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Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - Assessment of the Administration's September Report


Location: Washington, DC



SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

When I got the invitation, I thought somebody in my office was pulling my leg. Why would any committee want to hear from me about anything? And I was really honored. I mean -- and after sitting here, I'm going to be much nicer to witnesses, because this is intimidating. (Laughs.) And you all have been very nice to me, so I'm going to remember the experience.

So Ileana, thanks for having me over.

And Congressman Lantos, Tom --

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Actually I thought it was Bob Graham, from Florida, I was inviting. (Laughter.)

SEN. GRAHAM: Oh, okay, yeah, you know, that explains it. I always wondered how this happened. And Bob would have made a good witness.

And Richard, I'll be quick, because following Richard -- preceding Richard Holbrooke is kind of an honor too.

So these things that you don't think ever happen to you -- well, I get to testify before Congress about something important to people I know. And some of you I know much better than others and I respect you all.

And Tom, when we lost your support for the operation, that was a pretty big blow. Because I do respect you, your background and, you know, you've seen evil up close and personal, unlike most of us.

Where to go and how to get there -- and I'll just be as brief as I can about the war -- why we did it -- most members of Congress who voted for authorizing the potential use of military force spoke pretty strongly that Saddam Hussein was defying the U.N. resolutions, that he was a threat, that he may be acquiring weapons of mass destruction. And I don't know how many resolutions were passed trying to control his behavior, but he seemed to ignore them all. And the oil-for-food program, we now know, was sort of a joke when it comes to reining in his personal ability to survive.

So as we look back in history and have the benefit of hindsight, some people who voted for the war say if I know now -- if I knew then what I know now, I'd have changed my vote -- all I can tell you is that if the United Nations is going to be relevant in the future when it comes to people like Saddam Hussein -- and they're everywhere. I mean, he's not only bad person that inhabited the planet. But when we focus on these people, when the U.N. focuses like a laser, that we want to know what you're doing with your weapons program, don't kick inspectors out -- when you have one resolution after another -- the fear I have is if we don't learn from all of our mistakes, we'll repeat greater mistakes.

The United Nations is more relevant than ever and needed more than ever. So I hope we'll understand that if you look back into the history of Iraq versus the U.N., that if nothing happened to him -- now, we can debate what that something should have been -- it would have over time marginalized the U.N.

The one thing I can assure you, that Saddam Hussein was not intent on the status quo. So let's look at history honestly and say, should we allow the inspectors to go back in and stay longer? That's the debate that's off the table, but that would have been one way to handle the situation. Most members of Congress that I listened to were ready to go a different method, because they passed a resolution that clearly would allow the commander in chief to go a course other than using a resolution. And I thought that was appropriate, given the history of Saddam versus the United Nations. Because the worst thing we could have happen on this planet at this moment in time is to take an international organization that stands for the good and make it irrelevant. So I think that's why we had to do what he had to do.

Now, the mistakes we've made. The biggest mistake we made, I think, after the fall of Baghdad is we didn't have enough troops. One thing John McCain said that just struck me like a bolt of lightning when I was over in Baghdad with him on the first visit -- he turned to Ambassador Bremer and he says, "You got to start shooting these looters."

Well, that's a good way to start the meeting. But he wasn't joking.

Right after the fall of Baghdad, you could move around the city, went rug shopping. Things were still very unstable, but you could see every trip that I took that things were progressively getting worse. Places that we could go before, we couldn't go the last -- the next time. And you went over there with a very small security footprint, and on my fifth visit I was in a tank. And I kept coming back, as we have these hearings, and I was asking General Casey and Abizaid and others: "What's going on? Do we have enough troops?" "Oh, we've got enough troops. Everything is fine."

"A few dead-enders." Remember that? "We're in the last throes of the insurgency." Well, I'm a military lawyer. My two weeks in Iraq are just absolutely insignificant. I went over there to work on detainee issues, something that I have some personal background regarding, and I want to make whatever small contribution I can. If you want to court-martial somebody, I can help you. But I have no idea about how to fight an insurgency, or to plan an invasion of a country. So I do rely on generals.

But here's the one thing that I recommend to everybody in this body: When a general comes to testify, ask them hard questions. Don't assume because of the stars that they know it all. Use your common sense and apply it to what you hear. And after six or seven visits, my common sense did not allow me to believe that we had the right strategy in place. They were -- if this was a few dead-enders, they were the most resilient dead-enders in the world. And I would ask: How many insurgents are there? The number would never get over 5,000. Just add up the number of people we killed, it was over 5,000. The math didn't work out.

It was clear to me that after the fall of Baghdad, Secretary Rumsfeld had decided on a small military footprint, that we were not going to get into this nation-building stuff, and the Iraqis would meet us and hug us and greet us, and it would all fall into place.

I stand before you as having been wrong myself. I thought it would have been much easier than it was. I never anticipated it getting so out of hand. But after about the second visit, you could see it was getting out of hand. So the biggest mistake we made early on is not appreciating the situation on the ground and allowing it to develop into a place where we are now having to deal with a chaotic situation.

So, change of course. Everybody wants the change of course. We've adopted a change of course. Much to my political detriment, when I would come home and say -- it's not the media's fault. You know, the Republican thing to do was go to Iraq and talk about all the good things that no one tells you about because the media just tells you about the bad things. Well, it was deeper than that. It was much deeper than that. The sergeants and the colonels and everybody else in between was telling us, "This thing is getting out of hand, sir." A couple of years ago, I asked a guy, "Sergeant, how's it going?" He said, "Sir, I feel like I'm riding around, waiting to get shot." That was the old strategy: not enough people, training the Iraqi forces, living behind the walls, and the security situation is getting out of hand.

Now, ran an ad that made a lot of us mad. Well, there are things said about me every day that makes me mad. That's democracy. It's hard, in this environment, to find a political middle ground, because the voices are so loud, and people are so passionate. And God bless people that want to come here and have a say. It makes it harder to meet in the middle on anything controversial, like immigration, like the war, like Social Security, like Medicare. We're afraid of getting political opponents and losing our jobs -- not an unhealthy thing in a democracy, to listen to people and have some calculation for their interests.

But listen closely, people, please. Whatever problems we have to solve hard problems, imagine your family getting killed being part of the equation. You will never have a successful outcome in Iraq until there's better security, and to think otherwise just defies human nature.

We'll solve immigration one day, Dana. I don't know how we're going to do it, but we'll find a way, because America needs to solve that problem. We're going to find a solution to Social Security and Medicare. If you put benchmarks on this Congress and the next year you had to solve Social Security, Medicare and immigration to be a successful operating body, maybe we would do it, but it would be hard for us.

The way forward. A million troops in Iraq will not affect the outcome, long-term. It's not about having a million American troops in there to bring about a democracy. Democracy will never come by a large military presence in Iraq forever.

Thirty thousand troops may help bring about democracy. The difference between the old strategy and the new strategy is an additional 30,000 combat troops to be used in a different way. The reason I'm optimistic today versus any other time that I've been involved with this issue is that we found a general who, in my opinion, knows what he's doing and has produced results I've never seen before. Of all the deterioration I saw between the fall of Baghdad until Petraeus came along, I see a reversal of that deterioration, slowly but surely.

To go to Ramadi is a big deal. What do you find when you go to Ramadi? One, you don't get shot at. Two, you can go. Three, you got a town blown apart. So the Ramadi story is a hopeful story, but it's a reality check. Going to Ramadi, to walk down the streets of Ramadi, is the result of the surge.

And the Sunni Arabs who lived in Anbar province made a decision that we cannot take credit for. It is not fair for us to take credit for Sunni Arabs turning on al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has to take credit for that.

Have you seen the story about the young man that was doused with gasoline? That was done in Anbar province. The al Qaeda members suspected this family of collaborating with Americans. They brought the family out. They took the kid in front of the parents, poured gasoline all over him, set him on fire, and he survived, while he's horribly mangled. But he's here, enjoying American health care with his family and a level of security he's never known before. That's why people in Anbar said no to al Qaeda.

Now, the reason they were able to successfully say no to al Qaeda is because we came along with a new strategy, a new tactic that empowered those decisions. The Marines, 4,000 Marines, who went to Anbar province empowered people who were ready to say no to al Qaeda. And if they were not there, they could not have said no, in my opinion.

So combat power can affect choices. Combat power alone will never affect the choice until the people get ready to make it. They were ready to make it in Anbar by saying no to al Qaeda.

Now, what does that mean -- that Iraq is a democracy? Absolutely not. It means that tribal sheikhs and those who lived under al Qaeda had enough of it. That's all it means. Does it mean they're reconciling their nation with Shi'as in Baghdad and the Kurds in the North? No.

But here's why it's important. For a Sunni group anywhere in the world to look al Qaeda in the eye and fight them is a good thing for this overall war. Don't misunderstand how important that is, that al Qaeda plays off religious fears. Al Qaeda creates religious turmoil. They're a religious-based organization that has a view of religion that everybody in this room would get killed if it was up to them to kill us. Being a Jew, a moderate Muslim or Christian is a death sentence.

But the people in Anbar of the same Sunni sect of Islam do not want to follow their lead. They do not want to follow the al Qaeda agenda. We need to celebrate that; we need to reinforce it. And when you say no to al Qaeda, they try to kill you. Look what happened last week. So our goal is to maintain the successes that we have earned, through a different strategy, until the Iraqi people can do what they need to do to reconcile their country.

History will judge us, Mr. Chairman, by not when we left but by what we left behind.

Now, why did I say 90 days? Why did I say that if not -- if there is no major reconciliation within 90 days, this government may go into the land of a failed state? And let me, if I can very quickly, talk about the difference between a dysfunctional government and a failed state. For anybody to go to Iraq and say this government is not dysfunctional, is just not looking.

They're very dysfunctional, Bob, and you've mentioned that many times. They have a hard time bringing anything to closure, unlike us -- (laughs) -- or like us.

But here's why we'll solve immigration one day: We'll keep trying. A dysfunctional government is a group of people who have a hard time deciding big issues but they don't quit. A failed state is when a group of people in a country go to their separate corners, they no longer try, and their goal is to dominate the other.

If we get into a failed state, whatever problems we experience now in Iraq get exponentially worse. A failed state to me, Mr. Chairman, is a nightmare of unimaginable proportions. If the Shi'as break away from the rest of the country and align themselves with Iran in a loose alliance, then every Sunni Arab state in the region is going to feel pressure they do not feel today, and I envision a conflict of a greater proportion with Iran, beginning with the actors in the region leading the way.

If the Kurds believe they can separate from the rest of Iraq and live tranquilly in the North in an independent state status, they're fooling themselves and they're creating a major problem for us, because Turkey's not going to sit on the sideline and let that happen. That's what happens when you have a failed state.

When the Kurds no longer engage the Sunnis and the Shi'as and they go their own way, they're running right into the teeth of Turkey. And when the Shi'as pick up their ball and go home and run to the south and try to get their big brother Iran to take care of them, the problems get worse exponentially.

And when the civil war that you describe, Congressman, between Sunnis and Shi'as gets really hot and really on every street corner undeniable, a full-blown Sunni civil war -- Shi'a civil war in the heart of Baghdad, where you got 4 million Shi'a and 2 million Sunnis, the Sunni Arabs are not going to sit on the sidelines and watch their Sunni brothers get slaughtered. When they stop trying, Mr. Chairman, is when this war gets bigger. And that's when we have more troops, not less.

Now, there is a way, in my opinion, to avoid that catastrophic result. That is to allow General Petraeus to continue the military operations with the troops he's requested, and at the same time, this Congress and this international community have a surge of its own.

Why do I think 90 days is so important? If we can avoid a date for withdrawal, a mandated withdrawal, if we can assure the Iraqi people and politicians that we're with them for the long haul -- militarily, politically and economically -- then the situation is (right/ripe ?) for people to come together and make the hard decisions they've yet had to make.

I would argue the reason we haven't had reconciliation yet, it's a lawless country and it's very hard to do a political deal if you don't know the United States is going to be there to back up that deal. If I'm a politician in Iraq and I think America's going to be gone a year from now, I can promise you I'm going to deal with people across the aisle differently. If I'm a politician in Iraq and I know that I'm going to have a valuable ally there helping me execute any deal to bring my country together, I'm going to -- I'm going to look at things anew.

General Petraeus believes we can bring troops home in April or before.

And you know why? Because of the success in Anbar.

Very quickly, Mr. Chairman, in all of 2006, 1,000 people joined the police force in Anbar; this year, 12,000 people have joined the police in Anbar -- that is a huge event, ladies and gentlemen. It means not only did they turn on al Qaeda; they've created infrastructure in Anbar that will allow them to maintain the gains they have made without a large troop presence on the U.S. side forever.

So I am looking for more of that. I am looking not only for reconciliation at the local level to move up to the top, I'm looking for the army to get better, and General Jones says the army's getting better. The reason the army's getting better is because we've been out from behind the walls, we're living in joint security stations day in and night with these people, and we're training them in a different way by being out with them in the fight living with them. That is the way to bring about results. The army is better because our Army is engaging differently. And if we'll continue this course, their army will mature quicker and we'll be able to go to a different mission sooner. If we get behind the walls and do the strategies that we were employing for three and a half years, we're going to get the same results.

Now, what does it mean to continue with what General Petraeus has recommended? Dying. What is the cost of this surge? Sixty to 90 combat deaths a month. Play it out to July. There are going to be hundreds of Americans killed as part of this surge between now and July, when it begins to ramp down. It's $9 billion a month for us to stay there. And when it's all said and done, there will be 100,000 American troops in Iraq this time next year.

Now, that's why I asked the question to General Petraeus. I want America to know that I'm not some cheerleader for a policy that doesn't have consequence. The consequence of the surge to hundreds of Americans means that they will never grow old and raise a family. The consequences to the taxpayer is it's $9 billion a month that's not going to your community; it's going somewhere else to build up a community of people that you don't even know.

And to the military, it means you better get used to being in the Mideast, because you're going to be there for a while. The only reason I support this is because I've come to the conclusion that if we don't get it right, the price is going to be far greater.

Mr. Chairman, if the Iranian government had a nuclear weapon, I don't know what they would do with it. It's in all of our interests that they not acquire one. The president of Iran tells us in most public of all forums --

HECKLER: Iran -- (off mike) --

REP. LANTOS: I ask members of the audience to be seated or leave.

SEN. GRAHAM: -- and I don't mean to play off for comment -- (laughs) --

HECKLER: (Off mike.)

SEN. GRAHAM: I believe Iran is the threat. I believe that history teaches us one thing, Mr. Chairman, that if we had believed Adolf Hitler in the '20s, we'd have been better off.

Now, compare the writings of Hitler to the statements of the president of Iran and to bin Laden.

I believe that this is not just about Iraq. If this were about who would run Iraq when we left, I would leave. This is not about who's going to run Iraq. This is about whether or not Iraq creates momentum for moderation or extremism.

Mr. Chairman, if we can leave Iraq one day where moderation prevails over extremism, the Sunnis, the Shi'as and the Kurds finally understand they can live better together than they can apart, Iran is contained and al Qaeda is rejected by Sunnis in Iraq, that's a very major victory in the war on terror. If we leave Iraq where there is a vacuum to be filled by Iran, you know better than anybody else what follows. If we leave Iraq separated as a failed state, al Qaeda is likely to dominate and kill everybody who helped us for the last six months.

I want to come home as much as anybody. I want to leave with honor, as Senator McCain says. But more than anything else, I want to leave with America stronger, not weaker. And I don't want the next generations of Americans paying for mistakes that happened yet again on my watch.

I learned from the first mistake. We didn't have enough people. I hope we'll all learn that the new strategy is not more of the same. It's fundamentally different. It's paying off and given some time, it will work.

I'll make a prediction, then I'm going to leave. In the next 90 days, there will be political reconciliation at the central government level that you will hail as substantial. The reason I believe that is because the people of Iraq are war-weary. They see a commitment by America that's sustainable. They're getting tired of the killing. They don't want to send their kids to school, worrying if they'll ever come back. Al Qaeda's overplayed its hand, and local reconciliation is undeniable all over the country.

It will not be long before the Sunnis and the Shi'as and the Kurds sit down in Iraq, in Baghdad, and begin to share the natural resources. The Sunnis have no oil. The Shi'as would be smart to give them some. The Sunnis need to understand that the Shi'as were oppressed in the Saddam era. They would be smart to create a government where that could never happen again. The Kurds would be really smart to make sure that the Sunni-Shi'a conflict is contained and that they would have a viable, long-standing future in Iraq without having to worry about Turkey.

It has been my opinion and it is in their interest to live together in a loose confederation. Whatever you want to call it, it's better than breaking apart. If your goal as a Shi'a is to dominate Iraq through a religious theocracy, your goal will never be realized, because the Sunni Arab states won't allow it, and it's just never going to happen.

If you're a Sunni wanting the good old days of Saddam back, where you ran the show, it ain't happening. It will never happen. And if you're a Kurdish member of Iraq and you think you can ignore what's going on in the south and you'll live fine without ever having to worry about what happens below you, you're fooling yourself. That realization has taken on at the local level and it's going to move its way up to the central government level.

We can choose in the next week to change the Petraeus plan the way we would like to run the war, give a mission to our military that we think is best, or we can sustain what's going on and allow the general to move forward based on the decisions he believes is best military, politically and economically.

Choose wisely. God bless.


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