Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks- Reflections on Visit to Iraq

Posted on September 4, 2007

Mr. President, during August, as many Members of this body did, I traveled to Iraq, met with Tennesseans there, met with General Petraeus and General Odierno. Then I traveled to Tennessee and discussed my visit and listened. I want to talk for a few minutes about where I believe we should go from here in Iraq. The strongest message I received, both in Iraq and in Tennessee, was this – not that we get out, not that we even win a victory of the kind we won in Japan or Germany – but it is time for the United States Government to speak with one voice on Iraq. A retired four star general from Tennessee, who has a lot of experience with the special forces, put it this way to me: He said our biggest problem in Iraq is we are divided and the enemy knows it. It is inexcusable that we in the Senate should spend so much time lecturing political leaders in Baghdad for their failure to come up with a consensus when we ourselves have not been able to come up with a consensus about Iraq. It is time for the Government to speak with a single voice about where we go from here in Iraq. Our troops deserve it and our enemy needs to hear it. I believe that one voice would be a new strategy to change our mission in Iraq from combat to supporting, equipping, and training the Iraqi troops, and then stabilizing Iraq province by province, neighborhood by neighborhood, tribe by tribe. If we adopt this new strategy as a nation, and if we speak clearly to our troops and to the enemy with one voice, I believe this would likely bring home half our troops within a year or two. Such a new strategy would put us on a path to finish responsibly what we have undertaken in Iraq. I believe there is a consensus within this body for such a new strategy. I believe that consensus is sitting there staring us in the face. The strategy I am describing would implement the unanimous recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group chaired by former Secretary of State Jim Baker, a Republican, and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat. It would take into account the lessons and successes of the last few months under the leadership of General Petraeus in Iraq. Basically the new strategy I am describing would implement the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton province by province. The Baker-Hamilton strategy, the one I am describing, would be grounded upon three basic principles. First, the United States will begin immediately to move our forces in Iraq out of direct combat and into roles of support, training, and providing equipment as security conditions on the ground permit. This will proceed province by province as Iraqis demonstrate their capacity to manage their own security as they have, for example, in Anbar Province where President Bush visited yesterday. Generals Petraeus and Odierno told a group of us Senators about 10 days ago that they believe that 6 or 7 provinces are on the way to being ready for this sort of mission change and this sort of stabilization. We have seen it in Anbar. We saw it in northern Baghdad where we flew by helicopter to an edge of Baghdad where about 70 American troops were living in a neighborhood. We had dinner with two Sunni sheiks, two Shiite sheiks, and we talked about the progress there. What had happened is that the Iraqis had simply become exhausted with terrorists of various kinds killing their relatives and terrorizing their neighborhoods. One of the sheiks with whom we had dinner had seen his teenage son murdered in his front yard. When sufficient American forces, coalition forces, had come to the neighborhood to work with the fed-up Iraqis, they had proceeded basically to run the terrorists out of town. It was much easier for them to tell, as they said, who are bad guys than for us to tell who they are. They described them as various groups of thugs, criminals, insurgents, militias, all there for no good. But when the Iraqis began to man the checkpoints and when Iraqis worked on the neighborhood watch, and when 600 of their sons were sent to Baghdad to the police academy, as had been done with the prospect that they would then come back and help, then the American officers there said: It may not be long before we are able to shift our mission from combat to support, equipping, and training of the Iraqi troops for this area. Now, that is not to say that means instantly in every part of Iraq things will be safe. They certainly were not while we were there. Two province governors were assassinated within a 2-week period of time just before we came. Fourteen Americans lost their lives in a helicopter crash 2 days before we were there. Two days after we were there, we found out later, two suicide bombers had gone to the nearest other outpost such as the one we visited and killed 4 people and wounded 11 others. There is plenty of danger left in Iraq. But there is no mistaking the fact that when we begin to see--and under Petraeus's leadership we begin to have--those outposts around Baghdad, and work with the Iraqis in certain parts of the country, significant military progress is being made. So the first principle of a new strategy would be to change the mission of our troops province by province. The second principle would be to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq but one that would steadily diminish over time. The troops who would remain would be there to keep Iraq from turning into a terrorist haven--troops who would be embedded with training Iraqi Army units and police, those troops necessary for force protection and for search and rescue and for intelligence. The final principle would be we would step up regional and diplomatic efforts to press others in the region to help Iraq succeed. Those efforts are now well underway with a more expansive United Nations assistance mission for Iraq. There is plenty of evidence that a new strategy such as the one I have described can attract a consensus here in the Senate and in the Congress, and I believe in the country. To begin with, while he has not adopted the Baker-Hamilton recommendation, the President has praised the report and has adopted parts of the report. The Democratic leadership has adopted many parts of the report and, in fact, the main difference, it seems, separating that side and this side in coming to a consensus is whether there should be a specific deadline, which the Baker-Hamilton commission rejects. Some have said, well, that means the Baker-Hamilton recommendations are toothless, do not have effect. Well, I see the Senator from West Virginia here. He will remember exactly what I am about to say. My grandfather was a railway engineer for the Santa Fe Railway. His job was to drive large locomotives onto what was then called a roundtable. The roundtable's job was to turn that huge locomotive around and head down a different track in a different direction. Once the roundtable had turned the locomotive around and put it on a different track, there was no getting on the other track. You might not know exactly how fast it would go down the new track, and you might have different engineers, but it was headed down a different track. I believe the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, as updated by General Petraeus's experiences, would begin to put our country on a new track with a new strategy in Iraq that would cause us responsibly to finish our job there and could begin to develop a consensus on both sides of the aisle. In the Congress there is now bipartisan legislation that would make the Iraq Study Group recommendations our national policy. In the Senate, the legislation sponsored by the Senator from Colorado, Senator Salazar, a Democrat, and myself, has 15 sponsors, 8 Democrats and 7 Republicans. In the House of Representatives, the Udall-Wolf legislation, the same legislation as Salazar-Alexander, has 60 sponsors, 26 Democrats, and 34 Republicans. If the President of the United States and the Democratic leadership in the Senate supported this bipartisan legislation, I am convinced it would get 75 votes and we would speak with one voice on Iraq to our troops and to our enemy. If the President and the Democratic leadership simply did not oppose this legislation, I believe it would attract a majority of votes in the Senate, maybe 60 votes. The Congress could enact this legislation by the end of the month. The President could sign it immediately. He could then begin to implement its recommendations moving us in a new strategy down a different track in Iraq and report to us, as the legislation requires, every 90 days. This is not a perfect option. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group was comprised of 10 distinguished Americans--including Ed Meese, President Reagan's Attorney General; Vernon Jordan, from the National Urban League; Larry Eagleburger, Sandra Day O'Connor, President Clinton's Secretary of Defense, President Clinton's former chief of staff, Secretary Baker, Chairman Hamilton; Chuck Robb, a former Member of this body; Alan Simpson, a former Member of this body--a very diverse group, five Democrats, five Republicans. They met for 9 months. They were unanimous on their 79 recommendations. That did not mean they agreed with every single recommendation. But, taken as a whole, they said we can go from here to there in Iraq. This is how we do it. This is how we go. What are the other options? I can understand the Democratic leader wanting to have a vote on withdrawal immediately with a deadline. Many Members, maybe every Member on the other side, would vote for that. I respect that. But I would respectfully say we are not going to have a consensus on that approach. Too many of us believe it would strand people who had been loyal in Iraq. Too many of us believe it would not sufficiently honor the lives and the treasure we have invested in Iraq. Too many of us believe there is too great a risk of turning over Iraq to terrorists. And if none of those arguments make a difference, it is simply logistically impossible to move 160,000 American soldiers and marines and airmen out of Iraq overnight. So for all those reasons, while we might have a vote on withdrawal immediately with a deadline, there can't be the kind of consensus that we need in the Senate. On the other hand, I can understand those, many on this side, who say we should stay the course for a victory in Iraq. But this is not Japan or Germany. After World War II, we had millions of troops in Japan and Germany for a long time. We had an entire division in Germany which did nothing but wait to see where their might be trouble and then go to snuff it out. We were working with two countries which were homogeneous and which had been nations for a long time. We didn't have there the same circumstances we have in Iraq. There is not the possibility of the same kind of victory in Iraq that we had in Japan and Germany. We are spending $2 billion plus a week. We are losing two to three American lives each day. Our armed services are stretched thin. Most of the soldiers I talked with--and they are not complaining--were there for their second or third tour of duty, and some were expecting to come back again. Finally, I don't believe we can sustain a stay-the-course policy in Iraq because there is not the support for that among the American people. I suppose there is another option that one could try. The President and some on the ground in Iraq might be tempted to simply say: Let's continue the surge for a while longer because already in some places, as I have described--in Anbar Province, in four or five others, in northern Baghdad where we were--already in some places there is demonstration that we are having some military success. But a surge would be open-ended, a surge by itself. A surge is a tactic; it is not a strategy. We need a strategy about where we go from here. When I go back to Tennessee, I don't have Tennesseans rushing up to me to tell me what to do about Iraq. They expect me to have some idea about what to do about Iraq, to say where we go from here, and then they will critique that and tell me whether they agree. I believe there is not sufficient public support for the President simply to go before the American people and say: Let's continue the surge. We know if we put 25,000, 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 of our tremendous American troops in a particular place in Iraq, there will be some good results. We have already seen it. But a surge by itself does not answer the question. In fact, it never has answered the question: Where do we go from here in Iraq? How do we finish the job responsibly? That is the question. The surge can be a part of the new strategy. The Baker-Hamilton recommendations in December specifically said that as they called for a new strategy that included change of mission. But a surge was a tactic, a part of the strategy, not the strategy itself. If none of those options are promising for a consensus within this body and in the House of Representatives and the country, then where does that leave us? It leaves us somewhere in the middle, which is often, in a democracy, the right place to be. My father used to say: Finish what you start. We need to finish the job in Iraq. George Reedy, Lyndon Johnson's Press Secretary, wrote a book, ``Twilight of the Presidency,'' in which he described the job of the President--see an urgent need, develop the right strategy, but, third, persuade at least half the people he is right. We can and no doubt will have votes in this body on withdrawal with a deadline. We will probably have votes on stay the course and victory. We will probably have a vote on indefinite continuation of the surge. But there is not a possibility of consensus on any of these approaches. There is a good prospect for consensus on a strategy based upon the Baker-Hamilton principles, updated by the lessons and successes of General Petraeus. If the 10 members of the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton group, over 9 months could agree unanimously on where we go from here in Iraq, surely 50 or 60 or 70 of us can agree on where we go from here in Iraq. I look forward to the President's report. I look forward to General Petraeus's recommendations. He has demonstrated that he is an exceptional leader. We Tennesseans have a special pride in him because of his leadership of the 101st Airborne Division. But once General Petraeus has made those recommendations, I hope the President takes a page from a former President of this country whom President Bush admires, Harry Truman. In 1947, Harry Truman found himself in about the same shape President Bush finds himself today. Americans were tired of war, even though in that case we had won it. The President's poll numbers were very low. The President had lost both Houses of Congress in the preceding election. The President had an urgent overseas mission that he hoped our country would adopt. According to David McCullough, the biographer of President Truman, Truman said if he sent a plan with his name on it up there to the Senate and the House, it would quiver a couple of times and die. So he called in General George C. Marshall who was his Secretary of State, and he called in Dean Acheson. He said: Let's call it the Marshall plan and go up to Arthur Vandenberg, the leader of the opposition in the Senate, and try to persuade him it is the right thing to do. We got the Marshall plan, and Truman today is remembered as a near great President. I am certain that President Bush believes as firmly in his heart that finishing the job in Iraq is as essential today as President Truman believed the Marshall plan was essential in 1947. But President Bush, I hope, will also remember the lesson of Harry Truman and borrow the recommendations and the prestige of the Baker-Hamilton group and borrow the lessons and successes of a distinguished general--in this case General Petraeus--and give us a plan that is a genuinely new strategy, one that can attract significant support on that side of the aisle as well as this, one that, like my grandfather's big round table with the locomotive, can take our country and put it on a different track in Iraq and that will cause us to change our mission for our troops from combat to supporting, equipping, and training, province by province, as soon as we honorably can. If he does, as I said earlier, I believe we will see about half our troops come home within a year or two. The principles also include a long-term but steadily diminishing presence in Iraq to fight counterterrorism and a stepped-up effort for diplomatic and political efforts especially in the region. But if the President were to do this, and if the Democratic leadership would make room for consensus in this body, we could end this spectacle of the U.S. Congress lecturing Baghdad for being in a political stalemate when we are in one ourselves. We can speak with a single voice. We are elected to be able to do so. Our troops deserve it. The enemy needs to hear it.