the will, as Osama bin Laden has talked very plainly about the imperative to bring about an American Hiroshima. I think those writings and those speeches he has given are basically his own Mein Kampf, and we ignore that at our own peril.

So if it is not lack of will or the lack of technological prowess or the lack of ability to get it into the country, the question is why hasn't al Qaeda brought this off? The answer is, it is hard to get the material. It is still hard to get the material. That is the only real prevention we have. You know something? It is just not hard enough. It is just not hard enough.

As you point out, some of this material is secured with a chain link fence and a night watchman and a bike lock. Some of it is more secure. But much of it is in the form of highly enriched uranium at research reactors. Some are defunct or stockpiled. It is all too accessible. We cannot wait for a disaster.

Turning to your second point, one of the pillars of the real security plan is the energy independence by 2020, which would eliminate our reliance on Middle East oil and all of the distortions that accompany our foreign policy as a result of that dependence. It would increase production of alternative fuels in America, promote hybrid and flex-fuel vehicle technology and manufacturing. It would enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives.

I believe exactly what you do. We are the American people. We are the best entrepreneurs and inventors anywhere in the world. This isn't like where we were in terms of putting a man on the Moon. It is not like we were when we had to embark on the Manhattan Project. We are so much farther along on this goal technologically. A lot of these technologies are already in existence.

It is a question of making sure that they are made better and that they are made much more use of, would be a large part of the solution. It is not that we can imagine these technologies; they are out there, many of them. It is just the lack of will and the lack of leadership, and it is having a crippling effect on our economy now with gas prices at the pump, on our foreign policy, and I just want to thank you again for your tremendous leadership on this issue.


Mr. SCHIFF. Well, you pose an interesting question. How can the administration's policy, which is dubbed a ``reduce our dependence on foreign oil,'' be a policy which, if you actually play it out over the years, will increase our importation of foreign oil? I can only say, because this is Washington.

This is the same place where 3 weeks ago the majority announced its deficit reduction package, which was, I don't know, $30- or $40 billion in spending cuts, and about $70- or $80 billion in tax cuts, which more than offset the spending cuts. So the net effect was increasing the national debt, and that was a deficit reduction plan? I guess if that is a deficit reduction plan, then the administration's energy plan is subject to the same logic.


Mr. SCHIFF. I think this is part and parcel of the broader problem, where there is a lack of accountability, there is a lack of responsibility. The reality is that our friends in the majority have been in the majority now for years. They control this body, they control the Senate, they control the White House, they have got a pretty favorable Supreme Court, and there has been not only inaction on energy independence, but actually we have lost ground and are moving in the wrong direction.

There is really only one party to blame and one party responsible for that failure.

And for several years the blame was all placed on the Clinton administration. Everything that was going on years after the Clinton administration was the fault of the Clinton administration. But at some point you have to take responsibility when you are in the leadership. When you are in the majority, you have to take responsibility.

Let us take the pillar that we wanted to highlight tonight, and that is the 21st century military, the part of our Real Security plan that would strengthen our military and that would rebuild a state-of-the-art military; that would ensure that we have the world's best equipment and training; that will provide accurate intelligence and a strategy for success; that would bring about a new GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century, and that will strengthen the National Guard.

Let me talk briefly about a couple of those items, and then I would love to hear your thoughts as well. In poll after poll, the American people have demonstrated they have more faith in the military than in any other public institution in this country. I have been to Iraq three times, I have been to Afghanistan twice, I have met with our troops there and have spent a lot of time with military personnel here and around the world and other places, and that confidence in the troops is well placed. America does have the finest military in the world.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen and marines have done everything we have asked of them and more. But since 9/11, our Nation's Armed Forces have become overextended. We have had recruiting goals that have not been met, forcing the armed services to enlist less qualified men and women.

Because of the poor planning by the administration, many units are on their second and third tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Army and Marine Corps personnel still don't have adequate body armor and sufficiently armored vehicles to the degree they should.

We are committed to ensuring that the United States military remains second to none and, more importantly, committed to building the Armed Forces to confront the threats of the 21st century. The Real Security plan, which I went over, has these elements that will rebuild the state-of-the-art military by making the needed investments in equipment and manpower so we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary.

Second, we will guarantee our troops have the protective gear, equipment, and training they need and are never sent to war without accurate intelligence and a strategy for success.

Third, we will enact a GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century that guarantees our troops, active, reserve, retired, and our veterans and their families receive the pay and health care, the mental health services and other benefits they have earned and deserve.

Finally, we will strengthen the National Guard in partnership with the Nation's Governors to ensure it is fully manned, equipped and, available to meet missions at home and abroad.

Building this 21st-century military begins with the acknowledgment that we are in a new era with a new set of challenges and threats distinct from those we faced in the Cold War. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle delight in accusing our party of having a pre- 9/11 mindset. But their stewardship of the Nation's defenses makes it clear that it is the majority that has been living in the past.

We need a military that is highly mobile, self-sustaining, and capable of operating in small units. On the one hand, our ability to use air power has extended our global reach and allows us to engage enemies without large numbers of ground troops being employed, as was the case in Kosovo and Afghanistan. On the other hand, the war on terror, ongoing operations in Iraq and the increasing need for American forces to play a stabilizing role as peacekeepers and peace enforcers demands the sustained commitment of American forces.

Our friends in the majority used to deride these types of operations as nation-building. But in a post-9/11 world, we cannot allow states to fail and become havens for Islamists and other radicals to plot attacks against us. Clearly, we need to increase the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps.

These are just some of the steps we will take. There are others I want to highlight, but I will be happy to yields to my colleague from Washington.


Mr. SCHIFF. Just to interrupt for a second. I visited our troops in that very same hospital, as well as here in Bethesda at Walter Reed. That is exactly what they told me also. They just want to get back to their unit. These young people, and they are so young, that is the most striking thing when you meet them in the field. They are so committed, it just can't help but take your breath away.


Mr. SCHIFF. If I can add one thing, before you do, and that is one of the things that really concerns me, and here again is the failure of us in this body to do the oversight we should, to have the majority support that oversight, and that is have we moved as quickly as we can, as quickly as this great Nation can to provide the technology to defend against these improvised explosive devices that have taken so many Americans lives? I think the answer is, no, we have not done all we can. We have not moved as fast as we could.

I know certainly in Congress, when these questions have come up, we haven't gotten the answers, I think, to go home to our constituents and say every rock is being turned over, every effort is being made, every resource is being expended to make sure we are protected against the IEDs. I think there is more we could be doing.

And the L.A. Times had an analysis recently of a promising new technology and the frustration of those that have been working on this program about how difficult it is to get that technology actually out into the field. That is inexcusable. If there is promising technology, it needs to be fast-tracked, and it needs to be put to immediate use.

The fact that we would lose a single life because of the failure of the richest Nation on Earth to provide the body armor, the up-armored vehicles, or the technology to defeat the IEDs is just inexcusable.


Mr. SCHIFF. And this is precisely the problem.

When we discuss where we are in the rest of the world, what our standing is in the world, and some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will pejoratively say, well, we don't care about the court of public opinion, we are not in this to be popular. Well, it is true we are not in this to be popular. But when we alienate the rest of the world, it has a real cost to us in terms of our own security.

We are dependent, like it or not, on information about al Qaeda's operations from other nations. If we can't get their cooperation, that affects our security. If we communicate to the rest of the world that we don't care about their priorities, when we go to them about ours, when we go to them about North Korea or Iran or Iraq, how can we expect a warm and ready and welcoming response? We can't. And that puts us more at risk.

So this has had real consequences. When I consider where we were in the world's estimation and the kind of cooperation we could get pre-9/11, and I look now, when it should be that much greater given what took place on 9/11, but it is that much more problematic because these world leaders, even if they wanted to help us, and many of them do, because they recognize the threat to themselves from terrorism as well, but if our Nation is that unpopular, or our chief executive is that unpopular and politically they can't afford to do it, that is a real problem.

When people are running for office in foreign capitals of our allies on a platform of who will be most opposed to the United States policy, that is a problem for our security. It is not about popularity; it is about security. And this is why we need a change. We need a change that will, as you say, bring the world together in a great cause. Because in the end, this fight we have with terrorism unites us. It is an attack on civilization.

And was it Ben Franklin who said, ``We have to hang together or we shall all hang separately''?

Mr. INSLEE. I don't think it was Yogi Berra.

Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman from Washington for his great work.

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