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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 433. A bill to state United States policy for Iraq, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, there are countless reasons that the American people have lost confidence in the President's Iraq policy, but chief among them has been the Administration's insistence on making promises and assurances about progress and victory that have no basis whatsoever in the reality of the facts on the ground.

We have been told that we would be greeted as liberators. We have been promised that the insurgency was in its last throes. We have been assured again and again that we were making progress, that the Iraqis would soon stand up, that our brave sons and daughters could soon stand down. We have been asked to wait, and asked to be patient, and asked to give the President and the new Iraqi government six more months, and then six more months after that, and then six more months after that.

Despite all of this, a change of course still seemed possible. Back in November, the American people had voted for a new direction in Iraq. Secretary Rumsfeld was on his way out at the Pentagon. The Iraq Study Group was poised to offer a bipartisan consensus. The President was conducting his own review. After years of missteps and mistakes, it was time for a responsible policy grounded in reality, not ideology.

Instead, the President ignored the counsel of expert civilians and experienced soldiers, the hard-won consensus of prominent Republicans and Democrats, and the clear will of the American people.

The President's decision to move forward with this escalation anyway, despite all evidence and military advice to the contrary, is the terrible consequence of the decision to give him the broad, open-ended authority to wage this war in 2002. Over four years later, we cannot revisit that decision or reverse its outcome, but we can do what we didn't back then and refuse to give this President more open-ended authority for this war.

The U.S. military has performed valiantly and brilliantly in Iraq. Our troops have done all we have asked them to do and more. But no quantity of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else's civil war, nor settle the grievances in the hearts of the combatants.

I cannot in good conscience support this escalation. As the President's own military commanders have said, escalation only prevents the Iraqis from taking more responsibility for their own future. It's even eroding our efforts in the wider war on terror, as some of the extra soldiers could come directly from Afghanistan, where the Taliban has become resurgent.

The course the President is pursuing fails to recognize the fundamental reality that the solution to the violence in Iraq is political, not military. He has offered no evidence that more U.S. troops will be able to pressure Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds towards the necessary political settlement, and he's attached no conditions or consequences to his plan should the Iraqis fail to make progress.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, when I repeatedly asked Secretary Rice what would happen if the Iraqi government failed to meet the benchmarks that the Administration has called for, she could not give me an answer. When I asked her if there were any circumstances whatsoever in which we would tell the Iraqis that their failure to make progress would mean the end of our military commitment, she still could not give me an answer.

This is not good enough. When you ask how many more months and how many more lives it will take to end a policy that everyone knows has failed, ``I don't know' isn't good enough.

Over the past four years, we have given this Administration chance after chance to get this right, and they have disappointed us so many times. That is why Congress now has the duty to prevent even more mistakes. Today, I am introducing legislation that rejects this policy of escalation, and implements a comprehensive approach that will promote stability in Iraq, protect our interests in the region, and bring this war to a responsible end.

My legislation essentially puts into law the speech I gave in November, 2006, and is, I believe, the best strategy for going forward.

The bill implements--with the force of law--a responsible redeployment of our forces out of Iraq, not a precipitous withdrawal. It implements key recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. It applies real leverage on the Iraqis to reach the political solution necessary to end the sectarian violence that is tearing Iraq apart. It holds the Iraqi government accountable, making continued U.S. support conditional on concrete Iraqi progress. It respects the role of military commanders, while fulfilling Congress's responsibility to uphold the Constitution and heed the will of the American people.

First, this legislation caps the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at the number in Iraq on January 10, 2007--the day the President gave his ``surge speech' to the nation. This cap could not be lifted without explicit authorization by the Congress.

Yet our responsibilities to the American people and to our servicemen and women go beyond opposing this ill-conceived escalation. We must fashion a comprehensive strategy to accomplish what the President's surge fails to do: pressure the Iraqi government to reach a political settlement, protect our interests in the region, and bring this war to a responsible end.

That is why my legislation commences a phased redeployment of U.S. troops to begin on May 1, 2007 with a goal of having all combat brigades out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, a date that is consistent with the expectation of the Iraq Study Group. The legislation provides exceptions for force protection, counterterrorism, and training of Iraqi security forces.

To press the Iraqi government to act, this drawdown can be suspended for 90-day periods if the President certifies and the Congress agrees that the Iraqi government is meeting specific benchmarks and the suspension is in the national security interests of the United States. These benchmarks include: Meeting security responsibilities. The Iraqi government must deploy brigades it promised to Baghdad, lift restrictions on the operations of the U.S. military, and make significant progress toward assuming full responsibility for the security of Iraq's provinces. Cracking down on sectarian violence. The Iraqi government must make significant progress toward reducing the size and influence of sectarian militias, and the presence of militia elements within the Iraqi Security Forces. Advancing national reconciliation. The Iraqi government must pass legislation to share oil revenues equitably; revise de-Baathification to enable more Iraqis to return to government service; hold provisional elections by the end of the year; and amend the Constitution in a manner that sustains reconciliation. Making economic progress. The Iraqi government must make available at least $10,000,000,000 for reconstruction, job creation, and economic development as it has promised to do. The allocation of these resources, the provision of services, and the administration of Iraqi Ministries must not proceed on a sectarian basis.

These benchmarks reflect actions proposed by the President and promised by the Iraqi government. It is time to hold them accountable.

Recognizing that the President has not been straightforward with the American people about the war in Iraq, my legislation allows the Congress--under expedited procedures--to overrule a Presidential certification and continue the redeployment.

Time and again, we have seen deadlines for Iraqi actions come and go--with no consequences. Time and again we have heard pledges of progress from the administration--followed by a descent into chaos. The commitment of U.S. troops to Iraq represents our best leverage to press the Iraqis to act. And the further commitment of U.S. economic assistance to the Government of Iraq must be conditional on Iraqi action.

As the U.S. drawdown proceeds, my legislation outlines how U.S. troops should be redeployed back to the United States and to other points in the region. In the region, we need to maintain a substantial over-the-horizon force to prevent the conflict in Iraq from becoming a wider war, to reassure our allies, and to protect our interests. And we should redeploy forces to Afghanistan, so we not just echo--but answer--NATO's call for more troops in this critical fight against terrorism.

Within Iraq, we may need to maintain a residual troop presence to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, go after international terrorists, and continue training efforts. My legislation allows for these critical but narrow exceptions as the redeployment proceeds and is ultimately completed.

My legislation makes it U.S. policy to undertake a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to promote a political solution within Iraq, and to prevent wider regional strife. This diplomatic effort must include our friends in the region, but it should also include Syria and Iran, who need to be part of the conversation about stabilizing Iraq. Not talking is getting us nowhere. Not talking is not making us more secure, nor is it weakening our adversaries.

The President should appoint a special envoy with responsibility to implement this regional engagement. And as we go forward, we must make it clear that redeployment does not mean disengagement from the region. On the contrary, it is time for a more comprehensive engagement that skillfully uses all tools of American power.

Finally, my legislation compels the President to formulate a strategy to prevent the war in Iraq from becoming a wider conflagration.

Let me conclude by saying that there are no good options in Iraq. We cannot undo the mistake of that congressional authorization, or the tragedies of the last four years.

Just as I have been constant in my strong opposition to this war, I have consistently believed that opposition must be responsible. As reckless as we were in getting into Iraq, we have to be as careful getting out. We have significant strategic interests in Iraq and the region. We have a humanitarian responsibility to help the Iraqi people. Above all, we have an obligation to support our courageous men and women in uniform--and their families back home--who have sacrificed beyond measure.

It is my firm belief that the responsible course of action--for the United States, for Iraq, and for our troops--is to oppose this reckless escalation and to pursue a new policy. This policy is consistent with what I have advocated for well over a year, with many of the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and with what the American people demanded in November.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, the time for promises and assurances, for waiting and patience, is over. Too many lives have been lost and too many billions have been spent for us to trust the President on another tried and failed policy opposed by generals and experts, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and even the Iraqis themselves. It is time to change our policy. It is time to give Iraqis their country back. And it is time to refocus America's efforts on the wider struggle against terror yet to be won.


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