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US Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I will vote for this Defense Supplemental appropriations bill.

Whatever some may say, I think it would be grossly irresponsible to vote against it. That would be to vote against providing America's men and women in uniform with the equipment and resources they need and against providing them the best health care they may require when they come home.

I understand why some are urging a vote against the bill. Many Americans are frustrated and angry because we are four years into a war the Bush Administration assured us would be short and decisive. The Administration's misjudgments, lack of planning and poor leadership have made a bad situation worse. So there are many who do not trust the Bush Administration to find a way to end this war, and who believe Congress should simply act to cut off additional funds.

But whatever may be said about the wisdom of invading Iraq four years ago--and I am one who believed it was a mistake to do so--the fact is that we are still deeply engaged in Iraq. We also must finish the job of securing Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda. So long as our troops are in the field, we must provide them what they need even as we move to change the mistaken policies of the Administration in Iraq.

This bill begins that change. It includes important language to hold the president accountable to the benchmarks set by his own administration and the Iraqi government.

Those benchmarks were outlined in January, when President Bush announced that the Iraqi government had agreed to pursue all extremists, Shiite and Sunni alike; to deliver Iraqi Security Forces to Baghdad to join in the ``surge''; and to establish a strong militia disarmament program. President Bush also announced that Prime Minister Maliki and his government agreed to pursue reconciliation initiatives, including enactment of a hydro-carbon law; conducting of provincial and local elections; reform of current laws governing the de-Baathification process; amendment of the Constitution of Iraq; and allocation of Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects.

By holding the president and the Iraqi government accountable for achieving these benchmarks, this bill will provide General Petraeus and the Administration with the leverage necessary to help the Iraqi government forge a political solution. And we all know that it will take a political solution--not a military one--to end this war.

The bill is an important step toward what I think must be our goal--a responsible end to the war in Iraq, based on a strategy of phased withdrawal of troops, accelerated diplomacy and redeployment that is based on Iraqi stability and not arbitrary deadlines.

It is true that this legislation includes a date certain for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq. I do not believe this language is wise and were it up to me, this provision would not be included in the bill. As a matter of national security policy, we should steer clear of arbitrary public deadlines and focus instead on realistic goals. Our military needs flexibility to be able to link movements of U.S. troops to the realities of the situation on the ground.

The deadline established in this bill--August of 2008--is far enough away that I believe we may be able to revisit it if need be, and while I find its inclusion troubling, I do not believe in letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And the bill's language does give the president flexibility to protect U.S. interests, since it allows sufficient troops to remain to protect U.S. military and civilians in Iraq, conduct counterterrorism operations, and train Iraqi Security Forces.

The bill also protects our troops by limiting deployment schedules and setting minimum readiness standards--based on current Defense Department standards--for U.S. troops deploying to the region. The president could waive these requirements but only by certifying in writing to Congress that waiving them would be in the interest of national security.

The bill also includes many provisions important to our troops, such as funds for military personnel for imminent danger pay, family separation allowances, and basic allowances for housing; funds for recruiting and retention in the Army Reserve and National Guard; and funds to develop countermeasures to prevent attacks from improvised explosive devices. The bill recommends the creation of a new Strategic Readiness Reserve fund, and provides $2.5 billion for the program, which is intended to improve readiness, training and equipping of U.S. forces not already deployed.

Given the recent revelations about problems with the defense health system at Walter Reed and other facilities across the system, I am very pleased that the bill provides $2.8 billion for military health care costs and $1.7 billion for initiatives to address the health care needs of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, particularly those suffering from traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. Funding is also included to address facility deficiencies so the Department of Veterans Affairs does not have to defer facility maintenance and upkeep in order to provide quality health care services.

The bill also provides $52.5 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and funds the $5.9 billion request for the Afghan Security Forces and the $3.8 billion request for Iraq Security Forces.

And the bill includes $3.1 billion to fully fund the Pentagon's FY07 request for the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission's recommendations, which is vitally important for Ft. Carson as it prepares to expand and for other military installations in Colorado.

On the non-military side, the bill includes critically important funding for farmers and ranchers in southeastern Colorado who were recently hit hard by winter storms. Thousands of cattle were killed in storms worse than the October 1997 storm that killed approximately 30,000 cattle and cost farmers and ranchers an estimated $28 million. The struggles that family agriculture producers and small counties face are significant and are having a negative impact on the livelihood of hundreds of farmers and

ranchers and their communities. So I am pleased that the Colorado delegation was successful in persuading the House leadership to include financial assistance for farmers and ranchers, including for those affected by Colorado's recent blizzards, and I am hopeful that the funding will be included in the final conference report.

Mr. Speaker, we have entered the 5th year of the war in Iraq. Already, more than 3,200 of our men and women in uniform have made the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duty. More than 24,000 others have been wounded. The Iraqi death toll is at least 60,000, with more than 650,000 other Iraqis displaced and at least one million who have fled to Syria and Jordan and other countries.

Even these heavy costs are not the whole story, because nation-building in Iraq has degraded our ability to counter other threats to our national security around the globe. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I am all too aware of the pressures on our active duty and National Guard and reserve soldiers, including a lack of equipment and training, multiple or extended deployments, and limited time at home between deployments. To be successful, U.S. forces must be trained, equipped, and ready to quickly deploy worldwide. Shortfalls in personnel, equipment, or training increase the risk to our troops and to their mission.

Mr. Speaker, many of us who voted against authorizing the President to rush to war in Iraq were worried that while it would be easy to eliminate the Saddam Hussein regime, the aftermath would be neither easy nor quick. Sadly, our fears have proven to be justified. And now, as the Pentagon has finally admitted in its most recent quarterly report, the situation in Iraq is ``properly descriptive of a civil war.''

Insisting on keeping our troops in the middle of that kind of internecine war is not a recipe for victory; it is only a prescription for quagmire. And as a new Foreign Relations Council report notes, we bear responsibility for developments within Iraq, but are increasingly without the ability to shape those developments in a positive direction.

We need to be scaling back our military mission in Iraq. We need to make the U.S. military footprint lighter--not in order to hasten defeat or failure in Iraq, but to salvage a critical measure of security and stability in a region of the world that we can ill afford to abandon.

But as we do so, we must work to avoid a collapse in the region--not only because we have a moral obligation to the people of Iraq, but also because our national security has been so badly compromised by the Bush administration's failures there. The President's decision to take the nation to war has made our country less safe. We need to change course and chart a path that enhances our national security and sets the right priorities for the war on terrorism and struggle against extremists.

This bill begins to chart this path, and I will support it.


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