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Providing for the Safe Redeployment of United States Troops From Iraq -- Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I think the Senator from Oklahoma will return in a moment. If it would be appropriate, I would suggest that he go. I think he will go next, followed by myself, a Democrat, then Senator Sessions.

I will get started. Senator Coburn, I think, has been to Iraq just a week or so ago. I look forward to hearing what he has to say about the condition on the ground as he found it.

And to my friend, Senator Feingold, one thing I think all of us should agree upon is that you pushed this idea of withdrawing from Iraq for a very long time. There is no question in my mind that you are very sincere, that you believe it makes America stronger not weaker, and that if the polls were 90-10 to stay, you would be doing this, simply because that is what motivated you as a Senator.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for what makes you tick as a Senator. I know you take on some very difficult challenges, sometimes not popular, and this particular piece of legislation, I think, is ill-advised. I will speak for a while as to why it should be defeated.

But the author of the amendment is consistent, is as patriotic as anybody else who will speak, and we need more of this, not less. So what is the Senate all about? We are talking about important things. There are a million things going on in this country that need to be addressed. But I think taking some time to talk about Iraq, where we are, where we are going to go, and how we are going to get there is probably time well spent. I think most Americans are very interested in the outcome in Iraq.

Having just returned from Iraq, I think Senator Coburn can give us his view of what he found.

I yield the floor and will speak after he is through.


Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I returned Thursday of last week from Iraq after my tenth visit. A year ago this time I quite honestly thought we were going to lose this thing--incredibly depressed, because you could see over about a 2 1/2 to 3-year period it getting worse with each visit. Things have changed dramatically. But it is important for every Senator to put Iraq in context so their constituents and the Nation can judge what our proposals are and what makes us tick on Iraq.

I believe Iraq is the central battlefront, not the only one, in the overall struggle against radical Islamic terrorism. At the time Saddam Hussein was invaded and replaced, it wasn't to drive al-Qaida out of Iraq, absolutely not. It was a dictator who had created war and chaos in the region as long as he had been a dictator, who had defied 17 U.N. resolutions to let us inspect his weapons program. It was the Russians, the French, and every other intelligence organization in the world believing that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It was basically neutering the effectiveness of the U.N. The Oil for Food Program designed to help the Iraqi people and control the dictator was a joke. So the reason we invaded Iraq is because the dictator was defying the world. He made us want to believe he was trying to procure weapons. Because if he wasn't, he should have opened his country to inspection. He was living off the Oil for Food Program.

We had 70 something Senators vote to authorize force. The reason most of us voted that way is because all the evidence possessed by everybody in the world suggested that Saddam Hussein was not becoming the solution to the Mideast; he was still the problem.

What happened? We displaced the dictator and we got it very badly wrong after the fall of Baghdad. We had a model that was short on troops. There was a period of time when we allowed the country to become lawless. Instead of stopping looting and pillaging, we let it gro w. We disbanded the Iraqi Army, and they could have been helpful, at least some of them. We made a lot of mistakes after the fall of Baghdad. For about 3 years plus, we were pursuing a strategy that was not producing results. Why? Because we didn't have enough troops. The enemy was getting stronger, not weaker.

We had a great debate last year as to whether we should change course. Everybody in the body suggested we change course, because it was clear the old strategy was not working and it was depressin g to go to Iraq and hear the people in charge on the ground say things are fine, when you knew they weren't.

I am not a military commander. I am a military lawyer. But common sense would have told you a couple years ago that this thing was slipping away. So it was time to act and change course. There were two ways to do it. You could pull the plug and start pulling people out or you could add more troops to secure the Nation in a way that we should have done after the fall of Baghdad.

I will take responsibility for my point of view of not pushing harder early on to have more troops. But I can promise you this: For a couple years, along with Senator McCain, we pretty much were the lone voices to add more into Iraq. As the polling numbers on Iraq changed, the desire to add more troops dramatically got more difficult for a politician. But that is what we needed. I am here to tell you a year after the surge began that those who said the war in Iraq was lost were wrong. Those who said the surge had failed last April before it even started were wrong. Senator Feingold passionately believes that the troop presence in Iraq should change, and he was suggesting withdrawal long before it was popular. There are some people who have been playing Iraq for the next election, not for the next generation or the next decade. They have made bold statements such as it is all lost, that we have lost in Iraq. They never told us who won, because wars are about winning and losing.

If you believe, as I do, that this is a battle in a greater war, could you afford to lose? What is the price to the United States to lose a battle against al-Qaida anywhere in the world? What would it cost us as a nation for al-Qaida to be able to stand on every street corner in the Middle East and tell people: We drove the Americans out of Iraq? They came to Iraq after the fall of Baghdad for the very reason we went into Iraq, except with a different result in mind. We wanted to replace the dictator and allow people in Iraq who ha d been oppressed for 30-something years to have a better life and ally themselves with us and be a peaceful neighbor rather than an agent for destruction in the region. We wanted to allow a woman to have a say about her children. We wanted Sunnis and Shias to be able to live together and prosper. We wanted a peaceful Iraq.

Al-Qaida saw what we were doing, and they came in droves to make sure we were not successful. The question has to be: Why does bin Laden care about Iraq? Why is he sending everybody h e can get to go into Iraq? Why is he disappointed with the performance of al-Qaida in Iraq? Because he said the land of the two rivers is the great battle of our time. The land of the two rivers is Iraq. Bin Laden, no matter what you think about him, understands the consequences of us succeeding in Iraq. It is a nightmare to his way of doing business. The thought of a woman being able to run for office, hold office, have a say about her children is a nightmare. The idea that Sunni, Shias, and Kurds can live together and not be told how to worship God is an absolute affront to his way of thinking. The idea that the Iraqi people would align themselves with us for a peaceful Mideast must drive him crazy.

They came, al-Qaida, with a mission in mind. That was to drive us out and kill this effort at moderation. Thank God the President changed course with a mission in mind. We put more troops on the ground beginning last February. A year later I am here to tell my colleagues, it worked. All of those who said we had lost in Iraq and the surge had failed were absolutely wrong. Thank God we didn't listen to them. Because if we had left Iraq, al-Qaida, as sure as I am standing here, would be claiming all over the world they beat America. Iran would be the biggest winner, second only to al-Qaida. And Iraq would be a chaotic place where the Sunni-Shia fight would spill over to the region. If you think there is a problem now between Turkey and the Kurdish rebels up in the north, imagine a collapsed Iraq. What is that wor th to prevent? Let me tell you what it is worth. It is worth everything we have to throw at it.

Let's talk about the troops for a minute. We all appreciate them. I don't doubt that one bit. But answer this question: Why do they reenlist after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan at higher levels than anywhere else in the military? What do they see that we don't see? Why do they keep going back the second and third and fourth time?

My opinion is: They get it. They understand their commitment and their sacrifice now will prevent their children from having to go to such a battle in the future. And they buy this idea that if we can contain extremism and defeat it in Iraq, we are safer here at home. They believe it so much they keep going and going and going.

Let me tell you something no one said yet: Well done. We should take this 30 hours and celebrate what I think is the most successful military counterinsurgency operation in the history of the world. We should take the 30 hours and go over in detail what the commanders and the troops under their command have accomplished. It is a phenomenal story that will be talked about in military history for decades to come. It has exceeded every expectation I had. Adding more troops into Iraq, I thought, was essential and would matter, but I never dreamed it would matter this much.

Let's talk about what has happe ned since the surge began.

Monthly attack levels have decreased 60 percent since June of 2007 and are now at the same levels as early as in 2005 and some points of 2004. In other words, we are rolling back the clock on attacks.

Civilian deaths are down approximately 75 percent since a year ago, dropping to a level not seen since the beginning of 2006.

Now, what does that mean? The better security, the more likely the Iraqi people will step up to the plate and reconcile their differences. I have always believed that was the key to stabilizing Iraq.

Now, when we try to do things such as immigration--and my good friend in the chair knows how hard that is--they run awful ads against you and say terrible things about you on the radio and make life pretty difficult for a politician to take on the hard things. Everybody likes doing the easy things. Very few of us like doing the hard things. But when you do the hard things, you get a lot of push-back. But we keep trying.

Imagine trying to sit down a cross the table or the aisle with someone of a different sect, and they kill your family. Now, what kind of world is that? The violence in Iraq had gotten so out of control that the idea of political reconciliation, to me, was impossible. To expect people to go to Baghdad and solve their nation's problems--because the threat of violence covered the country, I knew we would never get reconciliation. But here is what I hoped.

I hoped if we could turn this around and reduce civilian casualties and reduce the level of attacks and reduce sectarian deaths--which have decreased by 90 percent in the Baghdad security districts; listen to this: a 90-percent reduction in sectarian killings in Baghdad--I always believed if we could do that, the Iraqi people would rise to the occasion because they do want a new Iraq. That was my bet. That was my hope. And if they do not want it as much as I want it, or more than I want it, then it is never going to happen.

But here is the evidence, after a year of sacrifice, blood, an d treasure--not just by us but by the Iraqi people. Their army and security forces have increased by 100,000.

Let me tell you what it is like to go to the recruiting station in Berkeley. You get pushed back because of the city council ordinance.

Let me tell you what it was like to go to the recruiting station in parts of Iraq a year ago. They were killing people who were trying to join the army and security forces. They were attacking recruiting stations. They were getting the names of those who want ed to join the army and security forces, and they were coming after their families; and they still came.

I have been to Iraq 10 times, and I can tell you, I met people the first couple visits who are now dead because the terrorists killed them. Because what the people were trying to do is create a moderate form of living that is an absolute nightmare for al-Qaida.

I have always believed, after having gone there so many times, that the Iraqi people are willing to die for their own freedom, and if the y can pull this off, it makes me and my family and my country safer. So that is why we stay, that is why we fight. And we are winning.

What has happened in the last 60 to 90 days? Not only have we reduced the level of attacks by 60 percent--and civilian deaths are down by 75 percent and sectarian deaths are down by 90 percent--we have doubled the amount of weapons caches found because we are getting better information from the population. They are telling us things they did not tell us before.

Ten of the eighteen provinces have been taken over by Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi security forces grew by 100,000 in 2007 and stand now at more than half a million.

All I can tell you is the Iraqi people have taken the opportunity we provided them with the surge to stand up for their own freedom. They are dying at 3 to 1 our rate. They have paid a heavy price. Our country has paid a heavy price. But the reason the Iraqis keep coming after somebody falls is because they want a better way.

If I had to put in a story line the most important aspect of the surge, it would be as follows: A Muslim country made up of different Islamic sects turned on al-Qaida. Listen to that. With better security and a strong commitment from the United States that we will be your ally, we will not leave you, we will not abandon you to this vicious enemy, they slowly but surely turned on al-Qaida, beginning in Anbar and now marching throughout the whole country.

What does that mean for the overall war on terror? That is something we should be on the floor celebrating because the way you win this war is not: Kill every terrorist. The way you win this war is: You stand by forces of moderation and you give them the ability and the tools to change their own destiny.

Look what has happened. Anbar Province, a year ago, was determined lost by the Marine Corps. This year, they celebrate a 5-K run through the streets of Ramadi. Why? Because the sheiks, the tribal leaders, the average citizen said no to al-Qaida, aligned th emselves with us, and al-Qaida has been diminished in great measure.

To those who want to defeat al-Qaida, stay with the Iraqi people and help them defeat al-Qaida. What a message to the Mideast: Muslims turn on al-Qaida with American support. What is that worth? That is priceless. That is how we win the war.

GEN David Petraeus should have been the man or person of the year. What he has accomplished in a year absolutely is stunning, militarily. It has come at a heavy price in blood and treasure. But to all those who have served under his command, congratulations. You have made military history. You have made your country safer. You have been al-Qaida's worst nightmare. And we are not going to let the Congress undercut you.

Now, the surge was not just about killing al-Qaida. The surge was about providing better security so the Iraqi people could bu ild capacity to defeat their own enemy, enemies within their country, and reconcile themselves.

There have been major benchmarks out there for political reconciliation for quite a while. I said in October of last year, if I do not see progress by January or February of 2008, I am going to reevaluate my position vis-a-vis the Iraqi central government. One thing I can tell you, after a year, and going into March of 2008, the Iraqi political reconciliation has astonished me.

They have passed the debaat hification law, and they deserve credit for it. What does it mean? It means Sunnis who held jobs in the Government during the Saddam era are going to be allowed to get some of their jobs back. What does that mean in real terms? That means the Shias and the Kurds have looked at a former oppressive group--people who ran Saddam's government--and said: Come on back. Let's build a new Iraq.

My God, what a statement to make. How hard that must have been for people who have lived under the thumb of Saddam Hussei n and the people who ran his government, to turn to that same group and say: Let's move forward. Come back and help us build a new Iraq.

A provincial powers law just passed. What does that mean? It means the central government in Iraq, where the Shias dominate, has allowed the opportunity for local elections to occur in October of this year, hopefully.

That means that the Sunnis in Anbar can actually elect their own local leadership. They can elect people to send to Baghdad to represent their interests.

That means the Shias in the south are going to have a chance to elect their equivalent of a mayor, a county councilman, a Governor.

It means the central government, dominated by Shias, has turned to every province in Iraq--Sunni, Shia, and Kurd--and said: Instead of us running your life, you elect your local leaders.

That means they bought into this idea of democracy, where people vote for whom they want to make local decisions.

Here is what I predict: that in 2008 there will be provincia l elections, and there will be a huge turnout. In 2005, the Sunnis boycotted the elections in Iraq because they were not certain that democracy was for them, and they were afraid of being left out. It is the Sunnis who are pushing for local elections, and they were able to win in Baghdad.

They passed a $48 billion budget--something we cannot do. A $48 billion budget has been passed, with the blessing of all groups, that will allow money to flow from Baghdad to reconstruct the country in every corner.

Can you imagine how hard that must be for a group of people who have lived under a dictator who have never had that responsibility before and who have been suffering from violence inspired by al-Qaida, sectarian in nature? They were able to overcome that hatred and that bitterness that has been inspired by al-Qaida and say to each other: Here is the money of the country. You get your share.

That is progress. That is hope. That is al-Qaida's worst nightmare.

The one that means the most to me is that the ge neral amnesty law was recently passed. I have been a military lawyer for 25 years and a student of history to some extent. What happened in Baghdad is astonishing. The prisons are full of insurgents. People aligned themselves with the insurgency during this lawless period. Blood has been taken and shed from each group, one to the other. Most of the people in jail are Sunnis. There are more and more Shia militia, but right now it is Sunnis.

The central government in Baghdad passed a general amnesty law w here a committee will be formed of all groups to go through the files of those in prison to allow them to come back home and be part of the new Iraq. That is a level of forgiveness and a desire to start over that had to be incredibly difficult because there is nothing sweeter than revenge.

The people who were on the bottom in Iraq for a long time, the Shias and the Kurds, and those in the Sunni world who were trying to basically prevent Iraq from coming together as one, have now seen it is better for th em to chart a new destiny, a new course together.

They have a long way to go, and they are going to be fought at every turn.

If you understand nothing else from this speech, as Senator McCain would say, understand this: al-Qaida is diminished, but they are not defeated. Their goal tonight or tomorrow or the next day is to create a spectacular atta ck that will make headlines all over the world, and people in this body will respond to those headlines and try to change course in policy. I would argue the worst thing we could do is allow one of the most vicious movements in the history of mankind to change American foreign policy because they have the ability and the desire to commit mass murder. So beware of al-Qaida. They are diminished, but they are not yet defeated, and they know they can't win in Iraq, but they are still not sure they can't win in Washington. They are not going to win in Anbar. They are not going to win in Baghdad, they are not going to win in Fallujah, they are not going to win in Diyala, and they are not going to win in Basra. But the question is, Can they still win in Washington? I hope the answer after this debate is no. If we would take winning in Washington off the table, reconciliation in Iraq would go at a faster pace, not a slower pace.

Economic progress in the last year: Oil production in Iraq has risen by 50 percent ov er what it was a year ago. Oil production is up 50 percent because of better security. Oil revenues are double what they were a year ago, and the Iraqi central government has shared the resources with everybody in the country. Inflation has fallen from 66 percent to less than 5 percent in a year. What does better security buy you? It buys you a functioning economy, political reconciliation, and better military security. Electricity demand is up more than 25 percent since last year. People are purchas ing, they are buying, they are building hopeful lives. There are 21 new health clinics in Baghdad, 1,885 new schools, and 604 refurbished schools throughout Iraq.

People say: What about South Carolina? What about the schools in South Carolina? Lord knows we have our fair share of educational challenges in South Carolina and, like every other place in the country, we could use more money. But I am here to tell my constituents that the price to be paid in blood and treasure in the future losing Iraq is fa r greater than the price we are paying now, in my opinion. If I did not believe it, I would not say it. If the men and women in uniform didn't believe it, they wouldn't go back time and time and time again. If we can continue this model that has produced dramatic success beyond my imagination, we will win in Iraq, and everybody in this body, their families, and our Nation as a whole will be safer for the experience because it means al-Qaida lost.

Al-Qaida came to Iraq with a purpose: to undermine this e ffort at moderation, stability. They came for a purpose: to make sure a woman never had a say about her children. And they are losing. They have not yet lost, but they are on the road to losing, and they know it.

What is it worth for our country to align itself with a Muslim nation to turn on al-Qaida? It is worth everything to me. It is certainly worth my political future.

A year ago, when this debate was started, the polls were incredibly against the idea of sending more troops. The need for more troops existed, in my opinion. A year later, the results of more troops and better security is astonishing.

The way to get the Iraqi people to reconcile themselves is not to leave them, not to set a timetable for withdrawal that will encourage the enemy who is on the mat to get back up into the fight. The way to get them to reconcile themselves is to stand with them, to stand by them, invest in the training of their army, help them get on their feet. That is the way to beat al-Qaida. Winning is going to happen in Iraq unless we change this model here at home.

People ask me: Senator Graham, what is winning? Winning, to me, is a stable, functioning government, aligned with democratic principles, at peace with its neighbors, that rejects Islamic extremism, will deny al-Qaida a safe haven, and will align itself with us in the greater war on terror, and finally, will create a system where a mother can have a say about her children. We are not there yet, but we are well on our way.

We have a model that will lead us to victory: a general who knows what he is doing and brave young men and women who are sacrificing because they understand the need to sacrifice. They are excited. They want to come home, but more than anything else, they want to win. That is why they keep going, going, going, and going. They are going to win unless we do something here at home to make it hard for them to do so.

The worst thing we could do now as a nation is to ignore the results of the last year, worry more about the next election than we do about winning this global war, and try to get an advantage over each other based on the next election cycle. I hope the Members of this body will understand that the turnaround in Iraq is not only dramatic, it makes us safer as a nation here at home, and that we now have a model that will allow us to win what I think is a war we can't afford to lose.

Let it be said, finally, that there are Muslims in this world of different sects who will come together and fight al-Qaida with us . Let it be said that there is a nation called Iraq that has lived under an oppressive dictatorship for over three decades, that is beginning to taste freedom, that they are fighting and dying for their own freedom in large measure, that they are beginning to reconcile their political differences, they are beginning to build a larger army that is combat ready, that they are beginning to create an economy that will allow them to sustain themselves, and they are beginning to create a society that will allow u s to live in peace with them and be a force of moderation for the region. That, I say to my colleagues, is an outcome very beneficial to the United States.

I am glad we are having this debate. I am glad we have a little bit of time in a chaotic election year to take a breath and at least allow one Senator to say to the troops: You are winning. You should be proud. Good job. We are behind you here at home. We are behind the policy you are trying to implement. I hope they come home sooner rather than late r. I believe they will. But when they come home, they are going to come home in a way that will allow them to tell their grandchildren: I did something that mattered for our country. That is why they keep reenlisting.

I yield the floor.


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