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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008--Continued -- (Senate - July 17, 2007)


Ms. STABENOW. Thank you, Mr. President.

At this 3 o'clock hour in the morning, I think it is important to refocus on exactly what the vote will be in the morning as it relates to the issue in front of us, the Levin-Reed amendment. First, let me do this. Let me thank Senator Snowe, who was here a moment ago, for her eloquence and her courage in laying out the facts, and for her thoughtfulness. I wish to thank our Senate majority leader, Senator Reid, who has been laser focused on what, in fact, we need to be doing to change the course in Iraq based on the facts, based on the iron will of the American people.

I appreciate all he has done to keep us focused on this critical issue of our time.

I also thank Senator Carl Levin, my senior Senator from Michigan. We are very proud of him in Michigan for all he does, advocating for our troops and for a foreign policy and an armed services policy that makes sense for our country, for all of us. I thank Senators Levin and Jack Reed for introducing an amendment that is currently being filibustered.

What we have in front of us and what we are doing is demonstrating through this all-night debate--which is very important, regardless of where someone comes from on this issue; it is very important that we have this debate and discussion. I appreciate all of my colleagues expressing themselves. What we have in front of us is the question of whether we are going to end a filibuster tomorrow, and whether we are going to have an opportunity to have a simple majority vote--a yes-or-no vote--on a change in direction in Iraq, which would in fact change the mission by next year, by April 30 of next year. I find it amazing that our men and women right now who are fighting for democracy, fighting for majority rule--to put together a coalition to create a working majority and that the majority should rule. Yet here we are not allowed to have the majority make the decision--a majority being 51, or in this case 50 at the moment, being able to vote and determine what the policy is.

Last week, we had a very significant debate and issue in front of us that Senator Webb from Virginia brought forward in terms of supporting our troops, supporting them as it relates to the deployment and redeployment policies right now for our National Guard and our full-time military. There were 56 members--a clear majority of this body--who voted for that policy, that change in policy. So if you are deployed for 12 months, you would be home on dwell time for 12 months with your family and with an opportunity to be retrained, to regroup, in order to be able to go back. Fifty-six members, a clear majority, said yes. Yet we were stopped. Why? Because our Republican colleagues insist on filibustering and not allowing a vote.

We are saying to the other side of the aisle, let us vote. Let us do what we assume everybody in the American public assumes in a democracy with a majority, that the majority would have their say, that whoever is in the majority has an opportunity to win a vote. But that is not the case anymore in the Senate. We are not talking about 50 or 51 but 60. So we have in front of us a filibuster that is going on as to whether we will even vote on a policy that has a majority of this Senate, and it is clearly supported by a majority of the American people.

(Mr. DURBIN assumed the Chair.)

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, there are no good wars or bad wars; there are only necessary wars or unnecessary wars. Five years ago, I was proud to stand along with the distinguished Presiding Officer on the floor of this body and argue that going into war with Iraq was unnecessary. It wasn't an easy day for any of us. No burden weighs heavier on the shoulders of any one of us than questions of war and peace. We deliberate countless and important issues in this Chamber, but none are as serious as sending America's sons and daughters into harm's way. I stood here that day in October and said this is a vote of conscience, also a vote of historic consequence, because what we debate and decide here will not only significantly affect this great Nation, but will immediately influence global events for years to come. No matter how difficult the decision may be, it is one each of us must make for the sake of our country. We have an obligation and a duty to carefully weigh the consequences of a preemptive attack. I went on to say that before we engage in war, we must understand that the results of war are irrevocable and a peaceful solution should always be our first choice.

Today, we are living with the consequences of this war. We will continue to live with those consequences in our communities, in terms of young lives lost and shattered, and families who will never be whole again, and the emptiness left by neighbors who gave their last full measure in this fight. As a nation, we will live with these consequences for years to come as we face a world we shaped by this unnecessary war--a world in which we must now deal with a reinvigorated al-Qaida and a less stable Middle East today than when the first American tanks rolled into Baghdad.

We cannot go back and change the mistakes and missteps that have brought us here, but we can and we must begin to dig ourselves out of the hole that we have dug in Iraq. We can and we must embrace a strategy that brings our troops home safely and responsibly. We can and we must make the tough choices to end this war.

Twenty-three of us stood up against the war on that October afternoon. Today, there are more of us. We have all watched the events of the last half decade play out in front of us. We have watched the violence and the horror of modern war play out on our television sets. We have listened over and over again as the administration's rhetoric has become more and more detached from the reality of what is going on in Iraq. What were merely predictions and concerns in 2002 have today become reality. Militarily, we are paying the price every day for the administration's neglect in planning for the aftermath of initial combat operations in Iraq.

Our troops are fighting and working in extreme conditions. They face an
enemy they often cannot identify, one that has shown a total disregard for human life and a willingness to sacrifice themselves, their families, and innocent bystanders merely to inflict damage on American forces and innocent Iraqi citizens. Every day, they face an environment to test their physical limits, in 100-plus degree heat. We know it is very hot now. Those of us who have been to Iraq understand the kind of conditions with the heat and the sand and the conditions that are happening there that are, in many cases, unimaginable. They face an Iraqi Government that refuses to take responsibility for the future of the people of Iraq, one that leans on American forces instead of effectively partnering with them to allow our forces to step back and Iraqi security forces to step into the front line.

Our fighting forces are stretched to their limit. They are getting the job done and they are bravely doing that. We are proud of them. But by forcing multiple redeployments without proper rest, this administration has let them down. We have alienated countless foreign allies, squandered the international good will that was at our fingertips after the attacks of 9/11. We turned Iraq into a breeding ground and training school for terrorists, providing international rallying points for extremists. There was not an organized presence of al-Qaida in Iraq until this administration chose to invade.

The administration's own National Intelligence Estimate, released today--yesterday at this point--specifically notes that ``al-Qaida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qaida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland.''

This NIE reveals the sobering truth. Not only has this unnecessary war not increased the safety of the American people, but al-Qaida's recovery is a direct result of this administration's decision to invade Iraq. Meanwhile, conditions in Iraq have spiraled. The daily headlines of our newspapers seem to be ripped from the pages of a Greek tragedy: Suicide bombers; civil war; American soldiers unable to tell friends from foes; units serving second and third and now even fourth redeployments; American troops returning home physically mangled, emotionally drained, and psychologically injured; lives and families changed forever.

Five years ago, Americans had never heard of an IED or a traumatic brain injury. They are now part of our everyday news. We have paid the price in American lives--3,613 dead and 26,806 wounded. We have paid the price in misdirected resources. The billions we have spent in Iraq represent countless missed opportunities here at home, opportunities to strengthen our communities, schools, and hospitals, to create jobs and support our families. When I think of the fact that the latest numbers are now $12 billion a month being spent, and we will debate next week a children's health care plan that we want to fund at $10 billion a year--$12 billion a month versus $10 billion a year to cover every child of a working low-income family who doesn't have insurance in America--this is wrong.

We have also paid the price with our international reputation. America, the world's moral leader, has lost the faith of too many. The hearts and minds we needed to win have too often turned their backs on this administration's arrogance. For too long now, I have watched the Republican leadership engage in legislative games and political posturing to avoid taking an up-or-down vote on this war.

That is what we are asking for. Let us vote. Stop the filibuster and let us vote. They have turned their backs on their responsibilities to the people who elected them and to our troops--most important--and their families because they don't like that they may lose a vote. I have stood on the floor of the Senate time and again to voice my opposition to the war.

Sending more Americans into combat without a strategy for success will not improve the situation on the ground, and it will not bring our men and women in uniform home any sooner. Only the Iraqis can secure Iraq, and American troops cannot be seen as a substitute for Iraqi resolve.

The so-called surge has done nothing but reinforce this reality. We are rushing more American troops into combat every day and not seeing the increase in security that is needed. Why would we go farther down the path that has led us to this point? Why? Why would we repeat previous mistakes and call it a new strategy?

This administration failed our troops by committing them to this war without a clear reason or goal. This administration failed our troops by not having a clear mission for our armed services in Iraq. This administration has failed our troops by not providing the proper equipment, body armor, and logistical support for our forces. They failed our troops with poor planning for the invasion of Iraq and their total lack of planning for how to secure the country. They have failed our troops by sending them back into harm's way over and over and over again, without the proper rest between redeployments.

Our armed services have traveled a tough road since we invaded Iraq. They have shouldered a heavy burden with pride, patriotism, confidence, and honor. We have asked extraordinary things from them at every turn, and at every turn they have delivered magnificently. They have made us all proud. They have faced tough situations. They have made tough choices and done their duty. Now we need to do what is right for them.

Unlike the President, all of us go home and face our constituents--our neighbors. We see them at church, at the grocery store, at the kids' schools, and at events all over our States. They sent us here to be their voice. As we know, this is not Washington, DC's war. We may set policy here, we make speeches here, we take votes here, but this is America's war. The men and women putting their lives on the line in Iraq every day are from every size town and city--from farms and factory towns. There is no red or blue America when it comes to the war in Iraq. War knows no political party. Americans do not watch their nightly news or read about the troops that didn't make it home in their local papers and think, well, I am a Republican or a Democrat. They think I am an American, I want a change, I have had enough. Enough is enough.

We sit here in this historic Capitol while Republican colleagues filibuster and stop the Senate from voting yes or no on a proposal to change course and end this war. While we do that, communities across the country bury their loved ones, schools hold vigils for alumni laid to rest too young, churches comfort parishioners who have lost sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers.

We are the voices of these communities, of these towns and cities and counties. We were elected with their sacred trust to come to Washington and speak out for them, to make our mark for them on the issues that face them and face our country.

By continuing to stonewall a vote on this Levin-Reed amendment, the Republican minority has stripped all Americans of their voice in this debate. They have said to the people who elected us that this issue of war is not important enough to have their elected representatives vote yes or no on the substance.

Too often in the white noise of politics, we lose sight of the responsibilities we bear. We get bogged down in the politics of partisanship and lose sight of why we were elected.

I believe we owe it to the American people to take this vote--take the vote--not to just stop the filibuster but to have the vote on the policy. There is nothing more important or more pressing to the people of this country right now than this war. It is the responsibility of the Congress to engage in shaping the policy concerning the war on behalf of all of the American people.

The Levin-Reed amendment is as simple as it is necessary. It sets a firm start and end date to transition the mission and begin the reduction of U.S. forces, beginning 120 days after its enactment and completed April 30 of next year, 2008.

The amendment limits the U.S. military mission after April 30 to counterterrorism, training of Iraqi security forces, and protection of U.S. personnel and assets.

Finally, it requires that the reduction in forces be part of a comprehensive, diplomatic, regional, political and economic effort, and it appoints an international mediator to bring together the warring factions.

The President's strategy in Iraq has not worked. This war was started on a
false rationale. It was executed based on false assumptions. It has led to heartbreaking consequences.

Supporters of the war in Iraq have claimed that one of their goals is to spread democracy throughout the region--an ironic statement considering they are stifling the democratic process right here on the floor of the Senate. This issue is too serious not to take an up-or-down vote on changing policy. The American people want to bring our sons and daughters home. It is our job to vote yes or no and let them know where we stand, not to use parliamentary procedural votes to stand in the way of the people's will.

I have said it before and it remains true tonight: History will judge this administration on how they have waged this war. History will judge us on how we end it. We have all walked different paths to get to this point. Many of us were here when the war began. Some have joined this body in the intervening years. Many who today stand with us were once for the war. None of that matters at this point. What matters is the facts and what we are prepared to do about them. Are we prepared to stand up to the White House and say enough is enough? Enough is enough.

It is morning in Baghdad right now, and our troops are waking up or are on duty, another day on the front lines. The unpleasant truth is that too many American men and women will be wounded today while doing their jobs. Odds are that some will lose their lives in service to their country. But they are there, focused on their job. They are focused on their duty. They assume we are back here focusing on the mission and the strategy and making sure we get it right. They are counting on us to get it right, as they are focused on their jobs every day. They are getting the job done. Everybody who woke up in Iraq this morning and put on the uniform is a hero. Every day we let this war drag on is another day they are fighting without a strategy that works for them. We should all be able to agree that is simply unacceptable.

I would like to close with the same words I closed with in October of 2002. We have witnessed a lot in the last 5 years, but these words are as true tonight as they were then:

We are a strong and powerful nation, made that way by our willingness to go that extra mile in the name of liberty and peace. The time is now for us to work together in the name of the American people and get it right.

I urge my colleagues to vote to end the filibuster and support the Levin-Reed amendment.

I yield the floor.

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