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Senator Edward M. Kennedy Remarks on America's Future in Iraq: Looking Past the Election Toward a Free Iraq

Location: Unknown


February 4, 2005

For Immediate Release
Contact: Melissa Wagoner
(202) 224-2633

Thank you Chancellor Motley for that generous introduction.

I'm honored to be here at UMass Boston. Many of the most talented people in our state have benefited from the outstanding opportunities you offer, and I commend you for your impressive leadership in higher education.

I welcome the opportunity to meet with you on the issue of Iraq. Forty years ago, America was in another war in a distant land. In Vietnam in 1965, we had the same number of troops and the same number of casualties as in Iraq today.

We thought in those early years we were winning that war. We thought the skill and courage of our troops were enough. We thought victory on the battlefield would lead to overall victory in the war, and to peace and democracy for the people of Vietnam.

We lost our national bearings in Vietnam. We ignored the truth. We failed our ideals.

In the name of a misguided cause, we continued the war too long. We failed to comprehend the events around us. We did not understand that our very presence was creating more enemies and defeating the very goals we hoped to achieve. We cannot allow that history to repeat itself in Iraq.

In his Inaugural Address and his State of the Union Address, President Bush talked about the noble goals of spreading freedom and democracy and ending tyranny around the globe. There's no disagreement about these goals and the importance of these ideals. America has been a beacon of democracy, freedom, and human rights for more than two centuries, and we cannot let the beacon dim.

When America is at its best, our deeds match our words. But many of us feel we haven't done that in Iraq. We care about our country. Stephen Decatur famously said, "My country, right our wrong." But others through the years have said it better - "Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be set right."

We've paid a high price for the invasion of Iraq. Saddam is gone, but there were no weapons of mass destruction. The cakewalk the Administration predicted became a quagmire instead. We recklessly shifted our focus away from the real threat to our national security - the threat from Osama bin Laden and the terrorists he was inspiring to attack America.

In his State of the Union, President Bush talked about the war on terror. He spoke 27 times about terror, but he did not mention Osama bin Laden once. What world is he living in?

He started a war we never should have fought. He stopped fighting a war we hadn't won, and left our greatest enemy in the world still at large, planning his next 9/11.

We paid a high price in other ways for the war in Iraq. We insulted our allies, shattered our alliances, and lost worldwide support we had won after 9/11. More than 1400 American soldiers have given their lives in Iraq. Our military is stretched to the breaking point, leaving us dangerously ill-prepared if other urgent needs arise. The families of our military, and our guard and reserves are suffering.

We must learn from our mistakes. The insurgency is being fueled by the American occupation. We have reached the point where a prolonged American military presence in Iraq is no longer productive for either Iraq or the United States. The overwhelming and seemingly endless nature of the U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

We were all moved by the bravery of the Iraqi people who voted in Sunday's election, and we honor the courageous men and women of our armed forces who continue to risk their lives for a better future for the Iraqi people.

But, we've been here before. As a headline in the New York Times in 1967 stated about an election in Vietnam: "U.S. Encouraged By Vietnam Vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror."

Let's not be lulled again. Let's use the elections in Iraq as an opportunity for a fresh and honest approach. Let's start by having an exit strategy.

The election is a step forward, but it is not a mandate for the Administration's current policy. It is not a cure for the violence and resentment caused by the perception of the American occupation.

But the election does provide an opening, if we are wise enough to seize it, to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that we have no long-term designs on their country.

President Bush shies away from such a strategy. But in fact, it's exactly what he called for in 1999, when he was Governor of Texas and speaking about the war in Kosovo. He said: "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."

President Bush should follow his own advice. A coherent exit strategy is the best way to spread freedom in Iraq and lay the groundwork for the honorable homecoming of our forces.

The first step is to confront and admit our own mistakes. Americans are rightly concerned about why our soldiers are there, when they will come home, and how our policy could have gone so wrong.

No matter how many times the Administration denies it, there is no question they misled the nation and led us into a quagmire in Iraq. President Bush rushed to war on the basis of trumped-up intelligence and a reckless argument that Iraq was a critical arena in the war on terror, that somehow it was more important to start a war with Iraq than to finish the war in Afghanistan or capture Osama bin Laden, and that somehow the danger was so urgent that U.N. weapons inspectors could not be allowed to complete their search for weapons of mass destruction.

The weapons of mass destruction weren't there, but today 150,000 Americans are.

Thirty-two Massachusetts soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and another 133 soldiers from Massachusetts have been wounded. One of the casualties, Chief Warrant Officer Kyran Kennedy, who was killed in Tikrit in November, was a graduate of this proud University in 1983.

Another son of Massachusetts, John Hart, was killed in Iraq because his Humvee had insufficient armor. His parents, Brian and Alma Hart, are here with us today. We honor their sacrifice, and we especially honor their dedication to speaking the truth to the Pentagon and insisting that better armor protection be available for all our troops. We are also joined by other families who have loved ones serving in Iraq. We honor their service, and we pledge to do our very best to support them.

Sadly, despite the valor and dedication of our men and women in uniform, our nation's respect and credibility around the world have reached an all-time low because of Iraq. The convenient label of a "coalition of the willing" cannot conceal the fact that American soldiers make up 80% of the troops on the ground, and have suffered more than 90% of the casualties.

Ending the rule of Saddam Hussein was supposed to lessen violence and bring an irresistible wave of democracy to the Middle East. It hasn't. Saddam Hussein's capture was supposed to quell the violence. It didn't. The transfer of sovereignty was supposed to be the breakthrough. It wasn't. The military operation in Fallujah was supposed to break the back of the insurgency. It didn't.

The number of Americans killed and wounded is the equivalent of a full division of the Army - and we only have ten active divisions.

We all hope for the best after Sunday's election. But Sunday's election is not a cure for the violence and instability. Unless the Sunni and all the other communities in Iraq believe they have a stake in the outcome and a genuine role in drafting the new Iraqi constitution, the election could lead to greater alienation, greater escalation, and greater death - for us and for the Iraqis.

The Central Intelligence Agency's top official in Baghdad warned recently that the security situation is deteriorating and is likely to worsen, with escalating violence and greater sectarian clashes.

The American people are concerned. They recognize that the war with Iraq has not been worth the cost in American lives, prestige, and credibility. They understand it has made America more hated in the world, created new breeding grounds and support for terrorists, and made it harder to win the real war against terrorism - the war against Al Qaeda and radical jihadist terrorists.

Conservative voices are alarmed as well. As Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, said last November, we are "stuck in a guerrilla war with no end in sight."

As former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond recently said, "There is a fine line between Churchillian resolve and self-defeating obstinacy." We must recognize that line and act on it.

A new Iraq policy must begin with acceptance of hard truths. Most of the violence in Iraq is not being perpetrated - as President Bush has claimed - by "a handful of folks that fear freedom" and "people who want to try to impose their will on people…just like Osama bin Laden."

The insurgency is largely home-grown. By our own government's count, its ranks are large and growing larger. Its strength has quadrupled since the transfer of sovereignty six months ago - from 5,000 in mid-2004, to 16,000 last October, to more than 20,000 now. The Iraqi Intelligence Service estimates that the insurgency may have 30,000 fighters and up to 200,000 supporters.

It is also becoming more intense and adaptable. The bombs are bigger and more powerful. The attacks have greater sophistication.

An Army Reservist wrote the stark truth: "The guerillas are filling their losses faster than we can create them… for every guerilla we kill with a smart bomb, we kill many more innocent civilians and create rage and anger in the Iraqi community. This rage and anger translates into more recruits for the terrorists and less support for us." Our troops understand that. The American people understand it. And it's time the Administration understood it.

Beyond the insurgency's fighters, it has active or tacit support from ordinary Iraqis who aid and abet the attacks. It is fueled by the anger of even more Iraqis - not just Saddam loyalists - who can't believe the United States is unable to provide security and other basic services, and who therefore think we're unwilling to provide them.

The International Crisis Group, a widely respected conflict prevention organization, recently reported, "These post-war failings gradually were perceived by many Iraqis as purposeful… designed to serve Washington's interests to remain for a prolonged period in a debilitated Iraq."

Too many Iraqi people do not believe that America intends no long-term military presence in their country. Our reluctance to make that clear has fueled suspicions among Iraqis that our motives are not pure, that we want their oil, and that we will never leave. As long as our presence seems ongoing, America's commitment to their democracy sounds unconvincing.

Other indications of anti-American sentiment are clear. CDs with photographs of the insurgents are spread across the country. Songs glorify combatants. Poems written decades ago during the British occupation after World War I are popular again.

We have the finest military in the world. But we can't defeat the insurgents militarily if we don't effectively address the political context in which the insurgency flourishes. Our military and the insurgents are fighting for the same thing - the hearts and minds of the people - and it is a battle we are not winning.

The goal of our military presence should be to allow the creation of a legitimate, functioning Iraqi government, not to dictate it and not to micromanage it.

Creating a full-fledged democracy won't happen overnight. It may take years for the Iraqis to finish the job. But, the process cannot begin in earnest until Iraqis have full ownership of the process. Our continued, overwhelming presence only delays it.

If we want Iraq to develop a stable, democratic government, America must assist - not control - the newly established government.

Unless Iraqis have a genuine sense that their leaders are not our puppets, the election cannot be the turning point the Administration hopes.

To enhance its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the new Iraqi Government should begin to disengage politically from America, and we from them.

The reality is that the Bush Administration has pulled the strings in Iraq, and the Iraqi people know it. We picked the date for the transfer of sovereignty. We supported former CIA operative Iyad Allawi to lead the Interim Government. We wrote the laws that now govern Iraq.

It is time to recognize that there is only one choice. America must give Iraq back to the Iraqi people.

We need to let the Iraqi people make their own decisions, reach their own consensus, and govern their own country.

We need to rethink the Pottery Barn rule. America cannot forever be the potter that sculpts Iraq's future. President Bush broke Iraq, but if we want Iraq to be fixed, the Iraqis must feel that they, not we, own it.

The Iraqi people are obviously facing historic issues in establishing a government, deciding the role of Islam, and protecting minority rights.

The entire international community has a clear interest in a strong, tolerant and pluralistic Iraq, free from chaos and civil war.

The United Nations, with our support, should take the lead in providing assistance and advice on establishing a system of government and drafting a constitution.

For freedom and democracy to take root, the Iraqis need a clear signal that America has a genuine exit strategy.

At least 12,000 American troops and probably more can and should leave at once, to send a strong immediate signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation. Our military presence in Iraq has increased by 19,000 since November. The large majority of those troops were added to guarantee security for the election, and there is no reason they should not come home as soon as possible. Even Secretary Wolfowitz, the architect of the war, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that our military presence can "come down by about 15,000." Commanders have said they hope to withdraw about 15,000 troops sometime this spring or summer.

For the longer term, President Bush should also announce his intention to negotiate with the new Iraqi government for a drawdown of American combat forces.

As Major General William Nash, who commanded the multi-national force in Bosnia, said in November, a substantial reduction in our forces following the Iraqi election "would be a wise and judicious move" to demonstrate that we are leaving and "the absence of targets will go a long way in decreasing the violence."

America's goal - not a hard and fast time-table but a realistic goal - should be to complete our military drawdown as early as possible in 2006. That goal is consistent with the timeline for the election of the permanent Iraqi government that will take place at the end of this year. It is also consistent with the view of Iraq's interim Interior Minister, who recently said, "I think we will not need the multi-national foreign forces in this country within 18 months. I think we will be able to depend on ourselves."

President Bush cannot avoid this issue. The Security Council Resolution authorizing our military presence in Iraq can be reviewed at any time at the request of the Iraqi Government, and it calls for a review in June. The U.N. authorization for our military presence ends with the election of a permanent Iraqi government at the end of this year. The world will be our judge.

Obviously, while American troops are drawing down, we must clearly be prepared to oppose any external intervention in Iraq or the large-scale revenge killing of any group. We should begin now to conduct serious regional diplomacy with the Arab League and Iraq's neighbors to underscore this point. Clearly, we will need to maintain troops on bases outside Iraq but in the region.

We do need to train and equip an effective Iraqi security force, and we have a year to do so before the election of the permanent Iraqi government.

We have the best military in the world. We won the first Gulf war, contained Saddam Hussein during the nineties, and overthrew the Iraqi government in just three weeks.

My wife's nephew from Shreveport, Louisiana, received 12 weeks of basic training. He was supposed to receive additional training in Kuwait, but instead he was sent right to Mosul to serve as a gunner in a Stryker Brigade. At 23, he's the oldest one. They call him "Pops." He's home now, but he is getting ready to go back to Iraq.

Our Army has great expertise in training programs. Every year, we send recruits through 21 weeks of training to become military police. Our enlisted infantry receive 13 weeks of training.

If America can train the best military in the world in 13 weeks, why can't we train the Iraqis in 8 or 12 or 15 months to fight and die for their country?

Secretary Rumsfeld has said about our departure from Iraq that, "It is condition based. It's based on when the Iraqi government and their security forces can develop the capability, the capacity to provide for the security of their people."

Secretary Rumsfeld has mismanaged every other aspect of this war. He must get this one right.

With the international community's help we can do even more and do it faster. The President will travel to Europe in a few weeks, and he should not return home empty-handed.

The insurgents have been skilled at recruiting Iraqis to participate in suicide attacks. But too often, the trained Iraqi forces do not have a comparable commitment to the Iraqi government. The way to strengthen their allegiance is to give them a worthy cause to defend as soon as possible - a truly free, independent and sovereign Iraq.

President Bush has left us with few good choices. There are costs to staying, and costs to leaving. There may well be violence as we disengage militarily from Iraq, and as Iraq disengages politically from us. But there will be much more serious violence if we are forced to go it alone. Setting a strategy for withdrawal may not guarantee success, but not doing so will almost certainly guarantee failure. It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin.

Error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Mindless determination doesn't make a better outcome likely.

The Book of Proverbs in the Bible teaches us that, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." It's time to improve our country's standing in Iraq and in the eyes of the world, and the election has given us an extraordinary opportunity to do it. The danger is very real that if we do not, our leadership in the world will be permanently lost. We cannot let that happen. There is a wiser course we can take in keeping with the best in our heritage and history - a course that will help America, at long last, to regain our rightful place of respect in the world and bring our troops home with honor. Let's take that course, and take it now.

Thank you very much.

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