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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I thank the Senator from California for that thoughtful question. The fact is, I do read the polls, and if the Senator from California had paid attention to my opening statement, she would have known that I made it very clear that I understand the frustration and sorrow of the American people. I also know a lot of us are not driven by polls. A lot of us are driven by principle, and a lot of us do what we think is right no matter what the polls say.

So I appreciate the concern of the Senator from California about whether I read the polls. I appreciate that greatly. But I do know also that when you send a signal, and I appreciate the Senator's concern--I was talking about the liberal left addressing the war in Cambodia, is what I was speaking of. The record is clear, and I will be glad to provide other quotes of a similar nature. But I do also know that those of us who study history, those of us who spend time in Iraq, those of us who spend time with various leaders, such as General Zinni, such as General Scowcroft, such as Secretary of State Baker, such as many others, we all know what the consequences of a date for withdrawal will be. And it isn't my opinion alone. It is shared by a broad variety of national security experts in this field.

I also point out that it does have an effect on the troops in the field when they see effort after effort after effort to withdraw, to force them to be withdrawn and, obviously, a failure of their mission.

I welcome this debate, as I said earlier. I think it is important to inform the American people. I think it is important to have a respectful exchange of views. And I will continue to respect the views of the Senator from California, but I will tell her that I have seen this movie before, and I have seen what happens when we have a defeated military and we have people who assure us that a withdrawal is without consequences.

I believe, as Henry Kissinger as recently as a few days ago said:

..... precipitate withdrawal [from Iraq] would produce a disaster. It would not end the war but shift it to other areas, like Lebanon or Jordan or Saudi Arabia. The war between the Iraqi functions would intensify. The demonstration of American impotence would embolden radical Islamism and further radicalize its disciples from Indonesia and India to the suburbs of European capitals.

Natan Sharansky says the same thing. A person who knows about oppression, who knows about freedom, who served as a beacon to me and a hero in my entire life says:

A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to a bloodbath that would make the current carnage pale by comparison.

All of these are statements by people for whom I have the greatest respect. I hope we will heed some of their admonitions.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. Boxer). The Senator from Delaware is recognized.

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, I was interested in the last exchange. Let me just say that one of my heroes is the Senator from Arizona. I mean this sincerely. We use the phrase around here ``my friend.'' I consider him my friend. I believe if neither he nor I were Senators and I picked up a phone and called him and said: I need you to show up at such-and-such a place, I can't tell you why, he would be there. I do not pretend to be his best friend in the world, but I admire him.

But I think I should point out a couple of things. No. 1, the Senator from California is not poll-driven. As I remember it, when the whole of the country was clamoring to go to war, the Senator from California stood up and voted against going to war. If I am not mistaken, it was viewed as political suicide at that time. I know the Senator from California, and I know she needs no defense, but I know her. If I know anybody who is not poll-driven, it is the Senator from California, No. 1.

No. 2, Henry Kissinger, Lee Hamilton, and Baker--all these people mentioned--they all say get out. None of them think the policy of this President makes any sense. So let's start off where they are. Henry Kissinger has endorsed the Biden plan and the Boxer plan and all the rest who have done it. They need a political solution.

I remind everybody that the Baker-Hamilton report set a date of March 2008 as a goal to get the majority of our troops out, if not all of them out. They talked about drawing down our troops. The President rejected that policy.

I don't know a serious person--there probably are--I don't know of any in the international community, I don't know of anybody in the foreign policy establishment in the United States of America, from Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State, to former Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defense in Republican administrations, who thinks this policy makes any sense.

Madam President, I say to my colleagues, to quote Gravel--I was here in 1972 while my friend John McCain, God love him, was in a prisoner-of-war camp. I was a 29-year-old Senator. Nobody agreed with Gravel. Give me a break. Quoting Gravel as the voice of the left--he was the voice of his voice. God love him, as my mother would say, and he still is the voice of his voice. Who agrees with Gravel? Maybe somebody does. But to quote him as if it was the Democratic position on Cambodia--go count the votes, how many votes Gravel got. That is not representative of even the left. This is a man who, God love him, nominated himself for Vice President. Come on. Come on.

And who is calling for a precipitous withdrawal? If I am not mistaken, the distinguished chairman of the Armed Services Committee is not voting for a precipitous withdrawal. This is what we call, in the law business, which I have been practicing 34 years, a red herring.

The question is, Do we continue to send our kids into the middle of a meat grinder based on a policy that is fundamentally flawed? I don't think there are a dozen Republicans on that side of the aisle who agree with the President's strategy, nor do I believe, if the President had followed the recommendation of the Senator from Delaware and then the Senator from Arizona back before there was a civil war to put enough troops in to solidify the situation on the ground, we might not be here. The rationale he offered and I offered, if I am not mistaken, was: Mr. President, you don't have a strategy. Secretary of Defense, these are not a bunch of dead-enders, they are not a bunch of thugs. They are thugs, but you have a big problem, Mr. President.

If I am not mistaken, I heard the Senator from Arizona make those speeches 4 years ago. I heard him, along with me, call for more troops back then in order to get out sooner. We predicted there would be a civil war if we didn't gain control. Surprise, surprise, surprise. We have a civil war.

Look, I understand the political dilemmas in which we find ourselves: We have a President of our own party we have a problem with. I have been there. It never kept me from speaking up. If my colleagues recall, my friend from California, who is presiding, remembers, to use the trite expression, I beat President Clinton up and about the head, as they say in the neighborhood where I come from, to use force in Bosnia, to end a genocide. The President didn't agree with me. I was told: Calm down, don't put him in that spot. I am accustomed to taking on Presidents in my own party, and I know it is hard. It is hard. But I tell you what, name me any one of the people who were quoted here who thinks the policy we are pursuing now makes any sense.

Ever since the Democrats took control of the Congress back in January, we have been working to build pressure on the administration and, quite bluntly, on our Republican colleagues to change course in Iraq because I have reached a point where I think the President is impervious to information. There is a great expression, I believe it was Oliver Wendell Holmes referring to prejudice--and the President is not prejudiced, but I make the point. He said prejudice is like the pupil of the eye: the more light you shine upon it, the more tightly it closes. This administration is like the pupil of the eye: the more hard facts you give them to prove their policy is a failure, the tighter it closes and the less inclined to change they are.

More and more Republicans--more and more Republicans--have stopped backing the President and started looking for ways to work with us to bring our soldiers home in a responsible way so we don't merely trade a dictator for chaos.

Let me say something I am going to be reminded of, I am sure, again and again and again. Having been here for 34 years, I know you should not make statements I am about to make lightly, but I am reminded of it by the comments made about Cambodia. On this, we have a sell-by date. You know when you buy milk, it says sell by a certain date or it turns sour? There is a sell-by date here, folks, for us to change policy. Because if we do not change policy in a radical way in this calendar year, I believe we will be left with one of two alternatives.

We have a chance now to change policy and maybe salvage--maybe salvage--a circumstance in Iraq, whereas we gradually leave, and we will not have traded a dictator for chaos and the possibility of a regional war. That is alternative one. I think that alternative two is Saigon revisited. We will be lifting American personnel off the roofs of buildings in the green zone if we do not change policy and pretty drastically.

There is not a single person in here that knows anything about the military who can tell me they think there is any possibility of us sustaining 160,000 forces in Iraq this time next year. What my friend from Arizona did not say--and he knows a great deal about this--is that leading generals in the military say straightforward that we are breaking--let me emphasize that--breaking the U.S. military--breaking the U.S. military. Let me put it another way. We have more professionally trained academy graduates, such as my friend from Arizona, leaving the military after 5 years than we have had any time in the last 30-plus years. The cream of the crop are being broken by this failed--this failed policy in Iraq.

What is worse is not that it is a failed policy, but it is impervious to recommendations made by the most informed people in both political parties inside and outside Government. What did the President do with the Baker-Hamilton Commission? Picked it up, gave it real lip service, and flipped it on the shelf. Who was on that commission? Two former Secretaries of State, who were Republicans; the present Secretary of Defense; some of the leading conservative voices in America on military matters; along with mainstream Democratic leaders. What did they do? What did they do? They blew it off. Now they are revisiting it. Now press reports are that maybe we have to have a plan B.

Look, it matters profoundly how we end this war. It matters to our soldiers, it matters to the Iraqis, and it matters to America's future security. As I said before, I don't want my son, a captain in the Army, going to Iraq, but he will go, if called. But I also don't want my grandson going. How we leave will determine whether my grandson goes. So far this President has offered absolutely no political solution to Iraq. None.

What does he say? He says surge troops. Why? To give the Iraqis breathing room. Why? So the Iraqis will get together and form a unity government that can be trusted by all the Iraqi people to govern the nation, allowing us to leave.

Not in the lifetime of anyone on this floor, including these talented young pages, will there be a unity government in Baghdad that has the confidence of all the Iraqi people, able to maintain security, provide opportunity, and have a stable unity government. It will not happen.

I had a proposal over a year ago--and I have been roundly criticized for it, except for the Presiding Officer and a few others--wherein I laid out--and not because I am so smart; I happen to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee because I have lasted longer than others--but I laid out a comprehensive proposal. What does everybody say in this body? Everybody says, in and out of Government, that there is no military solution to Iraq, only a political solution. Name me a single person who has offered a political solution, except the Senator from California, myself, and the Senator from Kansas, Mr. Brownback. Name me anyone. What is the political solution? What is the political solution my friend is offering? What is it?

The political solution is that somehow the Iraqis will have an epiphany--and I know Muslims don't have epiphanies; that is a Christian thing--they will have an epiphany and all of a sudden they are going to get together, realizing what is at stake, and form this unity government that can deliver.

I met with al-Maliki last year. I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times. I am heading over there again shortly. I sat with al-Maliki, and when I came back, the President asked my views. He was kind enough to ask what I thought. I said, I don't think al-Maliki has it in his bone marrow, in his heart or his brain to desire to reconcile with the Sunnis. Even if he did, he doesn't have the capacity.

What have we rested everything on here? We are about to have a report that was going to be filed this June 15, pointing out the Iraqis haven't met a single benchmark. Isn't that strange? What did we do? Every opportunity we had to help them along, we walked away from. I remember after they voted on their Constitution. I was there for the official vote, I stuck my finger in the ink that does not come off your finger. I went to the polling places. The Iraqis voted overwhelmingly for a constitution. Know what it says? I wish somebody would read it once in a while. It says, I believe it is article 1, we are a decentralized federal system. Then in articles 15, 16, 17, and 18, if I am not mistaken--this is from memory--it lays out how any 1 of the 18 governates, political subdivisions, basically, in Iraq can become a region, vote for their own constitution, and have their own local security. It also implies there will be an allocation of the oil resources through a constitutional amendment.

I remember immediately after that vote, coming back from my third or fourth trip, then meeting with the administration and saying: What are you going to do? And being told: Oh, it is too premature to push any of that. I said: Whoa, let me get this straight. How are you going to bring these folks together unless you help them implement the Constitution? No, no, too tough now--too tough.

This administration has not made, when given a choice, a single correct decision on Iraq. Hear me. That is a bold statement. I cannot think of a single decision when they have been faced with a choice that they have made the right choice. I cannot think of one. Way back, when the President asked me why I was calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, and the Vice President was in the room, in the Oval Office, I said: With all due respect, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, if, Mr. Vice President, you were not a constitutional officer, I would call for your resignation too. He looked at me and said: Why? I said: Because, Mr. President, name me one piece of advice either Rumsfeld or CHENEY have given you in Iraq that has turned out to be right. Name me one. One. One. It is not about retribution, Mr. President, it is about competence. If all the advice you have been given is bad, don't you think it is a good idea to look for new advice--new advisers?

Look, I believe there is a comprehensive strategy to end this war responsibly and it has three parts. First, is a roadmap to bring most of our troops out and home by early next year. Two, is a detailed plan for what we leave behind, a political solution. Three, is the commitment that so long as there is a single American--a single American soldier--in Iraq, we should do everything in our power to protect them.

Let me go through this very briefly. First, bringing our troops home. Instead of escalating the war with no end in sight, we have to start to bring our troops home now and withdraw most by next year. This was the Baker-Hamilton recommendation.


Mr. BIDEN. If we don't start bringing home combat forces within the next few months, get them out of the midst of a civil war, we will have so soured the American people on the ability to do even the things that need be done that this President and the next President will be left with absolutely no option--absolutely no option--but to withdraw totally from that area and let the chips fall where they may.

You know, that is exactly what we started to propose, the Senator from California and others, Senator Levin, in the Biden-Hagel-Snowe-Levin resolution opposing the surge back in January and of the Biden-Levin provision in the Iraqi supplemental bill, the very thing the President vetoed. The common denominator in all these efforts has been to transition our troops to a more limited mission so we can start to bring them home and set the groundwork for being able to leave behind a political solution.

That is exactly what Senator Levin is doing today. He is taking the Biden-Levin amendment, now called the Levin-Reid amendment, and he is going back at it. I compliment him for it because we have to keep pushing in order to change the minds of our Republican friends by keeping pressure on them to start to vote for the troops and not the President.

The second thing is getting our troops out of Iraq is necessary, but it is not sufficient. We also need a plan for what we are going to leave behind so we don't trade a dictator for chaos. What happens matters and how it happens. About everyone agrees there is no purely military solution. A political solution. Our plan is getting more bipartisan support--the so-called Biden-Brownback-Boxer-Hutchison-Nelson-Smith amendment--and that is we recognize the fundamental problem in Iraq is the self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence.

I would respectfully suggest that history shows these cycles of sectarian violence end in only one of four ways. One, a bloodletting that leaves one side victorious and both sides exhausted. In the case of Iraq, that would take years, and I believe it would generate a Sunni-Shia revival of hatred from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas.

Second, is an open-ended foreign occupation for a generation or more. That is not in America's DNA. It is not what we do. We are not the Ottoman Empire.

Third, a return to a strong man, one who is not on the horizon. Even if there were, wouldn't it be the ultimate tragic irony that the United States replaced Saddam Hussein with another dictator?

The fourth way they have ended is a political agreement to form a decentralized federal government that separates the warring factions, gives them breathing room in their own regions. That is what we did a decade ago in Bosnia. We have had over 24,000 NATO troops there for 10 years and not one has been killed. The sectarian violence has stopped, the genocide is over, and they are trying to become part of Europe.

The plan we put forward has five pieces. I will not take the time to go into it now, but one is in order to maintain a unified Iraq we have to decentralize it, with a limited central government that has common concerns of guarding the border and distributing oil revenues.

Second, we have to secure support from the Sunnis by giving them a guaranteed piece of the oil revenues because they have nothing in that triangle.

Third, we have to increase, not diminish, aid to rebuild that country, and we should look to the gulf states who have an overwhelming interest and overflow of dollars to do that.

Fourth, since we have lost all credibility in the region, this has to be a consequence, this idea--it has to have an international imprimatur on it. It must come out of the Security Council. They must call an international conference. It must involve the stamp of the United Nations and a regional conference, where the international community pursues this--and they are ready to do it. I will not take the time to go into why.

Last, we have to begin to draw down. We have to have military plans to draw down our combat forces by 2008, leaving behind a small force to take on terrorists and train Iraqis, assuming there is a political settlement. If there is no political settlement, mark my words, the public will insist they all come home. If they come home it means everything comes home. The idea that we are going to be able to leave an embassy there with thousands of people without 10,000 or more American soldiers to guard it is a joke. If we fail to make federalism work, if there is no political accommodation at the center, violent resistance will increase, the sectarian cycle of revenge will continue to spiral out of control, and we will not have this country break into three neat pieces. You will watch it fragment into multiple pieces, creating incredible difficulties for the entire region.

The Bush administration, though, has another vision. Their vision for Iraq, their entire premise, as I said, is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that they can build a competent, popular, supported government based upon a consensus among the three parties, and it reside in Baghdad. That is the central flaw in their strategy. It cannot be sustained. The hard truth is that absent a foreign occupation or a dictator, Iraq cannot be run from the center. The sooner we understand that, as Secretary Kissinger does and all the people quoted today--the sooner we understand that, the faster we will get this thing resolved and the fewer American casualties there will be.

The last part of this strategy is, so long as we have a single soldier in Iraq, it is our most sacred responsibility to give him or her the best protection this country can provide. Two months ago I called upon the President and Secretary Gates to make building of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, so-called MRAPs, the Nation's top priority. Roadside bombs are responsible for 70 percent of the 25,000-plus injuries and 70 percent of the roughly 3,600 deaths. It is hard to keep count, unfortunately; 70 percent. Yet if we transition our troops from those flat-bottomed, up-armored HMMWVs to these V-shaped-bottom MRAPs, the facts show that somewhere between 66 percent and 80 percent of the casualties will be avoided.

An article on the front page of USA Today last Friday pointed out a military person saying if we built these when we were supposed to, there would be, I think, 731 fewer deaths.

These are our sons, our daughters, not somebody else's--all of ours. These are the people. These are the kite strings upon which our whole national ambition is lifted aloft. What are we doing? What are we doing? We are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, and I get push-back for wanting to spend $20 billion to build these vehicles? I find it obscene.

I fought to front load money in the emergency spending bill for these vehicles. As a result we will get 2,500 more of these vehicles to Iraq by the end of the year than we otherwise would have. That is why I voted for the bill.

But I also insisted that the administration tell us by June 15 whether it would need even more of these vehicles so that we make sure the money is there to get them built.

Last week the Army concluded that it would need seven times the number of mine-resistant vehicles it had originally requested--some 17,700, up from 2,500. When you factor in all the service requests, the total need for mine-resistant vehicles jumps from the 7,774 vehicles now planned to nearly 23,000 vehicles.

But the Joint Chiefs have not yet made the Army request a ``clear and urgent'' requirement.

And there is no plan to budget for and build these vehicles over the next 6 months, as well as proven technology that protects against so-called explosively formed projectiles--EFP--that strike from the side.

We need a commitment from the administration--now--to build every last one of these vehicles as soon as possible.

We can't wait till next year or the year after. Our men and women on the front lines need them now.

I will offer an amendment to the Defense bill to make it clear--with absolutely no ambiguity--that Congress will provide every dollar needed and every authority necessary to build these vehicles as quickly as possible.

Every day we delay is another life lost.

The war in Iraq must end. That is what the American people want. And that is where America's interests lie.

I conclude by saying that in Congress we have a tremendous responsibility to turn the will of the American people into a practical reality. It is long past time we meet this responsibility head on, and it is long past time our Republican colleagues join us in what I believe they know to be right--forcing this President to radically change course in Iraq.

I yield the floor.

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