(Washington, D.C.) - In a major speech on the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) called for new priorities to protect America including redeploying troops from Iraq's civil war, targeting Al Qaeda terrorists around the globe, and rebuilding America's military.
"In Iraq, our troops have done everything we've asked them to do, and now it's time to begin redeploying our troops, rebuilding our military, and getting back to fighting the broader war on terror," Murray said. "Leaving our troops in the middle of a civil war in Iraq is not the best use of our military, does not make us safer at home, diminishes our ability to fight the broader war on terror, and impairs our military's readiness."
Also today, Murray voted for the Feingold-Reid Amendment which called for American troops to be safely redeployed from Iraq by March 31, 2008. The amendment would have allowed some American troops to remain in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda, secure American interests, and train and equip Iraqi security forces.
Redeploy from Iraq
"The Iraqi civil war cannot be solved militarily. It must be solved politically. Today we are five years into this war. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent. The Iraqis have yet to move forward with meeting key benchmarks and beginning reconciliation. We have to show the Iraqis that we will not police their civil war indefinitely, and that they must take responsibility for their own future," Murray said.
In discussing readiness, Murray quoted from military leaders who have detailed problems with destroyed equipment, limited training, and low readiness of non-deployed Guard and Reserve forces.
"We can all be proud that our country is home to the finest fighting force in the world. But we must also face the truth: the war in Iraq has impaired our military's readiness. That's not my opinion. It's the opinion of military leaders and experts, who say it may take 5 years to rebuild our military. The Iraq War has impaired our readiness by forcing a hard-to-maintain tempo on our troops, destroying our equipment, reducing the capabilities of our Guard and Reserve, and limiting the training our troops receive," Murray said.
Murray also noted that a lack of readiness is hurting disaster response and homeland security missions at home.
Refocus on Al Qaeda
Murray said that America must refocus its efforts stopping the Al Qaeda network around the world.
"This Administration's focus on Iraq has distracted us from the larger War on Terror and left us vulnerable."
Lack of Security at Home
"I'm very concerned that the Bush Administration has chosen to fund this war in ways that have meant that homeland security priorities have not been fully funded," Murray said, detailing a list of cuts the President has sought to first responders, state homeland security grants, and other domestic security programs.
Finally, Senator Murray discussed the need to care for service members, veterans and their families.
Senator Murray's full remarks follow:
Mr. President, in these dangerous times, we face threats from terrorists around the world. The decisions we make here in the United States Senate must put us in a stronger position to fight and defeat terrorists wherever they hide. Last week, the U.S. and German governments unraveled a reported plot to attack American interests in Germany. This development reminds us that we face dangers all around the globe, and we need to be able to dispatch our resources wherever and whenever they are needed to keep us safe.
Unfortunately, having nearly 150,000 American troops stuck in the middle of a civil war in Iraq does not strengthen our ability to fight terrorists around the world. In fact, by forcing our troops to police a civil war and by not giving our troops with the equipment and training they need, the President's policy is impairing our military readiness and our ability to fight and win the broader war on terror.
It is time to re-focus our efforts back onto the broader war on terror. Yes, we will still fight and defeat the Al Qaeda terrorists who are in Iraq. But we recognize that terror networks exist in many other countries, and we have to fight and defeat terrorists in those other places as well.
That's why I support the Feingold-Reid Amendment. The amendment recognizes that leaving our troops in the middle of a civil war in Iraq -
- is not the best use of our military,
- does not make us safer at home,
- diminishes our ability to fight the broader war on terror,
- and impairs our military's readiness.
Mr. President, it is clear the Iraqi civil war cannot be solved militarily. It must be solved politically. Today we are five years into this war. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent.
The Iraqis have yet to move forward with meeting key benchmarks and beginning reconciliation.
We have to show the Iraqis that we will not police their civil war indefinitely, and that they must take responsibility for their own future.
The redeployment language in the Feingold-Reid amendment makes it clear to the Iraqis that our commitment is not open-ended and that they must make the necessary compromises to bring peace to their country. In Iraq, our troops have done everything we've asked them to do, and now it's time to begin redeploying our troops, rebuilding our military and getting back to fighting the broader war on terror.
As I look at these issues, I see four imperatives.
- First we've got to fight and defeat terrorists.
- Second, we've got to recognize that the war in Iraq is impacting our ability to do that.
- Third, we've got to rebuild our military readiness, which has been seriously compromised by the war in Iraq.
- And finally, we must be there to support our service members, our veterans and their families every step of the way.
1. We Must Fight and Defeat Terrorists
First, we all recognize that we are in a war with terrorists around the world, and we need to fight and win that war. This is not a war against countries. We are in a war against terrorists wherever they reside.
President Bush wants us to believe that the war in Iraq is the war on terror. It is not. The war on terror that our country faces is not the same thing as the civil war that's raging in Iraq. What's happening in Iraq is primarily a civil war between factions who have been in conflict for generations.
The Feingold-Reid amendment empowers our military to target and destroy any terrorist elements in Iraq. But it would not force the majority of American troops to be stuck indefinitely in the crossfire of a civil war.
As we look at the terror threats our nation confronts, Al Qaeda is the most dangerous according to the declassified National Intelligence Estimate from last year. The N.I.E. said, quote -
"Al-Qa'ida will continue to pose the greatest threat to the Homeland and US interests abroad by a single terrorist organization."
The N.I.E. also says that jihadists,
"... are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion. ?If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide."
Mr. President, Al Qaeda is the threat. We've got to get back to fighting Al Qaeda, and this amendment does just that.
Under the Feingold-Reid Amendment, while most troops would be redeployed, some would remain to:
- conduct targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terror groups,
- provide security for American infrastructure and personnel,
- and train and equip the Iraqi security forces.
Mr. President, this Administration's focus on Iraq has distracted us from the larger War on Terror and left us vulnerable. Our country faces possible threats from terrorists around the world, and we need a security strategy that ensures we can fight those threats wherever they are. But instead, the Bush Administration has become increasingly focused on Iraq, which weakens our ability to fight the broader War on Terror just when we must be strong.
2. The Civil War in Iraq is Not Making Us More Secure
Next, Mr. President, let's look at the relationship between the civil war in Iraq and our own security. Does having so much of our military tied up in Iraq's civil war make us safer? Does it help us fight terrorists around the world? The truth is that leaving our troops in Iraq is not making us more secure. A State Department report from two weeks ago found,
"International intervention in Iraq... has been used by terrorists as a rallying cry for radicalization and extremist activity that has contributed to instability in neighboring countries."
[U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Country Reports on Terrorism: Chapter 1 -- Strategic Assessment. April 30, 2007 ]
So according to our own State Department, our involvement in Iraq is making the region less stable - not more stable.
The war in Iraq has the potential to make it harder for us to respond to other threats around the world. That's because the conflict in Iraq is tying up large parts of our military and is degrading our military readiness.
3. We Need to Rebuild Our Military
Which brings me to my third point -- Mr. President, we must rebuild America's military.
We can all be proud that our country is home to the finest fighting force in the world. But we must also face the truth: the war in Iraq has impaired our military's readiness. That's not my opinion. It's the opinion of military leaders and experts, who say it may take 5 years to rebuild our military.
The Iraq War has impaired our readiness by -
- forcing a hard-to-maintain tempo on our troops,
- destroying our equipment,
- reducing the capabilities of our Guard and Reserve,
- and limiting the training our troops receive.
Readiness - Troops
Today, we are forcing a very tough tempo on our service members. They all want to work, and they all want to work hard. But we have to make sure that the demands placed on them are reasonable. The Pentagon has extended tours of duties for troops. It has deployed troops sooner than planned. It has sent troops without all the training and equipment they could have received. It's deployed troops without the down-time at home that our service members and their families deserve. Two Army brigades are on their fourth deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. This tremendous pace -- with little down-time in between -- is a strain on our troops.
Mr. President, our military is the best in the world. I believe we need to address the strains on our service members, so we can remain the best in the world.
Readiness - Equipment
The Iraq War is also impairing our readiness by destroying our equipment. For example, the Army is supposed to have five brigades' worth of equipment pre-positioned overseas. But because of the war in Iraq, the Army is depleting those reserves.
General Peter Schoomaker told the Senate last month, "It will take us two years to rebuild those stocks." [Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 3/15/07]
Mr. President, our military is the best in the world. I believe we need to address the strains on equipment, so we can remain the best in the world.
Readiness - National Guard
Mr. President, the Iraq War has especially impacted the readiness of our National Guard. The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. General Stephen Blum, testified that the readiness of National Guard forces is at an historic low. General Blum said that, "Eighty-eight percent of the forces that are back here in the United States are very poorly equipped today in the Army National Guard." [Testimony before Commission on the National Guard and Reserve, 1/31/07, page 9)]
A national commission looked at the National Guard and Reserve and sent its report to us in Congress in March. The Commission said: "We believe that the current posture and utilization of the National Guard and Reserve as an "operational reserve" is not sustainable over time, and if not corrected with significant changes to law and policy, the reserve component's ability to serve our nation will diminish." [Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, Second Report to Congress - March 1, 2007: Executive Summary]
Mr. President, our military is the best in the world. I believe we need to address the readiness of our Guard and Reserve, so we can remain the best in the world.
Readiness of Guard & Reserve Affects Domestic Disaster Preparation
Mr. President, we also rely on our Guard members when disasters strike here at home. We need their trained personnel and equipment to respond quickly.
After the horrible tornados in Kansas two weeks ago, the Governor of Kansas said that recovery efforts were hampered because there weren't enough personnel or equipment. Those resources were in Iraq, not here at home.
Colonel Timothy Orr of the U.S. Army National Guard told the Senate that his brigade's homeland security capabilities have been degraded. He testified:
"Our ability as a brigade to perform these [homeland] missions continues to be degraded by continued equipment shortages, substitutions, and the cross-leveling of equipment between the state and nation to support our deploying units." [Testimony before Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, 4/24/07]
Readiness - Training
Mr. President, I've shown how the Iraq War has impacted the readiness of our troops, our equipment, and our National Guard. The pace of deployment to Iraq is also hindering another measure of readiness - the training our service members receive.
To meet the President's surge, the Pentagon has been sending some troops to Iraq earlier than planned and keeping other units there longer than planned. That means that troops are get less time at home, less time between deployments, and less time to train. Commanders are forced to shorten the training their troops receive, so they're focusing on the specific training they need for Iraq - but not for other potential conflicts. Now that makes sense. If there's limited training time, we want all that time devoted to their most immediate need. However, many military leaders are warning that this fast pace diminishes our ability to respond to other potential conflicts.
Here's how the Colonel who commands the 1st Marine Regime put it: "Our greatest challenge is and will remain available training time, and because that time is limited, our training will continue to focus on the specific mission in Iraq. This has, and will continue to, limit our ability to train for other operations." [Colonel Lewis Craparotta, U.S. Marine Corps, Commander, 1st Marine Regiment, Testimony before Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, 4/24/07]
Army Colonel Michael Beech told the Senate in April that he believes our training strategy is broad enough to support a variety of other events. But he added: "However, if deployed in support of other emerging contingencies, I would be concerned with the atrophy of some specific tactical skills unique to the higher-intensity conflicts." [Testimony before Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, 4/24/07]
So we have military commanders telling us that they're concerned that our ability to train for other missions has been limited and certain tactical skills have atrophied.
Mr. President, we don't know what the future will bring. We don't know what types of conflicts we'll need to be prepared to fight. It's our responsibility as leaders today to be preparing for whatever the future brings. By allowing our troops to only be trained for today's mission, we are not meeting our responsibility for the long-term dangers our country must be prepared to defeat.
Mr. President, our military is the best in the world. I believe we need to address these training shortfalls, so we can remain the best in the world.
Security at Home
I'm also concerned that the billions of dollars we're spending in Iraq are coming at the expense of our ability to be strong here at home. I'm very concerned that the Bush Administration has chosen to fund this war in ways that have meant that homeland security priorities have not been fully funded.
I've worked to correct that in areas like port security grants and first-responder funding. But it's not easy to overcome years of misplaced priorities from the Bush Administration.
Let me share a few examples from the President's latest budget proposal.
- President Bush dramatically cut critical funding for first responders in his FY08 budget to pay for the war in Iraq.
- Bush's budget cut critical state homeland security grants by $348 million, or about 60 percent.
- He reduced urban area grants by $185 million, or about 25 percent.
- He cut Local Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Grants by $119 million, or about 33 percent.
Funds are limited, so we've got to be smart, and policing a civil war in Iraq should not come at the expense of security here at home.
4. We Need to Be There for Service Members, Veterans and Families
Finally, Mr. President, as we fight and win the war on terror and rebuild our military, we need to be there to support our service members, veterans and their families.
We need to meet their needs every step of the way from the day they're recruited, while they're trained, when they're deployed, and as they transition back home. Today, too many service members are falling through the cracks and not getting the support they deserve. That's why I'm working on the Veterans' Affairs and Appropriations Committees to identify and meet those needs. At the end of the day, our security comes down to people - people doing a job our country asks them to do - and we need to keep our promise to them.
Mr. President, we face terror threats around the world, and we must - and we will - defeat them. To do so, we must be smart and tough. Unfortunately, the civil war in Iraq is not making us more secure. It's making us less secure. We need to refocus our fight back to the war on terror, and we need to rebuild our military. I support the Feingold-Reid amendment because it sets a new direction for our involvement in Iraq so that we can focus on the larger security challenges our country faces. Mr. President, this is what I'm fighting for in the United States Senate, and I know we can do it. We can take care of our men and women in uniform. We can improve security here at home. We can track down and eliminate terrorists around the world. It's just a matter of getting our priorities straight. Redeploying our troops from Iraq so we can focus on those other priorities is a critical first step that the Senate must take.