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Public Statements

Trip to Iraq and Afghanistan

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. I was accompanied on that trip by Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, Senator LARRY CRAIG of Idaho, Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. I wish to share with the Senate some of my observations about the trip.

First, I am pleased to report that patriotism among United States troops is alive and well in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers on the frontlines of the global war on terrorism—be they with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq or the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan—serve America with honor and distinction.

This Senator is more grateful than words can express for the professionalism and dedication of our Armed Forces as America continues to bring the war on terrorism to the terrorists. We are fighting this war on our terms—and on their turf.

My hat is off to the President—our capable Commander in Chief—for his stalwart leadership throughout this war. There is no better man that could be at the helm during these dangerous times.

In Iraq, our service men and women are proud to have liberated an oppressed nation and are bound and determined to finish the job they started by turning over Iraq to the Iraqi people as soon as is possible. The bill before us will allow them to do just that—so long as the requested reconstruction funds are fully provided. It might interest my colleagues to know that the Screaming Eagles view these funds just as important as ammunition in destroying the enemy.

In Afghanistan, United States troops continue to pay back al-Qaeda and Taliban forces for the September 11 attacks on our shores. Morale is high, and our soldiers take great pride in constituting a new Afghan army that are already proving to be more formidable fighters than the terrorists they face on fields of battle.

Second, despite news reports to the contrary, America is making significant progress in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, U.S. troops and civilians with the Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA, are perplexed by the lack of attention paid to accomplishments made on a near daily basis. More than 13,000 reconstruction projects have been completed in Iraq, with electricity generation exceeding prewar levels and a free press already exceeding those in neighboring countries. By one recent count, 170 newspapers are being published in Iraq. Baghdad residents have access to more local print media than residents of Louisville, KY.

Some 60,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained, and those that patrol jointly with U.S. troops are often cheered by their compatriots. American military and CPA officials are working tirelessly to work themselves out of a job in Iraq as quickly as possible. The shared objective of the interim Iraqi Governing Council, IGC, and the CPA is to draft and ratify a constitution and hold national elections, perhaps within the next year.

In Afghanistan, international efforts are ongoing to build security forces and a new Afghan army. While Provincial Reconstruction Teams and humanitarian organizations have access to most of the country, Taliban remnants, al-Qaeda fighters, and local militias continue to pose challenges to development activities in the southeastern part of the country. Afghan President Karzai and his cabinet are determined to lead the country out of decades of warfare and instability into a new era of prosperity and economic and social opportunity. They have America's support and assistance in this endeavor.

Funding in the supplemental bill is key to improving the lives of ordinary Iraqi and Afghan citizens and providing for the tools and technical training so that they guarantee their own security. Our reconstruction efforts in both countries can be best described as a partnership—one that is mutually beneficial to the security interests of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States.

Third, it is clear from talking to Iraqis and our forces on the ground that providing reconstruction assistance to Iraq in the form of a loan would be counterproductive and downright dangerous.

I do not doubt for a single moment that those elements that today attack coalition forces, the United Nations, and foreign missions in Baghdad would spin the extension of loan to Iraq as proof positive that the coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's regime for oil. This could spark a firestorm against the United States throughout the entire Islamic world—from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia—that even the most effective public relations campaign would fail to extinguish.

Further, the interim IGC is in no position to assume debt on behalf of the Iraqi people, much less award or manage reconstruction contracts. The CPA rightfully seeks to continue momentum in the reconstruction of Iraq, which will directly impact the ability of the U.S. military to bring our troops home. By saddling the Iraqi people with a loan—one that no one believes they are capable of repaying—we stymie such momentum and set a precedent for other potential donors to extend aid in the form of loans.

Fourth, we must do more to enlist the cooperation of Islamic nations in the global war on terrorism.
Jordan has long been an ally in this war, and its recent decision to train Iraqi police and military officials is yet another indication that the Hashemite Kingdom seeks peace and stability in the region. Jordan serves as a stellar example of the constructive role an Islamic nation can play in defeating the cancer of terrorism.

Turkey, too, deserves recognition for its recent approval to deploy armed forces to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While many of us wish Turkey had been more supportive prior to the initiation of hostilities, this news is welcomed and underscores a regional appreciation for the need to defeat terrorism in Iraq. Just last week, the Turkish Prime Minister acknowledged that terrorism has "no race, religion, or creed" and that we "need to take all necessary steps against terrorism."

While Pakistan has also been a solid ally in the war on terrorism, it is only recently that Pakistani military forces have begun to crack down on al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in remote provinces bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan must do all it can—in full cooperation and consultation with Afghanistan—to seek out and destroy domestic and foreign terrorists on its soil. Indeed, Pakistan should consider following the lead of both Jordan and Turkey and provide support for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Let me close with a final observation that America and its allies will win the war on terrorism, including ongoing battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will do so because of our military superiority and discipline of well-trained and motivated troops.
We will do so because our cause is just and because it is in the interests of freedom loving people across the globe. And we will do so because America's greatness is rooted in the universal principles of liberty, justice, and human rights that two previous world wars have failed to extinguish.

President Bush is right that "[a]s long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world." I say to our Commander in Chief that this Senator is determined to provide whatever assistance is requested and needed to win the global war on terrorism. I ask my colleagues to join me in this important endeavor.

I think they taught journalists in journalism school that good news is not news; that only bad news is news. We have sort of gotten accustomed to that in the United States. I would argue that in Iraq good news is news because prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein, almost nothing good ever happened. So the unusual in Iraq is something good happening. Clearly, 9 out of 10 things in Iraq are going in the right direction, contrary to the impression one would get from reading the daily newspaper or watching television news.

Speaking of newspapers, there are 170 newspapers being published in Iraq. That is certainly more choice than we have in my hometown of Louisville, KY, I can tell you that. Some of these papers are probably even more credible than the New York Times. So there is opinion being expressed all across Iraq, particularly in print media springing up everywhere, as they enjoy this new freedom they were previously denied.

In terms of security, the toughest issue, 60,000 Iraqis have been trained by us to begin to provide security, and some of those Iraqi security forces have thwarted some of these bombing attempts in the last 2 days. They are learning how to do it, and they are getting better. That security force is growing on a daily basis. When they conduct joint exercises with American troops, the patrols are frequently cheered by people in the countryside. They are happy they are there. They are excited by that.

Reconstruction: There have been 13,000 reconstruction projects completed to date, actually finished.

Schools: Back during the Saddam Hussein regime, they used schools to store ammunition. Today they are being used to educate young Iraqis. The schools are open. They opened a little over a week ago, and at least 1,500 of those schools—we are not anywhere near finished, but at least 1,500 of those schools have been refurbished by us.

We had a chance to visit a school in Baghdad—actually several schools. At one of them, I had a chance to talk with the principal. There is no way I can overstate how excited they are to, first of all, have their school fixed up and, second, have an opportunity to begin to teach these youngsters once again and to teach them in a more open and effective manner, unsupervised by some tyrant and his thugs in Baghdad.

Power: We finally have been able to get power production back to prewar capacity. That is still not nearly enough, but it is heading in the right direction. The ingenuity of the American commanders on the ground is really something to behold.
General Petraeus, who is the division commander of the 101st Airborne, which is up north in Mosul, who, interestingly enough, has a Ph.D. from Princeton, has negotiated agreements with Turkish and Syrian officials to bring power from those countries into northern Iraq to help them meet their power needs.

New currency: I managed to pick up as a souvenir, as I left the country, an example of the old currency. This may be worth something someday. It has, of course, Saddam Hussein's face plastered on the front. These are no more. New currency is in the process of being issued in Iraq this week, and it begins the process of changing over to a different kind of currency. By the way, I think it is appropriate to note there will not be a single image of Saddam Hussein on any of these pieces of currency.

Going back to the 101st Airborne for a minute, they, of course, were also in Bosnia. The commander of the 101st said to us—and he was quite frustrated, as many of the soldiers were, about the perception that nothing was being accomplished there, that we were not heading in the right direction—he was in Bosnia as well, and we made more progress in Iraq in 6 months than we have made in Bosnia in 6 years. That is significant progress.

When he was talking about progress, he was not talking about the military part of it—that ended back in May; at least the intense combat portion ended—but he was talking about their efforts to deal with local people and these myriad of projects in which they are involved.

In northern Iraq, they had the first monitored provincial election in the Ninawa province. We had a chance to meet with the local council that had been elected in that province. There was an election held since Saddam Hussein fell from power.

With regard to security, there is no question that security is still a serious problem in Iraq. Regrettably, we see it on an almost daily basis. But I bet not many Americans know that more Iraqis have been killed during this period than people from outside the country.

What does that mean? It means that the Baathists, who are probably the principal organizers of these violent activities, are trying to get power back. They are not just after the Americans. They want to get power back. They are going to try to kill anybody in the way. Frankly, if we left tomorrow, they would be after whatever Iraqis were in charge because they want to get the power back. They want to control the country. They want to go back to their abusive tactics that they engaged in for 25 years.

So they are indiscriminately attacking anybody who is directly involved in replacing them: the Iraqi Governing Council, the Turks after saying they would send in 10,000 troops—there was an attempt on their embassy yesterday. There was an attack on the Jordanian Embassy and the U.N. earlier. This is not just an attack against Americans but against anybody who is helping the Iraqis move in the direction of having a normal, democratic, responsible country.

There have been some demonstrations. People have said this is outrageous; it must mean they do not like the fact that Saddam Hussein is gone. Well, these demonstrations—which by the way could not have occurred under Saddam Hussein because he would not have allowed it—are related to unemployment and delayed pay. Sounds like the sort of thing that would demand a demonstration in this country. Those are some of the conditions obviously that need to be dealt with.

So let's put everything in perspective. One would be hard pressed to find an Iraqi who would say they were better off under Saddam than they are now.

I have heard some reporters suggest that maybe we were sold a bill of goods while we were over there and only heard what people wanted us to hear. Let me say to that, it would be impossible to organize all of the youngsters we passed in the streets who were waving at us—not because of us but because of the American soldiers we were with—giving a thumbs up and smiling. Nobody could have organized all of that. Clearly, the young people, who are a reflection of their parents' views, are excited that the American troops are there and happy that Saddam Hussein is gone.

Another noteworthy observation that certainly could not have been created in order to give us a good impression of what was happening is that commerce is springing up everywhere. Business men and women are selling their wares along the sides of the streets. The Iraqis are not only well educated, they are quite entrepreneurial. These are the kinds of talents that are going to give them an opportunity to build an Iraq of which their citizens can be proud. We have a free Iraq now but we do not have everything we need to have.

I conclude by making an observation about the package that we have been debating. Twenty billion dollars of the $87 billion is for reconstruction. At some point I know we are going to have amendments related to what conditions ought to be placed on that $20 billion, but let me say how important that is.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 1 additional minute.

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

Mr. McCONNELL. If we look at the $87 billion, $66 billion of it is for troops. The stationing of troops overseas is very expensive. So I say to our colleagues who are concerned about the costs, the sooner we can get the troops home, the sooner it will cost us dramatically less. That is why the reconstruction project part of it is so important. Getting the country structured in such a way that they have adequate power, clean water, and are able to move forward with their infrastructure is the key to getting the troops home. So the $20 billion part of this package is critically important.

I know we will be having amendments about whether it ought to be conditioned. I think the President is correct. I think it ought to be a grant. I think we ought to make it clear that we did not go in there to put them in debt beyond where they are already. But we will have that debate in the coming days on the supplemental.

I am thankful for the opportunity to share my observations about my recent trip with Members of the Senate.

I yield the floor.

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