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Public Statements

Change of Vote

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

CHANGE OF VOTE -- (Senate - September 20, 2007)


Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, as to the author of the amendment, no one should ever question his motivation, his patriotism. He has been a firm believer that we should be out of Iraq as soon as possible. Senator Feingold believes our continued presence in Iraq is creating more terrorism in terms of solving the problem; it is creating the problem in a larger sense. I personally disagree.

The reason al-Qaida went to Iraq is not because we were in Iraq. They went to Iraq because of what the Iraqi people are trying to do. We are all over the world. They have not followed us to every country we have been in. They have decided to make Iraq a central battlefront in their war against moderation because they fear a successful outcome among the Iraqis. The biggest fear of an al-Qaida member is that a group of Muslims will get together and be tolerant of each others' differences when it comes to religion, and elevate the role of a woman so she can have a say about her children. That is why al-Qaida is in Iraq.

The military surge has produced results beyond my expectation. The old strategy clearly was going nowhere. After about my third visit to Iraq, after the fall of Baghdad, I had lost faith in the old strategy and those who were proposing it was working. This new general has come up with a new idea. This is not more of the same with more people. You are getting out behind walls. You are getting out into the community. We are living with the Iraqi Army and police force--very good gains in terms of operational capabilities of the Iraqi Army. We are going to have to start all over with the police.

But the surge has allowed a real diminishment of the al-Qaida footprint in Anbar Province. Anytime Sunni Arabs turn on al-Qaida anywhere in the world, that is good news. So the surge has provided us a level of security not known before. It has been al-Qaida's worst nightmare. There is still a long way to go.

Senator Feingold's amendment would basically bring the surge to a halt. It would withdraw troops at a very rapid pace. We would be out of Iraq by June of next year. My big fear is, instead of reinforcing reconciliation, it would freeze every effort to reconcile and people would start making political decisions based on what happens to their country when there is no security.

The American mistake of the ages was letting Iraq get out of control, not having enough troops. We paid heavily for that mistake. Now we have it turned around. Militarily, politically they are not where they need to be in terms of the Iraqis. But the best way, I believe, to get political reconciliation to happen in Baghdad is to make sure those who are trying to reconcile their country--families--are not killed. So the better the security you can provide, the more likely the reconciliation.

One thing is for sure: more troops have helped embolden the Iraqi people in terms of extremists. They are taking on extremists after the surge better than they had ever done before the surge. I think this confidence given to the Iraqi people by a surge of military support has paid dividends.

We need political, economic, and military support to continue, not just because of Iraq but because of our own national interest. If I thought it were only about who ran Iraq, I would be willing to leave. It is not about who controls Iraq. It is about whether we can create a stable, functioning government in Iraq that would contain Iran and deny al-Qaida a safe haven. If it were only about sectarian differences and a power struggle for Iraq, it would be a totally different dynamic.

To me, Iran is ready to fill a vacuum. If we have a failed state, that is a military, political, and economic problem far worse than the ones we are dealing with now. A failed state is a state that breaks apart, people stop trying to work with each other, and regional players come in and take sides.

A dysfunctional government is what we have in Iraq, probably what we have here. A dysfunctional government has hope of getting better because people keep trying. So the way to have a government go from a dysfunctional status to a secure, stable status is to provide security. I want this dysfunctional government to act sooner rather than later, just as you do, I say to the Presiding Officer. The best way to make that happen is to ensure that the politicians involved understand we have a commitment to their cause that will embolden them.

The Feingold amendment, no matter how well intentioned, will reenergize an enemy on the mat and make it harder to reconcile Iraq. That is why I urge a ``no'' vote.

I yield back.



Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, the choice for the Congress is whether or not we retreat from a policy that appears to be working by adopting this amendment which would redeploy troops in a fashion very inconsistent with what we are doing on the ground.

What we are doing now is a long overdue change in strategy. We have more forces than we have ever had before, and they are very much needed.

The one thing I can say without any doubt is the old strategy, before the surge, was not producing the results we were hoping for in terms of security and political reconciliation. After about the third trip to Baghdad, it was obvious to me the game plan we had in place after the fall of Baghdad was not working. I was told time and time again, we have enough troops, the insurgency is in its last throes, and there are a few dead-enders. Well, that was the furthest thing from the truth.

The truth is the security environment in Iraq got completely out of hand, al-Qaida flourished under the old strategy, they were able to thrive in parts of Anbar, and it was evolving into complete chaos. Thank God we had the ability and the willingness as a nation, through our Commander in Chief and through this Congress, to appoint a new general with a new idea. The idea that he is employing now is long overdue. More troops have provided better security, and they have been able to accomplish this by partnering with the Iraqi Army in a new way.

The old strategy, which we are trying to go back to with this amendment, had us in a training role. We were living behind walls, training during the day, and pretty much disengaged from the fight. We are now out from behind those walls, living with the Iraqi troops in joint security stations all over Baghdad and all over the country. We are living, eating, training, and fighting with the Iraqi Army. And General Jones tells us they are getting better.

Anbar Province is dramatically different. Six months ago, it was reported by the Marine Corps to have been lost to the enemy called al-Qaida. Well, a couple of things happened that are indeed good news. No. 1, the people who lived in Anbar, who had a taste of al-Qaida life, decided they did not want to live that way. Why? Well, what happened in Anbar Province when al-Qaida was in charge? Awful, terrible, vicious things that really cannot even be talked about on the floor of the Senate. They imposed a way of life on the Anbar Sunnis that did not meet the test of human decency, and the people living in Anbar rejected al-Qaida because they overplayed their hand.

The difference between us and our enemy in Iraq, al-Qaida, is pretty obvious. This organization that is tied to bin Laden, but also has Iraqi members, they are the type of people if you don't do what they say, they will take the family out into the street, take a 5-year-old child in the presence of the parents, cover the child in gasoline, and set the child on fire. That is our enemy. That is the enemy of everybody who loves freedom and human decency. That happened in Anbar, and things like that happened time and time again.

The agenda that al-Qaida has for the world is a very dark view of the world, particularly for women. And, thank God, it has been rejected by those in Anbar. The surge gave the ability to those living in Anbar to make a choice they never had before. The additional military support provided by the surge came along at a magic moment in time when the people in Anbar were ready to take on al-Qaida. This additional combat capacity cannot be underestimated in terms of how it has changed Iraq. It certainly liberated Anbar from the clutches of al-Qaida. And the fact that Sunni Arabs are willing to turn on al-Qaida and join coalition forces is good news for the world.

This amendment would basically undo many of the successes we have had in terms of adding more combat power. Things are getting better around Baghdad. There is still a lot of fighting. Al-Qaida has not been completely vanquished, but they are certainly diminished. Iran is playing hard in Iraq right now. They understand what is going on on the floor of the Senate.

Why are the Iranians trying to kill American forces? What is the goal of the Iranian regime when it comes to Iraq? I think the goal is to drive us out. Does Iran want a completely chaotic Iraq? No. Does Iran want a representative government in Iraq? Absolutely not, because the biggest threat to this Iranian theocracy would be a representative government on their border where Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds would live together and elect their own leaders. The biggest threat to Syria, this dictatorship in Syria, would be a representative democracy on their border.

So if you are waiting on Iran and Syria to come in and help us form a moderate way of doing business, where people can elect their leaders and accept each other's differences and live together with tolerance, you can forget it because it is a threat to the dictatorships and the theocracies that exist.

I think it is in our national security interests to allow General Petraeus to continue a strategy that is bringing about better security than we have ever seen before. Now is not the time to pull back. Now is the time to recommit American forces, and the political, military, and economic power to finish the job that has been started.

I think the idea that the war in Iraq is a civil war just misses the boat. The truth is, there are many things going on in Iraq. Some of them are local to Iraq, but many of them have international implications and longstanding national security consequences for this country. Why did the Iranian President say he stood ready to fill any vacuum created in Iraq? Because he would like to expand his power. The question for us is, is it in our national security interest to allow a vacuum to be created?

Now, my good friend, Senator Levin, has a view that the more troops we have in Iraq, the longer we stay there with large numbers, the less likely the politicians in Baghdad will reconcile their differences through the political process. I have a totally opposite view. I understand what he is saying, but there is no evidence that less troops will provide quicker reconciliation. The Iraqis are dying three to one compared to our deaths and our injuries. The sacrifices of this country are enormous, but do not forget the Iraqi people are fighting and dying against extremist forces, and they are not indifferent to their fate.

The political reconciliation necessary to occur to bring this war to a successful conclusion has not occurred in Baghdad, but it is occurring at the local level. So, in my opinion, it is just a matter of time before the local reconciliation we see in Anbar and other places in Iraq comes to Baghdad. And the best pressure to put on any politician in any place in the world where people vote to elect their politicians is for all people to speak up and put pressure on their elected officials--not for Senator Graham or Senator Levin or Senator Clinton or Senator McCain to tell the Maliki government what to do, but their own people telling them what to do.

After being there eight times, the people in Iraq I meet are more war weary than ever. They are coming together more at the local level than at any other time. Better security is emboldening the Iraqi people to make the hard decisions that will eventually reconcile their country. The idea of terminating this operation now, putting a deadline or a timeline to withdraw will undercut everything we have achieved. The politicians will change their attitude. Instead of looking at how to reconcile their country, they will be looking at how to protect their families when the Americans leave.

So I am not for an unending, unlimited commitment of 160,000 troops. I am for keeping an American military presence in Iraq that helps my country--helps our country. We need to look at every decision we make in Iraq now and in the future from the viewpoint of, does it enhance our national security? Is it better to have 160,000 American forces in Iraq now to stabilize a dysfunctional government or is it better to bring them home, knowing the most likely result will be a failed state?

A dysfunctional government exists in Iraq and here in Washington. But there is a big difference between a dysfunctional government and a failed state. A dysfunctional government is one that keeps trying but fails to do the hard things. A failed state is a place where no one tries anymore. They go back to the corners of their own country and the regional players begin to take sides and you have absolute chaos. Iran is the biggest winner of a failed state because they will dominate the southern part of Iraq.

Another problem of a failed state is that the Kurds will likely go to war with Turkey over an independent movement in the north. If the Sunnis think they are going to win in Iraq and have the good old days of Saddam come back by using force, they are crazy and they are naive. If the Shias think they are going to create a theocracy in Iraq, like Iran, and no one will say anything about it, they misunderstand the region.

I am convinced all three groups are better off working together than trying to work apart. I know this: We are better off if they do that. If they break apart and this country becomes a failed state, 160,000 troops for a limited period of time will not be what our country will be faced with in terms of choices. We will have a large American military presence in the Mideast, containing a variety of conflicts that do not exist today because the problems in Iraq will spill over in the region.

I believe that is a likely consequence. That is a reasonable consequence of a failed state. I cannot promise that they will go from a dysfunctional government to a stable government, a secure government, one that is an ally on the war on terror with us that would reject al-Qaida and contain Iran. But I believe this: the best shot to bring that about is to continue the mission and the surge as planned out by General Petraeus, to continue the strategy that we have now that has shown results we have never known before. If we pull back now, it will undo all the accomplishments that have come from a lot of sacrifice, a lot of blood, and a lot of treasure.

At the end of the day, the Iraqi political leadership has to embrace the hard decisions necessary to pull their country together. They are more likely to do that when they are less worried about their families being killed as they reach across the aisle.

It is hard to reach across the aisle here. The Presiding Officer and I have worked on immigration. We know how hard it is. We will keep coming back and bringing up hard issues such as Social Security and immigration until we find a solution. But imagine reaching across the aisle in Iraq where the consequence would be that your family is murdered.

The better security we can bring about in terms of Iraq for the judges, the politicians, and the population as a whole, the more likely they are to do the hard things. And I do believe they are ready to do the hard things because they have had a hard life. The Iraqi people are not perfect. I don't think we realized how hard it was to have lived in that country under Saddam Hussein. The fear that if your daughter walked down the street, she might catch the eye of one of Saddam's sons; the way they have had to live under Saddam Hussein is unimaginable, and the chaos that they have experienced from al-Qaida coming there, throwing bombs at different mosques and bringing up old wounds has been very difficult to deal with. But they keep trying. When one police officer is killed, someone else takes their place. When an army person is killed, someone else joins the army. When a judge is assassinated, somebody else comes forward to be a judge.

They are trying. And I do believe, if we will continue the strategy employed by General Petraeus, even though political reconciliation is lagging behind security, it will not be much longer until the politicians in Baghdad embrace the hard decisions necessary to bring reconciliation to their country. And I believe that for a couple of reasons. No. 1, their people want it; and, No. 2, they have the opportunity now, through better security, to bring it about.

So to my good friend, Senator Levin, I understand exactly his concern. It is a judgment call. I think when you are dealing with extremists, when you are dealing with the Iranian President, the last thing in the world you do is to show weakness. You make sure they understand, al-Qaida and Iran, and any other extremist group, that America is going to do what is necessary to defend her vital interests and that we are going to stand with forces in moderation.

My biggest fear, if we begin to withdraw now and redeploy to the old mission, is that all of those who have risked their lives to help us will surely meet the fate of that 5-year-old boy. And that is not in our national interest. That is not the right thing to do. We will come home. But as Senator McCain says, we need to come home with honor. Equally important, we need to come home with a more secure America.

I think we are on the road to bringing about withdrawal with honor and a more secure America by having a more stable Iraq. The worst thing to do now is to go back to a strategy that has failed when the one that we have in place is beginning to work.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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