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The Iraqi War Debate

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COOPER. Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight as a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee to try to place the upcoming debate we will have tomorrow on the Iraqi war resolution into context.

It is very important that people realize that we do not get to vote on general ideas here in Congress. We get to vote on specific pieces of legislation. The case tomorrow will be H. Res. 861. I encourage not only our colleagues here, but folks across America, to look this up on the Internet and see what you think of it.

My guess is, and while there are many varied opinions on this controversial war, my guess is that when you actually read the resolution, you will find that there is remarkably little in it that is controversial.

Now, you know that resolutions are primarily composed of whereas clauses, which have really no effect, and then there are a few resolved clauses. In this resolution, you will find that there are only seven resolved clauses. Let me read them to you.

They say, resolved that the House of Representatives one, honors all those Americans who have taken an active part in the global war on terror, whether as first responders protecting the homeland, as service Members overseas, as diplomats and intelligence officers or in other roles.

That, to me, is uncontroversial. We must praise our troops.

Point two, we honor the sacrifices of the United States Armed Forces and of the partners in the coalition and of the Iraqis and Afghans who fought alongside them, especially those who have fallen or have been wounded in the struggle, and we honor as well the sacrifice of their families and of others who risked their lives to help defend freedom.

Who is against that?

Point three, we declare that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. Armed Forces from Iraq.

Now, while that point can be controversial among some individuals, no Member of this House wants to do anything to give our terrorist foes an advantage. So it is very important that we realize that even this point, number three, I think, if seen in the proper light, is pretty uncontroversial.

Point four, we declare that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq. That to me means that Iraq will no longer be a haven of terrorists. It will no longer be a play thing for a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein. So that to me is another point that should be uncontroversial.

Point five, we congratulate Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi people on the courage they have shown by participating and increasing millions in the elections of 2005 and on the formation of the first government under Iraq's new constitution.

I think all Americans were impressed to see some 70 percent of the eligible Iraqi population braving gunfire, braving bullets in order to go vote. I wish we had that level of participation in our own country.

Point six, the resolution calls on the nations of the world to promote global peace and security by standing with the United States and other coalition partners to support the efforts of the Iraqi and Afghan people to live in freedom.

Who is against that?

Finally, point seven, we declare that the United States will prevail in the global war on terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

This is a resolution we will debate for some 10 hours tomorrow. I think when you get down to it, there is really very little that is controversial about it. But the context is somewhat controversial, because under the rules of debate tomorrow we will not be allowed to amend or change this document in any way. We will be required to accept it as if it were perfect. Every American has suggestions for change.

There are many ways, countless ways that this document could be made better, but we will not be allowed to consider any of those, because under the procedures laid down by the Republican majority they do not want to hear any alteration to this document.

That is one flaw in the debate we will have tomorrow. Another is that this is really not a debate about how best to win the war on terrorism. This is more of a public relations campaign 3 years into a very controversial war designed to try to make the administration look better.

I am not against any administration trying to improve its public image. But for the safety of our troops, this debate is 3 or 4 years late.

I had the privilege of serving in this House during the first Iraq war, and that debate went down in history under the first President Bush as one of the best debates in modern American history. But that was under the first President Bush.

That first conflict, which followed the rules of the Powell Doctrine of defending an explicit American interest of going in with overwhelming force and having a clear exit strategy, sadly, in this conflict, the Powell Doctrine was not followed, even though General Powell was second as Secretary of State of the George W. Bush administration during the onset of this war.

That is another clear difference from the Iraqi war of the past and another clear flaw in this debate that this resolution will be debated several years late. In a sense this is going to be a debate that is unworthy of our troops, because some 2,500 Americans have already died, almost 20,000 are casualties. Now, the House of Representatives is getting around to having a debate on the war in Iraq, a debate that allows no amendment, no change. We have to accept this as if it were perfect.

There is another lesson that we should take into account, because you know that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. I almost wish we could repeat the experience in the first Iraq war, because under the first President Bush he was so persuasive with a broad coalition of partners around the world that of the $60- to $80 billion cost of that war, the American taxpayer only had to pay for about $2- to $4 billion, $2- to $4 billion, the total cost of the first Iraq war to the American taxpayer. Why? Because our allies were so eager to bear the burden of cost of the war, the first Iraq war.

Now, of course, we are involved in a conflict which has already cost a minimum of $350 billion, but according to other estimates, more likely $450 billion, and it looks as if it is headed towards $1 trillion, and almost all of that burden is put on the backs of the American taxpayer.

Allied contributions verge on the negligible. You may remember that Jim Baker, former Secretary of State, former Secretary of Treasury, was sent around the world to collect contributions from allies.

Well, where is the money? Show me the money? Our allies have put up a few billion dollars, but the American taxpayer has been required to shoulder the burden of this war. Of course, running massive budget deficits, as the George W. Bush administration has been doing, effectively we have been borrowing much of the cost of the war from foreign nations.

Increasingly Nations like China, increasingly Nations that are oil rich like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Nations like that are seeking to reinvest petro dollars.

I ask, Mr. Speaker, does that make America stronger when we are increasingly dependent on foreign lenders, many of which are not our allies but may, in fact, be adversary? Does that make us a stronger, better Nation?

Mr. Speaker, in the first Iraq War we were very careful not to damage the American military. Our troops went in for a limited purpose, with an overwhelming number, and exited in a very safe and prompt fashion. That is not the policy today, even though President George W. Bush is the son of the first President Bush.

So, all of these changes should worry us, especially those men and women in uniform, because I am an advocate of letting the military be the military. We have never had a finer fighting force than the one we have today. It is an all-volunteer force. Our men and women in uniform are terrifically capable. It is incredible the challenges that they have met and overcome, oftentimes without the help of their superiors, because especially their civilian superiors in this war consistently underestimated the threat that our troops faced.

When our troops first went in, they were told that they might face a few Baathists dead-enders, and of course, our civilian leaders disbanded the Iraqi military, created all sorts of extra problems for our troops. We could not even control looting in Baghdad, the major city in Iraq.

So, soon, disorder prevailed, and pretty soon we were on the verge of an insurgency that our civilian leadership in the Pentagon was claiming it was really not much of a problem. Victory was always around the corner. The President appeared on an aircraft carrier and declared that the mission was accomplished.

Well, that was, at best, premature. Now we are hoping and praying the Nation of Iraq is not on the verge of civil war, and let us not forget Afghanistan, where we have a smaller troop commitment that is still a vital one, and as the NATO forces try to take over from our men and women in uniform, we should be very much concerned because the Taliban seems to be on the rise.

General Barry McCaffrey just returned from Afghanistan and briefed us last week and said that the Taliban fighters were better equipped than the NATO forces, better equipped, in some cases, than the American forces. Well, where is the Taliban getting all its money? Probably from the drug trade because Afghanistan, as most observers are aware, has once again become one of the leading drug exporting countries in the world. Their poppy production has exploded. We have done very little, if anything, about it, and that is financing not only the Taliban but other forms of illicit terrorist behavior, not only in that country but around the world.

So, Mr. Speaker, this debate comes to us in a tough context. It makes it hard for men and women of goodwill to focus on the text of this resolution, as praiseworthy as it is. It also makes it difficult for some Members to acknowledge with a joyful heart the good news that we have received recently in Iraq.

All Americans should be pleased that we have caught and killed Zarqawi, one of the most notorious terrorists in the history of the world, a man who reveled in beheadings of innocent people, who killed fellow Muslims with abandon, all to promote his warped ideology, his non-Islamic ideology.

Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege of being in Baghdad the day that we caught Saddam Hussein. That was a high point in the war in Iraq. That was a moment at which our troops were filled with hope and anticipation that the conflict would not last for many, many years. That the Baathist dead-enders and other Saddam supporters would quickly turn toward more peaceful pursuits.

But sadly, as we know now, we were not ready for what came afterwards. We were not prepared for a franchising or spreading of the terrorist threat. Some people view it as a nationalist threat. Perhaps it is a tribal threat. There certainly are serious divisions between the Kurds, Sunnis and the Shiias, but we should be prepared this time for whatever follows the capture and death of Zarqawi because there are many other enemies in that country who would love to exploit any weakness that they see in the American forces.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on. I see that my colleague from the Intelligence Committee has joined us here tonight, and I do not want to rush him into this, but I welcome Mr. RUPPERSBERGER'S participation in this debate. He is an outstanding Member of this body and of the Intelligence Committee which is, of course, privy to our Nation's deepest secrets.

So he bears that position with distinction and honor, and I welcome Mr. Ruppersberger to comment at this point.


Mr. COOPER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Maryland for his great contribution to the debate, and his proposal is just one of the many ideas that could and should be considered by the House of Representatives.

This is a deliberative body. The debate tomorrow will allow us to focus on only one proposal that was drafted in a secretive, partisan fashion that does not allow ideas like Mr. RUPPERSBERGER's to be considered.

I think if you look at the debate, you will find that the folks who are most short-changed in it are probably our own troops.

I mentioned earlier that the debate will not be worthy of them because the debate is occurring some 3 years late, after 2,500 of them have already been killed in service to our country and another 20,000 wounded, many of them grievously. We should have focused on this earlier.

I was not in Congress when the decision was made to go into this Iraqi conflict, although I was here for the vote on the earlier one, and I think it is important that we hear the voice of our troops and of our military commanders. In many ways, these are the voices that have not been heard because, in many cases, they have been drowned out by the civilian leadership in the Pentagon. That civilian leadership, particularly the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, and the former Under Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, have systematically disregarded military advice.

Not only did these two gentlemen consistently underestimate the threat, oftentimes, as General Schwarzkopf, the great commander of the first Iraqi war pointed out, they seem to be enjoying their jobs too much. War is serious business, and I think it is time that we hear or at least read the comments of several of our Nation's top generals right now and see their reaction to Mr. Rumsfeld.

At the top of this poster you see Lieutenant General Greg Newbold say that ``What we are living now is the consequence of successive policy failures.'' Mr. Newbold was top Operations Officer of the Joint Staff, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division, a recipient of the Legion of Merit, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals.

Look at the comment from Major General Paul Eaton. ``Two-and-a-half more years of that leadership was too long for my Nation and too long for my army and for my family.'' General Eaton led the initial effort to create an Iraqi army. He was Commander of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, Commanding General of the Army Infantry School.

Look at the comment from Lieutenant General John Riggs. ``They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. Well, that is not paying proper respect to the professionalism and the valor of our military. When you ignore military advice or use it for your own political purposes, it is betraying the military.''

General Riggs was the Director, Objective Task Force, Commanding General of the 1st U.S. Army, and served six tours overseas.

General Wesley Clark said, ``They pressed for open warfare before diplomacy was finished. It was a tragic mistake. It was a strategic blunder.''

Look at the comments from additional generals. Major General John Batiste. ``Rumsfeld and his team turned what should have been a deliberate victory in Iraq into a prolonged challenge.'' He was the commander of the 1st Division in Iraq, the Chief Military Aid to Paul Wolfowitz and a Brigade Commander in Bosnia.

Look at this comment from General Anthony Zinni. ``Rumsfeld has committed acts of gross negligence and incompetence.'' General Zinni is a former CENTCOM commander. That is the regional command there. One of the most experienced men in the region, and a man whose advice was systematically disregarded by this administration. General Zinni was the recipient of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, and other distinguished awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal.

I happened to visit General Swannack when I was on my first visit to Iraq. He is the former Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq. We met in Ramadi, one of the tough towns in the Sunni Triangle. Listen to what General Swannack has to say. ``I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq.''

That is a vote of no confidence from one of Secretary Rumsfeld's top commanders.

Look at this comment from Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper. ``If I was the President, I would have relieved him from duty 3 years ago.'' General Van Riper is the first President of the Marine Corps University, wounded in action in Vietnam, and a Silver Star recipient and other awards.

You know, Secretary Rumsfeld makes no secret of the fact that he has offered to resign twice and the President has not accepted his resignation. Well, I am proud of Secretary Rumsfeld for having offered to resign, because certainly great blunders have been made. But he has been very reluctant to admit any of those publicly. Perhaps he admitted them to the President.

It is important to realize that Secretary Rumsfeld knew early on in this conflict that he was not really prepared for the job. In a famous leaked October 2003 memo Secretary Rumsfeld himself said something along these lines, that ``He did not have the metrics to understand whether we were winning or losing the war against terrorism,'' but he did know that we were losing the cost-benefit equation; that the terrorists were effectively being able to use $80 IEDs to blow up $2 million tanks and take the lives not only of Americans but of surrounding Iraqis.

So this is an amazing moment. Here we are 3 years later. I have asked Secretary Rumsfeld periodically in hearings something along the lines of every 2 or 3 months, ``Mr. Secretary, in October of 2003, after the war had begun, you said you did not have the metrics to understand whether we were winning or losing the war on terrorism. Do you have those metrics today?'' Well, I haven't ever heard a good answer to that question.

So I trust our military leaders. I trust our men and women in uniform at all ranks, because so often today in this conflict the folks who have the most combat experience are not the generals in the Pentagon, they are the colonels, the majors, the captains, the lieutenants, the sergeants, and the privates in the field.

And with the advent of advanced military communications, in some cases the plain old Internet, there has been a lot of contact and communication between those officers and enlisted men to find out the best techniques, the best way to pacify a town, the best way to engage in nation-building and get the infrastructure up and going again, the best way to use commander emergency funds, to help employ Iraqis and get the water turned on, get the electricity working, and things like that. But it has been a surprisingly ad hoc effort.

We are the greatest nation on earth. We are the greatest nation in the history of the world. And one of the primary reasons for that is the brilliance and the dedication of our troops. We have a fighting force like the world has never seen before. It is the most forceful group of warriors, the most humane group of warriors, and the most ethical group of warriors ever. And we should appreciate that. We should be grateful for that, because we would not be able to take a breath of freedom without their vigilance for our country.

Too many of us forget that our men and women in uniform are posted in 120 nations around the world every day and every night on lookout to protect our freedom. I repeat, 120 nations around the world. Most Americans, even with an atlas, could not even name those nations.

Not only are our soldiers making a terrific sacrifice for us, their families are, their loved ones back home, and we should never, never let a day go by without praying for them and showing our deepest heartfelt appreciation for their sacrifice.

I wish our leaders in the Pentagon would listen to them more, because our men and women in uniform on the front lines of freedom know more about the terrorist adversary than the folks in the Pentagon and know more about tactics and procedures for best dealing with the terrorists. And if as my friend Mr. Ruppersberger said, his proposal for perimeter defense makes sense to those military leaders, then I would hope our civilian leaders in the Pentagon would listen as well.

We have had a lot of controversy because early on in the Iraq war many of our top military leaders said we needed far more troops to go in and work with the Iraqis in order to preserve security so that the nation could be rebuilt. General Shinseki, Eric Shinseki, was probably the leading proponent of that approach. In a Senate hearing he was asked how many troops it would take, and he said a couple hundred thousand. He was retired early for having told the truth, and no leader in the Pentagon attended his retirement ceremony; a clear snub in military culture.

You didn't see General Shinseki's name on this chart because he has been too tight-lipped to really blast the folks who mistreated him in such a grievous fashion, and mistreated him for what? For having told the truth. For having admitted publicly that it would take a couple hundred thousand troops to do the job right.

Mr. Speaker, a lot of Americans don't realize that not only do we have troops posted in 120 nations around the world right now, but our troops are under great stress. In military terms, they call it OPTEMPO. Our troops have the highest OPTEMPO now than our troops have had since World War II. That means greater stress than during Vietnam and greater stress than during Korea. Our troops are stretched pretty thin right now.

Most Americans don't realize that just a short while ago in Iraq, when Tennessee's own 278th Guard unit was there in Iraq, in country, that half or more of the active duty troops in the country were in fact National Guardsmen, what some people view as weekend warriors. These men and women from back home, who are not full-time active-duty soldiers, were called up for tours of duty for 6 months, a year, or more to serve their country in the sandy desert, tough climate, of Iraq. They went willingly, without carping, to serve our Nation.

I am from the Volunteer State, Mr. Speaker. We earned that reputation in many of our Nation's conflicts because when duty called, our men and women back home didn't have to be asked twice to serve. They took their rifle, their horse, whatever they had with them and volunteered for duty. That spirit survives today.

It also survives in the independence of Specialist Wilson, who asked Secretary Rumsfeld that famous question in Iraq about why National Guardsmen had to go scrounging around in garbage dumps to find metal to attach to the Humvees in order to try to protect themselves driving down Iraqi highways. Secretary Rumsfeld, you will recall, was somewhat startled by that question. But Specialist Wilson, a Tennessee guardsman, got more reaction from Secretary Rumsfeld, got more response in terms of really armoring our Humvees and other vehicles in Iraq than the House Armed Services Committee was able to accomplish.

So I am proud of Specialist Wilson's courage, not only in serving his country but in speaking truth to power. Secretary Rumsfeld clearly didn't like to hear what he was saying, but it finally got our military industrial complex working a little harder to up-armor our Humvees, to provide the bullet-proofed vests, and other things that our troops lacked for so, so many months and years in the Iraqi conflict. Why? Because our civilian leadership persistently underestimated the threat.

So all I would ask, Mr. Speaker, is that the upcoming debate tomorrow, the 10 hours, be conducted in a civil fashion, bearing in mind the relatively innocuous text that has been put before us; bearing in mind that the Republican leadership must feel insecure. Even though they command an absolute majority in this House, even though they command the Senate as well, and even though they control the White House, they must feel so insecure that they would not allow any amendment to this resolution.

The context, Mr. Speaker, is that we face a heavily divided country on this issue. The House gave this war such a cursory debate when it was undertaken that most Americans were unprepared, as in fact the civilian leadership of the Pentagon was unprepared, for the length, the duration, the toughness, and the cost of the conflict.

Now there were many people in our government who knew better. Secretary Colin Powell was one, the four-star general who commanded our troops in the first Iraq war, but he was plainly not listened to.

Many other experts in government, experts in nation-building, knew this would be a tough and long struggle. But the Vice President, Mr. Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld and others insisted on, created several illusions: One, that we would be greeted as liberators, toasted, greeted with flowers, and that Iraqi oil revenues would somehow pay for the conflict.

Well, that plainly did not happen. Now we are faced with a situation where we are indeed proud of the bravery and valor of our troops, but the administration is still unwilling to pay their bills. Until very recently, there was no money in the regular budget to pay for the war in Iraq. It was always an emergency supplemental. Everything was unexpected. Now, finally, the administration seems to be getting a little more realistic and they are at least willing to call it, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, the long hard slog or the long, long war.

We can get through this. We have overcome all of our adversities in the past. We are the greatest Nation on Earth and the greatest Nation in the history of the world; but we owe that greatness in large measure to our troops, the men and women in uniform, and not too much to our civilian leadership in Washington. In many cases they have not acted in a way to honor our troops.

One of the best ways to honor our troops is to listen to their good advice. In so many cases our military leaders asked for more troops and those troops were not supplied.

Read the book ``Cobra II'' by General Bernard Trainor. He is another general whose name is not listed on this list but whose advice is very crucial and whose history of the Iraq war is a very timely reminder of what really happened, not only in the early months of the war but later on. It is a truly shocking book that all Americans should read so we never repeat these mistakes again. So that we go into future conflicts better aware of the dangers and better prepared, and so the American people are fully informed in advance so they are not shocked by things, for example, that General Colin Powell knew all along.

Mr. Speaker, it is going to be an interesting debate tomorrow. Ten hours on a largely innocuous resolution. This will probably be used as part of the public relations initiative that we are seeing now. I found the President's trip to Iraq very interesting. I think he stayed a full 5 hours. I hope he learned a lot, because it takes 15 hours to fly over there and 15 hours to fly back, and to stay only 5 hours is not a great learning opportunity.

I hope, too, we will have fuller bipartisan communication. When the President first announced that he was going to speak to the new Iraqi Cabinet by teleconference from Camp David, I thought, that's good. Maybe he can speak to House and Senate leadership the same way, maybe even in person, because there are so few opportunities for that interaction, even though we work at different ends of the same street, Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Speaker, we will get through this conflict. We will bring our troops home safely. Nobody knows exactly when yet, but we must stabilize that tough region of the world. We must bring hope to so many people who have been oppressed, especially Muslim women and religious minorities and people who yearn for freedom. We can and will overcome.

We welcome the good news that we have received recently. We want more good news. I think it will come, but there will be bad patches as well.

As we face the debate tomorrow, I think it is important for all Americans to read the text first before they have a strong reaction to it one way or the other, so they can read and see whether the whereas and resolved clauses are offensive, or whether they find them as I do, largely praise for two central objectives that I think all Americans can agree with: praise for our troops and praise for the valor of the Iraqi people.

We will prevail in this conflict, Mr. Speaker. It is not easy to mark out today a path to victory, but I trust our men and women in uniform. I trust our troops on the ground and our military experts, not our civilian experts, to get us through this because we have the finest fighting force in the history of the world and that will keep America strong.

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