Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Iraq Elections

Posted on January 31, 2005

Some of my colleagues are suggesting that as a result of yesterday's election in Iraq, the United States needs an exit strategy, that we should begin to withdraw troops, and that we should set a timetable for bringing the rest of our military men and women home. That is a very appealing thought. I can think of about 3,000 families in Tennessee of the 278th Cavalry of the National Guard whose husbands and wives and sons and daughters have interrupted their lives for up to 18 months. And they are now in northern Iraq. Their families would like to have them home. I can think of families around Fort Campbell and Nashville. They would like to have their loved ones home. I think of the $80 billion the President is going to ask us to spend, and I can think of 80 billion ways to spend it on education and improving our competitiveness. It is a very appealing thought - to bring the troops home. But we don't need an exit strategy in Iraq. The United States needs a success strategy in Iraq. If we are to succeed in Iraq, I am afraid that means those troops are likely to have to stay there for a while longer. Yesterday, the Iraqis did for themselves what we haven't been able to do for them in 22 months: they isolated the terrorists. The count was about 7 million or 8 million to 5,000 or 10,000 - voting Iraqis versus terrorists. In October of 2003, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum, which was widely circulated around Washington. He said: "It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog." Concerning the overall war on terror, Secretary Rumsfeld went on to ask: Is our current situation such that "the harder we work the behinder we get?" The Rumsfeld memorandum leaked, and some accused the Secretary of not having all the answers. I am glad we have a Secretary who is willing to ask the questions that he didn't know the answers to. He was worried that our actions in Iraq and being successful in the war were, in the post-war time, inflaming Arab opinion in such a way that we were creating more terrorists than we were destroying. I know a lot of wise people around Washington, DC, who have been thinking about Secretary Rumsfeld's question since October of 2003. I have yet to hear one of them come up with a very good answer to his question. How do we in the post-war conflict keep from creating more terrorists than we are destroying? The answers to the question come from all sides. We in Congress have discussed, for example, more public relations, more television, more radio programming, more cultural exchanges. Those are all good ideas. They are important parts of effective public diplomacy. I hope we do them. But yesterday we witnessed a much better answer to Secretary Rumsfeld's question: elections; elections giving people a voice and a stake in the future of their own country. Those elections yesterday isolated the terrorists. That was the most important lesson of yesterday. It was 7 million or 8 million for democracy and 5,000 or 10,000 for the terrorists. It wasn't the Americans who were in the 7 or 8 million; it was the Iraqis. We discovered that we know how to give people their freedom. We have a military strong enough to do that virtually anywhere in the world. We did it in Iraq, and with stunning success, in 3 weeks toppling Saddam Hussein's government. We can give most countries their freedom in a few weeks or a few months, but we are being reminded in Iraq that building a democracy takes a long time. And people have to build a democracy for themselves. We can't do it for them. We should know that from our own history. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. Our Constitution was signed in 1787. But women didn't receive the right to vote in America until 1920. It took 133 years. Blacks were enslaved and counted as three-fifths of a person by our Constitution until our Civil War, and they didn't receive full voting rights until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 180 years after the signing of our Constitution. Even today, the United States of America is still a work in progress. We are the oldest democracy in the world. There is no such thing as an instant democracy. We, of all democracies, should understand that. We also could learn some lessons from our role in nation building in the world. We spent 8 years in Germany and Japan. We are still in Bosnia and Kosovo. According to this book, "America's Role in Nation Building: From Germany to Iraq," a RAND study by Ambassador James Dobbins and others, "There is no quick route to nation building. Five years seems to be the minimum required to enforce an enduring transition to democracy." This is a book about nation building in Germany to Afghanistan with lessons for Iraq. We have plenty of experience in nation building since World War II, and the lessons from those experiences are documented in this book and many other places: Any time we decide to engage in nation building, it is going to take more troops, more time, more money, and certainly more sacrifice than we at first thought when we invaded Iraq. That doesn't mean we should reconsider our presence in Iraq. We are there. We need to finish what we started. We need to get the job done. It does suggest that in the future we should think carefully about the number of troops, the amount of time, the amount of money, and the amount of sacrifice it takes when we engage in nation building. I believe the Bush administration as well as the Congress has some responsibilities going forward. First, as far as the administration goes, I would like to see the administration be more specific about its success strategy in Iraq. I mentioned last week in the Senate the Washington Post op-ed by two former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. They argue, eloquently and in detail, that we should not set, as some of my colleagues have suggested, a specific timetable for pulling out our troops. We do not need an exit strategy. But they went further than the administration has gone so far in outlining the framework for a success strategy. These are the kinds of questions they ask in their framework. Are we waging "one war" in which political and military efforts are mutually reinforcing? Are the institutions we are helping to build sufficiently coordinated? Is our strategic goal to achieve complete security in at least some key towns and major communications routes as opposed to 100 percent in every town and 100 percent security on every communication route? Do we have a policy for eliminating sanctuaries in neighboring territories, such as Syria and Iran? Are we designing a policy that could produce results for the people and prevent civil strife for control of the state and its oil revenue? Are we maintaining public support of the United States? Are we gaining international understanding? They went on to conclude: "An exit strategy based on performance, not artificial time limits, will judge progress by the ability to produce positive answers to these questions." That is the administration's responsibility at this stage. We have a new Secretary. We have a new election. We are being asked to appropriate 80 billion new dollars. I would like to hear a more specific success strategy. We have our own responsibilities in the Congress. Our responsibility, now that we have authorized this war - we authorized it with 77 votes in this chamber. Now that we have authorized this war, we have the responsibility to have the stomach to see it through to the end and not begin talking about premature exit strategies before we finish what we started. The focus should not be on what day in July or August we will get out. Instead, we should be asking, for example, what are we willing to do to help provide the security needed so that elections in October and December are successful? Yesterday's election was the first election. It was the first strong signal from the Iraqis that by a vote of 7 or 8 million to 5,000 or 10,000, they prefer democracy to terrorism. It did something that we could not do ourselves in 22 months: It isolated the terrorists in public opinion. There will be another election in October. There will be another election in December. And we should be talking about what we can do to help those elections be successful. Let's send another message isolating terrorists - not the United States sending that message, but the Iraqis. They will have that opportunity two more times. What can we do to train Iraqis to take over their own defense and to establish a constitutional government? What can we do to encourage Iraqi neighbors to allow a success strategy to continue? Those are the questions we should be asking, and the answers to those questions will produce a success strategy. At some point, one thing we can do to isolate terrorists in the Middle East is to leave Iraq. Then Iraqis are defending Iraq. All of us want that as soon as possible. Iraqis want that as soon as possible. But to abandon Iraq before we have implemented a success strategy is abandoning a country we have led to risk its lives in order to vote, and abandoning the brave Americans and those from other countries who have fought, bled, and died to give Iraqis their freedom and to give them an opportunity to govern themselves. In 1994, I met a man named Larry Joyce in Chicago. He worked for the American Heart Association. Larry Joyce had been in Vietnam. He was about my age. He sought me out because he wanted anyone who might be in public life to learn the lessons he and his family had learned in Somalia. Larry Joyce's son, Casey Joyce, had been killed in Somalia. The lesson Larry Joyce wanted me to know and wanted every member of this Senate to know and every policymaker to know was this - Before we engage in a military mission, we should do three things: One, we should have a specific mission; two, we should have more than sufficient force to complete the job; and he said, three, most important, we should have the stomach to see the mission through all the way to the end. His greatest complaint about the American Government in Somalia was not the mission, not the force, but that we did not have the stomach to see all the way through to the end the mission in which his son was killed. Larry Joyce himself has now died, but I remember that conversation. I think of his son. When I think about this war and committing American men and women to Iraq or any other place in the world, I think about seeing that mission all the way through to the end. That is why I react badly to the talk of my colleagues who suggest an exit strategy based on some artificial date. Leaving Iraq prematurely would undermine every objective we have in the war on terror and in the Middle East. I am disappointed to hear talk of an exit approach. I would like to hear more in this Chamber and more from the administration and more in this country about a success strategy in Iraq. Yesterday's election was a thrilling event. For the first time in 22 months it answered Secretary Rumsfeld's question of October 2003, How do we isolate the terrorists? If we do not do it, the Iraqi people do it, 7 or 8 million of them, versus 5,000 to 10,000 terrorists. They isolated the terrorists. We should not be talking about leaving Iraq before we are finished. We should be talking today about those October elections, about those December elections, and what we can do in our country and in Iraq to help the Iraqis have the opportunity to build a constitutional government and to be in a position in October and December to once again send a message to the world that they prefer democracy to terrorism and that they, the Iraqis, are isolating the terrorists by a vote of millions of Iraqis to a few thousand terrorists.