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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HAGEL. Mr. President, I thank the sponsors of this amendment, Senators LEVIN and REED, for offering a thoughtful amendment. They are making a responsible contribution to this debate. All Americans want a successful outcome in Iraq. Congress has an obligation to help craft a responsible policy to help achieve a successful outcome in Iraq. Congress fails in its duty when we do not probe, when we do not ask tough questions, and we fail when we don't debate the great issues of our day.

There is no issue more important than war. The war in Iraq is the defining issue on which this Congress and the administration will be judged. The American people want to see serious debate about serious issues from serious leaders. They deserve more than a political debate. This debate should transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply use the focus group-tested buzzwords like ``cut and run'' and political slogans and debase the seriousness of war. War is not a partisan issue. It should not be held hostage to political agendas. War should not be dragged into the political muck. America deserves better. Our men and women fighting and dying deserve better.

As mentioned earlier by Senator Feinstein and others, there was a very important piece in yesterday's Washington Post, written by Iraq's National Security Adviser. It was titled ``The Way Out of Iraq; A Roadmap.'' The National Security Adviser's op-ed mentions three very important things we need to clearly understand. The first thing this op-ed provides is measurable goals for the progress of the Iraqi Government with regard to U.S. troop presence. The Iraqi National Security Adviser says this:

Iraq's ambition is to have full control of their country by the end of 2008. In practice, this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envision the U.S. troop presence by year's ends to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the year 2007.

The second point the op-ed makes clear is the unavoidable reality that an endless U.S. troop presence is not in the interest of the new Iraqi Government. The Iraqi National Security Adviser says this:

The eventual removal of coalition troops from Iraqi streets will help Iraqis who now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators they were meant to be. The removal of troops will also allow the Iraqi government to engage with some of our neighbors that have, to date, been at the very least sympathetic to the resistance because of what they call the ``coalition occupation.'' The removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of the people.

He makes clear that it will be the Iraqis who determine the success of the Iraqi Government. He says:

The government in Iraq is trying to gain its independence from the United States and the coalition, in terms of taking greater responsibility for its actions, particularly in terms of security. There are still some influential foreign figures trying to spoon feed our government and take a very proactive role in many key decisions. Though this may provide benefits in the short-term, in the long term it will only serve to make the Iraqi government weaker and will lead to a culture of dependency.

I believe the Iraqi national security adviser has it exactly right. After all, he is the Iraqi national security adviser. Americans listening to this debate on Iraq are too often being given false choices between, one, supporting the Iraqis with no end of troop deployments in sight or staying the course, or, two, laying down arbitrary deadlines for troop withdrawals. The reality is more complicated than this.

We should not limit the Commander in Chief's options in Iraq. That is why I will vote against the Levin amendment. However, anyone who believes we will be in Iraq indefinitely ignores the forces of reality, as the Iraqi Security Adviser's op-ed makes very clear. It is not in Iraq's interest for the United States to remain in Iraq. Our influence is limited and becoming more limited every day.

I note another story in yesterday's Washington Post that detailed the reaction of Vietnam veterans to the war in Iraq. I know a little something about this. My generation worries about Iraq becoming not the failure of our sons and daughters fighting in Iraq, but our failure as policymakers--policymakers--because I believe our policymakers failed us in Vietnam.

Our troops today are doing what we did a generation ago in Vietnam. They are fighting bravely. They are doing their very best. They believe in their country, they have faith in their leaders, and we cannot let them down.

I would say that there may be two Members of Congress today--Congressman Murtha in the House and myself--who served in Vietnam and were both here working in the Congress in the spring of 1975. Many might recall that time because that was the time the House of Representatives essentially voted to cut off funding for American presence in Vietnam. That was a disastrous decision for disastrous reasons, but it was the result of having a Congress absent and not involved in the policy formation, not involved in asking the tough questions, not involved in doing its job.

This debate today is critical. It is important for our country, agree or disagree with it. Amendments such as the Levin amendment are relevant, and they are an important contribution. When we debate these issues, Congress is doing its job. We do not want our legacy as a Congress to be no congressional oversight. We do not want it to be said we were irrelevant when it becomes too late. We do not want to repeat the history of Vietnam. We must not allow what happened in the Congress in April of 1975 to happen with Iraq, and it happened because we didn't debate the issues. It happened because the Congress was absent; it forfeited its responsibilities. It debased the very responsibility of elected officials. And that is why to debate these issues in a legitimate, honest, open manner is so important to our country, and to keep it out of politics, the ``gotcha'' kind of amendments, the ``gotcha'' kind of phraseology of which America is sick.

This is a serious issue. We have lost over 2,500 men and women in Iraq. We have been in Iraq longer than the Korean war. We have over 18,000 wounded. We are spending around $10 billion a month. The Congress must be present.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Nebraska is advised he has now consumed 8 minutes.

Mr. HAGEL. I ask for 15 seconds.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, take a minute or so.

Mr. HAGEL. I thank the chairman.

I conclude, Mr. President, with this: What would be the real disaster for America, the real disaster for Iraq, the disaster for the Middle East, the disaster for the world is if this Congress is not present and accounted for and is not part of a policy formation for not just Iraq but the Middle East and the future of our country and the world. That would be the disaster. That is why it is so important today that we debate this issue; it is so important that we have amendments, such as the Levin-Reed amendment, that are offered in an important way that make a contribution to the understanding of America's presence and commitment and our responsibilities as a free nation and the beacon of freedom in the world.

Mr. President, I appreciate the time. I yield the floor.

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