Thursday, July 28, 2005
Sometimes a blogger just has to step aside and admit that he/she couldn't have said it any better. This is one of those cases. Senator Russ Feingold has begun a series of speeches on Iraq and last night was the first installment. I would really like to comment on what he said, but I know that nothing I say could enhance the points he makes. This is a brilliant disection of the Bush administration's policy. Now normally I wouldn't do this, but quoting snippets seems unfair. So I'm going to reprint the speech in its entirety. My apologies to Sen. Feingold and to those at Common Dreams for the liberties I am about to take.
All I want to know is where was he in 2004? Sen. Feingold, my hat's off to you. Well said.
- Mr. President, we should be using our time right now to continue our work on the Department of Defense authorization bill, working through important amendments relating to the needs of our military and our nation’s security and giving these issues the time and careful attention that they so clearly deserve. At a time when our brave men and women in uniform are deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere -- risking and, too often, losing their lives in service to this country -- we ought to be working intensively on the Defense bill. At a time when terrorist networks continue to strike at our allies, killing innocent civilians in an attempt to intimidate everyone who rejects their violent, extremist agenda, we ought to be focusing sustained attention on ensuring that our military has the tools that it needs, and our country has the policy that it needs, to create a more secure world for our children. And as a part of that effort, we must devote more time and more attention to a realistic assessment of where we stand today in Iraq, and where we should be going.
As my colleagues know, I have introduced a resolution calling for the President to provide a public report clarifying the mission that the US military is being asked to accomplish in Iraq and laying out a plan and timeframe for accomplishing that mission. This doesn’t seem like much to ask for – after all, if we don’t have a clear plan and timeframe, how can we hold ourselves accountable for giving the military the tools they need to succeed in achieving those goals? The resolution also calls on the President to submit a plan for the subsequent return home of US troops that is also linked to a timeframe, so that we provide some clarity about our intentions and restore confidence at home and abroad that U.S. troops will not be in Iraq indefinitely.
My resolution does not dictate deadlines or dates certain. And it does request flexible timeframes for achieving our goals in Iraq rather than imposing any, because drawing up timeframes is best and most appropriately left to the Administration, in consultation with military leaders. And, of course, any timeframe has to be flexible – there are variables that will affect how quickly various missions can be accomplished. But it’s hard to conceive of an effective strategic plan that isn’t linked to some timeframes. That is what the Administration needs to share.
I want to respond directly to some of the criticisms of this approach.
Some have suggested that to question the path that we are on is to undermine our united commitment to support the courageous men and women who have been deployed in harm’s way.
And some believe that any discussion of timeframes, flexible or otherwise, is basically code for a “withdraw now” agenda.
Neither of these charges is credible. Just this morning, General Casey spoke publicly of the potential to reduce our troop levels fairly substantially by the spring and summer of 2006. I think his comments, and Iraqi Prime Minister Jafari’s frank acknowledgement that “the great desire of the Iraqi people is to see the coalition forces be on their way out,” are constructive. And I hardly think that General Casey can be accused of failing to support his fellow servicemen and women.
My support for our troops has not wavered one inch, Mr. President. And it will not. I did not support the Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, but I have consistently voted to provide our servicemen and women with the resources they need in Iraq. And I know that our troops have done, and continue to do, a remarkable job. The brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces deserve our admiration, our respect, and our unflagging support. But that’s not all that they deserve. They deserve sound policy from elected officials. They don’t have that right now. The Administration must not leave them in the lurch any longer. Are US forces supposed to be waging a counterinsurgency campaign, or taking sides in what may be an emerging civil war? Or are they supposed to be focused primarily on training Iraqi forces so that the Iraqis can be in the driver’s seat when it comes to taking the decisions, and the risks, associated with achieving their own stability? I hope the Administration knows the answers to these questions, but until they provide them, all of us are in the dark.
Mr. President, it is also clear that we must not accept a false choice between supporting the status quo in Iraq and “cutting and running.” The status quo -- staying a rudderless course without a clear destination -- would be a mistake. The course we are on is not leading to strength. In fact, Mr. President, I am concerned that it is making America weaker and our enemies stronger.
The ill-defined and open-ended military commitment that characterizes our current policy in Iraq is actually strengthening the very forces who wish to do us harm. I’m not talking about disgruntled Baathists, although I am concerned that nationalist sentiments will make it more and more difficult for many Iraqis to accept a massive foreign troop presence on their soil – something that they regard as a humiliation. More alarmingly, I’m talking about the forces that attacked this country on September 11th, 2001. These forces weren’t active in Iraq before the invasion, but they came once disorder in Iraq took hold, and today, as CIA Director Porter Goss has made plain in testimony before Congress, “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new, anti-U.S. jihadists.” Just recently, President Bush told the country that “with each engagement, Iraqi soldiers grow more battle-hardened and their officers grow more experienced.”
Unfortunately, the same is true of the foreign fighters. Iraq has become a prime on-the-job training ground for jihadists from around the world – terrorists who are getting experience in overcoming U.S. countermeasures, experience in bombing, and experience in urban warfare – they may well be getting a better education in terrorism than jihadists received at al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan. And they don’t just have skills – they now have contacts. They are building new, transnational networks, making the most of Al Qaeda’s new model of supporting loosely affiliated franchise-type organizations. Press reports suggest that the CIA is calling this emerging threat the “class of ’05 problem.” Mr. President, all of us, on both sides of the aisle, should be thinking about how to ensure that there is no similar class of ’06.
It would be nice to believe that these terrorists will be swept into Iraq only to be annihilated by U.S. forces. But that kind of “roach motel” approach to fighting is hardly a strategic vision. At its best, it is wishful thinking – and more wishful thinking is just what our Iraq policy and our strategy for fighting terrorism do not need. I agree wholeheartedly with the President that we must not waver in our commitment to defeating the terrorist networks that wish to do us harm. And I know, as he must know, that these networks exist around the world. Fighting terrorists in Baghdad does not mean that we won’t have to fight them elsewhere, and, sadly, we need only look at the headlines over the past few weeks to find the terrible evidence of this hard fact.
Mr. President, I am gravely concerned that not only are our enemies gaining strength under the Administration’s current policies -- we are getting weaker. The U.S. Army is being hollowed out by the Administration’s policies. The Army is straining to maintain the cycle of rotations and training that we know it needs to sustain its capacities, and recruitment efforts have been in serious trouble for some time now. Meanwhile, costs for the Future Combat System – a system that depends on technology that is not yet even developed -- spiral out of control. We cannot stand by and allow the U.S. Army to be broken. We cannot stay this course.
And Mr. President, the current course of action simply is not inspiring confidence among the American people. I know that my constituents are terribly troubled by the Administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. After the shifting justifications for this war, the rosy scenarios that bore no resemblance to reality, and the unreliable declarations of “mission accomplished,” they sense that our policy is adrift. A democracy cannot succeed in achieving its goals without the support of the people. They deserve clarity and candor and so do our troops on the ground.
Finally, Mr. President, I want to talk about the most common criticism leveled at anyone who invokes the phrase “timetable” in talking about our military deployment in Iraq. The charge goes something like this: if the insurgents know when we plan to go, they will simply hunker down and lie in wait for the time when we are no longer present in large numbers, and then they will attack.
Well, Mr. President, if that were the insurgents’ plan, why wouldn’t they cease all attacks now, lay low, let everyone believe that stability has been achieved, and spring up again once the security presence in Iraq is dramatically reduced? If we really believe the argument that any kind of timetable is a “lifeline” to the insurgents, then why wouldn’t they try to induce us to throw them that lifeline?
We cannot know all the reasons behind the choices made by the diverse elements waging Iraq’s insurgency. But one thing is clear: ultimately, we will withdraw from Iraq, and it will not be secret when we do. Does the Administration believe that the insurgents will be entirely defeated at that point? Is it really our policy to stay in Iraq until every last insurgent and every last terrorist is defeated? Recently Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld made news when he said that the insurgency could well last a decade or more, and that ultimately, “foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency,” rather it is going to be defeated by the Iraqis themselves. I think this analysis makes good sense – especially given the fact that our very presence in Iraq is helping to recruit more foreign jihadists every day. But the Secretary’s candor made waves, because for long, costly months we lacked clarity on this critical point regarding just what the remaining U.S. military mission is in Iraq. Is it to defeat the insurgency, or is it to give the Iraqis the tools to do that themselves?
If the remaining military mission is to train Iraqis to provide for their own security, we ought to be able to articulate a clear plan for getting that job done. If we know how many troops we need to train, and we know how long it takes to train effectively, then we ought to have some sense of how long it will take to accomplish our mission.
When I was in Baghdad in February, a senior coalition officer told me that he believes the U.S. could “take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents” by providing a clear, public plan and timeframe for the remaining U.S. mission. He thought this could rob them of their recruiting momentum. I also think it could rob them of some unity. All reports indicate that the forces fighting U.S. troops and attacking Iraqi police, soldiers, and civilians are a disparate bunch with different agendas, from embittered former regime elements to foreign fighters. The one thing that unites them is opposition to America’s presence in Iraq. Remove that factor, and we may see a more divided, less effective, more easily defeated insurgency.
Mr. President, intense American diplomatic and political engagement in and support for Iraq will likely last long after the troops’ mission is accomplished and they are withdrawn. I expect that we will continue some important degree of military and security cooperation with the Iraqis, as we work with them and with others around the world to combat terrorist networks. And we have to be working diligently to combat a burgeoning culture of corruption in Iraq, or the rule of law doesn’t stand a chance. We need to make reconstruction work and deliver real democracy dividends for the Iraqi people. The situation in Iraq is complex and it requires a long-term political commitment from the U.S. What my resolution addresses is just one piece of the puzzle for achieving our interests in Iraq and helping the people of Iraq and the region move toward a more stable future.
Mr. President, I certainly don’t have all the answers to the complex problem we confront in Iraq. But I know that it’s time to restore confidence in the American people that this President and this Administration know where we are going and how we plan to get there. It’s time to put Iraq in the context of a broader vision for our security. It’s time to regain a position of strength. That starts with sustained attention, focus, and debate – and we should be doing that right here in this Congress, right now.
All I want to know is where was he in 2004? Sen. Feingold, my hat's off to you. Well said.