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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, before I speak on the amendment concerning the withdrawal from Iraq offered by Senator Levin, I would like to make a few comments about the benchmarks report required by the supplemental bill that was signed in May and released by the President just this morning.

We knew when the Senate passed the conference report that according to the legislation we were requiring a benchmark report in July and a benchmark report in September. Why were these dates important? First, we knew that July was important because the Baghdad security plan is now fully manned, something that was achieved less than 1 month ago.

Congress wanted to send a clear signal to the Iraqi Government that full cooperation and sacrifice in executing the Baghdad security plan was imperative and that the hard work of political compromise must begin. We have done that.

Second, General Petraeus informed the Senate that he and Ambassador Crocker would provide an assessment of the counterinsurgency plan to the President, as we all know, in September. Having heard that, the Senate thought it reasonable that we would be provided the same assessment and that we could form a reasoned legislative response to that report.

What have we learned? We have learned that progress is mixed, that many of our military tasks assigned to the military have been achieved, and that we have not seen sufficient progress on the political benchmarks. The Congress decided in May that 1 month of a fully manned surge was an insufficient period to call the Petraeus plan a success or a failure. Certainly, the young soldiers and marines risking their lives today on the streets of Baghdad and Ramadi would agree, and they deserve our patience.

Some of our colleagues have quite reasonably refrained from drafting new amendments that would revisit the actions taken by this Senate back in May until they have at least reviewed the benchmarks report delivered just today.

I would encourage my colleagues to review the report, as I intend to, and to hear what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to say in September. There is much at stake and, frankly, they deserve to be heard.


Now on another matter, Mr. President, the Senate will soon take up the Levin amendment. But before we do, I think it is important that we take a look at what it says.

The Levin amendment says:

The Secretary of Defense shall commence the reduction of the number of United States forces in Iraq not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of the enactment of this Act.

Now, exactly what would this reduction involve--10,000 troops, 20,000, 50,000, all of them? Can we at least get maybe a ballpark figure? The Levin amendment does not quite give us one. It only says U.S. forces will have a ``limited presence'' after this reduction. What is a ``limited presence''?

Does it mean limiting our presence in Al Anbar, which everyone agrees has been a stunning success in our fight against al-Qaida? Does it mean limiting our presence in Baghdad? In the Kurdish areas to the north? What does ``limited presence'' mean? The Levin amendment does not say. We are left to guess.

The Levin amendment says the members of our Armed Forces will only be free to protect the United States and coalition personnel and infrastructure, to train Iraqi security forces, and to engage in targeted counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida. What does ``targeted'' mean? The Levin amendment does not tell us.

It says:

The Secretary of Defense shall complete the transition of United States forces to a limited presence and missions by April 30.

But how will we know when he has completed the transition? And how many forces would have to be moved in order for the Secretary of Defense to comply with the bill's mandate to complete it? The amendment is silent on that question as well.

If there were more to this amendment, I might have more questions, but there is not. That is it. The supposedly groundbreaking policy shift that the Democratic majority has been circling around is nothing more than a page and a half of vague policy proposals; in fact, an empty shell. Do they really expect us to send this to conference and to see what might happen? That is wise war policy? That is a responsible alternative to the current policy? That is the alternative they give us to the Petraeus plan, a doctrine that has been widely acclaimed as the last word on counter insurgency, which is showing signs of success less than a month after it was fully manned?

Look, Democrats and Republicans voted to go into Iraq based on the same intelligence the President had. It is dishonest and it is unhelpful to turn every debate on this war into a discussion of how and why we entered it in the first place.

More than 150,000 American troops are there. They are now fighting the same group that attacked and killed thousands of innocent Americans on Ð9/11, who attacked many others before and since, and who are plotting to kill thousands more even as we speak. There is one thing we should be concerned about in discussing this war, and it is the one thing we never hear about from the other side; that is, inning the fight against al-Qaida.

Now, the President has recognized that previous strategy failed to focus on the insurgency and al-Qaida. He changed course. Now we are fighting them head on with the Petraeus plan. At full manning, this strategy has been in place for less than a month. We will get a report on its progress in September. What sense does it make to short-circuit that strategy right now, especially when the only alternative we are getting from the other side is a page and a half of questions.

Yesterday, the spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq gave us an update on al-Qaida's operations in Iraq. He reminded us that al-Qaida members refer to Iraq as their central front. This is al-Qaida members who say it is their central front. He told us al-Qaida and its affiliates are the greatest source of the spectacular attacks that are fueling sectarian violence in Iraq.

He told us that in recent months, more and more Iraqis have started to reject al-Qaida and its ideology and are finally fighting back. Troops are getting good, actionable intelligence from these people which they are using to disrupt al-Qaida networks and safe havens in and around Baghdad. He showed us a chart that illustrated some of our recent successes against the enemy. Our Armed Forces in Iraq killed or captured 26 high-level al-Qaida leaders in May and June alone. Eleven of them were emirs who were city or local al-Qaida leaders; seven were smuggling foreigners, weapons, and money into Iraq; five were cell leaders; and three were leaders of IED networks. Last month, our troops uncovered an al-Qaida media hub near Samarra. They have concluded that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born terrorists who have killed some 4,000 Iraqi citizens just over the last 6 months.

These are some of the concrete realities on the ground. This is what is actually happening, not what people over here seem to be talking about. We are fighting al-Qaida head-on, and we are making progress. Would the Levin amendment force us to turn our backs on al-Qaida again? We have no idea. It really doesn't say. But it could. That is something we should all keep in mind as we begin this debate, whether we are willing to go with this or with the Petraeus plan.

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