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IRAQ: Senator Murray Delivers Major Speech on Iraq

Apr 25 2007

Senator Calls on President Bush to Finally Listen to the American People and Military Experts, Demand Benchmarks from the Iraqi Government, Refocus the Fight Against Terrorists, and Sign the Supplemental that Funds our Troops and Veterans

Listen to Senator Murray's Remarks

(Washington, D.C.) - This morning, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) delivered a major address on the Senate floor laying out a responsible direction forward in Iraq.

Senator Murray's Remarks Follow:

Mr. President, I am here to speak on the floor today because American lives, American security, and America's future are on the line in Iraq. The American people know it. They sent a clear message in November.

The Iraq Study Group told us. They gave us honest assessments and recommendations to move forward in Iraq.

The President Is Ignoring Military Experts

Generals have spoken out. General Casey told us in January:

"The longer we in the U.S. Forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias."

General Abizaid told us in November:

"I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem."

Colin Powell has also talked about it:

"I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."

The numbers Mr. President, speak for themselves. More than 3,300 Americans have died in Iraq, and nearly 25,000 have been wounded. A few days ago, nine more US soldiers were killed in a bombing, and twenty more US troops and one Iraqi soldier were injured.

Americans have heard the military experts and the Iraq Study Group, and they have seen the sacrifice of our troops and their families and now they are demanding a change in course. But sadly the President still refuses to listen. He is ignoring military experts, the Iraq Study Group and the American people.

Now Is the Time

It is clear the Iraqi civil war requires a political solution, not a military solution. Our service members have done everything we've asked them to. They deserve better than to be stuck in the middle of a civil war. Four years into this war - starting the fifth year -- the President is still tossing around heated rhetoric while trying to convince the American people that Democrats don't support the troops. I reject that rhetoric, and I call on him to put politics aside and begin to put our troops first. We can all agree that it's long past time for that.

Now is the time to show our troops that we support them with the funds and supplies and armor they need, but that we also support them enough to change direction when the current course simply is not working.

Now is the time to show our troops that we respect our military, and we refuse to decimate the world's finest fighting forces through extended deployments, limited time at home, and the destruction of valuable equipment in another country's civil war.

Now is the time to show our troops that their lives mean more than an open-ended commitment to an Iraqi government that has repeatedly failed to meet deadlines and take ownership for their own future.

Now is the time to show our troops that we understand that America needs them - not in the middle of the Iraqi civil war - but in places like Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda is growing in strength.

And now is the time to show our troops that their government is about more than promises and rhetoric. We must stand together to say that we will meet the needs of our injured service members and our veterans who have paid the price for this Administration's failure to plan for the war and its aftermath.

Congress is moving forward now to pass a supplemental bill that shows our troops they come first. All the President has to do is sign on the dotted line.

Political, not Military Solution

Unfortunately, because the Bush Administration failed to plan and failed to understand centuries-old tensions in the region, we now - more than ever - need a political and diplomatic solution in Iraq. As the past two months have brutally revealed, the escalation is not working. The civil war has intensified and our troops are stuck in the middle of sectarian violence and find themselves the target of insurgent attacks. It is hard to argue that the situation on the ground - both for our troops and for Iraqis- has gotten better.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times reported that:

"Bombs ripped through the streets of Baghdad killing at least 171 people in the deadliest day in the capital since the American-led security plan for the city took effect two months ago."

Two days ago, the Boston Globe noted that:

"The deaths raised to 85 the number of U.S. service members who died in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for American troops since December, when 112 died."

And according to the Associated Press:

"Outside the capital, 1,504 civilians were killed between Feb. 14 and Thursday, April 12 compared with 1,009 deaths during the two previous months."

It is time to transition our mission in Iraq from that of policing a civil war. Our troops are trained for combat, not for refereeing warring factions with a long and complex history. It's time to focus on strengthening America's security and bringing our troops home.

Transitioning the mission should center on three realistic and achievable goals for our military:

  • Training and equipping Iraqi security forces,

  • Conducting targeted counter-terrorism operations,

  • And protecting our remaining U.S. forces and interests in Iraq.

We Need a Diplomatic and Political Surge

The second part of the equation is a surge in diplomatic and political efforts. This is a necessary task the President has refused to undertake. America alone does not own the keys to Iraq's future. Iraq's neighbors must help as well. They should play a larger role in training Iraqi military and police and in reconstruction. And they should play a larger role in convincing Iraqis they must make compromises and take responsibility for their future. Without a targeted and serious regional effort to stabilize Iraq, the country's future will remain in question.

The cause of continued insecurity and destruction has not been our military - but rather the political and policy failures of a President who has hid in his bunker and stubbornly refused to pursue a strategy needed to bring stability to Iraq.

Iraqis Must Meet Reasonable Benchmarks

As we all saw vividly in November, the American people have lost patience with the President's go-it-alone strategy. It is simply wrongheaded to continue on with an open-ended commitment to an Iraqi government that has repeatedly failed to meet deadlines and take responsibility for their own country.

The Supplemental bill that we will send to the White House requires the President to send a report to Congress by July 1 this year certifying whether Iraq is meeting reasonable benchmarks The American people deserve to know if the sacrifices made by our troops are being met by the Iraqi government.

Specifically, the American people deserve to know:

  • If the Iraqi government has given U.S. and Iraqi security forces the authority to pursue all extremists -- including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias;
  • If Iraq is making substantial progress in delivering necessary Iraqi Security Forces for Baghdad and protecting those forces from political interference;

  • And we deserve to know if Iraq is intensifying efforts to build balanced security forces throughout Iraq that provide even-handed security for all Iraqis.

Specifically, we deserve to know if the Iraqi government is making substantial progress in meeting reconciliation initiatives, including:

  • enacting laws to equitably share oil revenue among all Iraqi regions;

  • whether they're adopting laws for provincial and local elections;

  • whether they're reforming laws banning members of the Baath party from public service;

  • and whether they're shouldering the cost of reconstruction through allocation of oil revenue.

Mr. President, those are reasonable benchmarks that Americans should require of the Iraq if we are asking our young Americans to put their lives on the line.

That is why Congress has agreed to this supplemental request which begins the phased redeployment of our troops no later than October 1 of this year with a goal of removing all combat forces by April 1, 2008 - with the exception of those who will remain to:

  • train and equip Iraqi security forces,

  • to Continue targeted counter-terrorism operations,

  • and to protect our remaining U.S. forces .

Honor Our Commitment to Our Troops and Veterans

Mr. President, from sending our troops to war without critical armor, to housing them in squalor at Walter Reed, to leaving them to fend for themselves when they need mental healthcare, the Bush Administration has utterly failed our service members, our veterans, and their families. Mr. President, as we rightfully change the mission of our troops in Iraq and prepare to redeploy, we cannot - and we must not - forget about our veterans when they come home.

Nowhere is that failure more apparent than in the handling of what will one day become known as the signature wound of this war - Traumatic Brain Injury. It's estimated that 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury during their service. Now one of the biggest problems with TBI is that it is an unseen wound. And often because of that it it's misdiagnosed. In many cases, unless a service member involved in an IED incident is bleeding, he or she won't be documented as having been involved in an explosion if he was 100 yards away or 200 yards away. As a result, the actual number of OIF and OEF veterans with TBI could be even higher than statistics indicate.

Now I know many of us are now familiar with ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff 's experience with Traumatic Brain Injury. I personally was really moved by Bob's struggle with his injury, his family's unrelenting hope for recovery, and their ongoing work toward triumph throughout this horrible situation.

While Bob has seen a tremendous recovery from this horrendous injury, I fear that the care he received has not been duplicated for thousands of other troops when they return home. He detailed for us several cases of soldiers suffering from injuries - not unlike his own - and the lack of care they received when they left flagship care centers for our smaller, local hospitals.

Mr. President, our wounded warriors and veterans have faced massive budget shortfalls, horribly long waiting lines, and sickening hospital conditions, but this Administration continues to be reactive to the problems to this day. It's time for this posture to end. Taking care of our troops, taking care of our veterans, taking care of their families must be a cost of this war.

When it comes to caring for our troops and veterans, this Administration -- from the White House, to the Pentagon, to the Department of Veterans Affairs -- has consistently waited until conditions reached a critical stage before taking action to remedy them.

Our Supplemental Funds our Troops, Armor and Veterans

In the Supplemental Conference Report that we're sending to the President, Congress says enough is enough. We are finally providing more funding for our troops than even the President himself has sought.

This bill we're sending includes over $100 billion for the Department of Defense, which is nearly $4 billion more than the President's request for our troops. We provide critical funding for vehicles that will help protect our troops from these horrible IEDs.

This military has also been brought to the brink by a President who has time and again extended their tours and called upon our National Guard and Reserve to join active combat brigades in Iraq.

This supplemental bill will rebuild our overburdened military and calls for an end to the deployment of non-battle ready troops. It provides $1.8 billion for the VA to provide first-class health care to our wounded and $2.5 billion for military health care.

For the last four years, this Administration has conducted this war with little regard for the tremendous strains it is placing on the VA, on our veterans and their families. Today, we put an end to their neglect. The days of ignoring our wounded warriors as a cost of this war are over.

Continue the Fight on Terror

As the President acknowledged in a speech last September, our terrorist enemies are more dangerous than ever. On that point, the President is correct. But unfortunately, he fails to acknowledge that terrorists are rapidly growing and gathering strength outside of Iraq. And he fails to acknowledge that having our forces policing a civil war in Iraq is sapping our ability to combat terrorism across the globe. It's clear that terrorist cells with heavy anti-American bents have gained power and continue to grow in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we turn a blind eye to those anti-American cells and focus only on Iraq, the consequences for America's future security are dire. By redeploying our forces, we can re-concentrate on the war on terror. We can devote our resources toward pursuing those who would do America harm.

Meet Our Needs at Home

And as we deal with the situation overseas, we cannot neglect our needs here at home. That's why this supplemental bill provides:

  • $1.8 billion for veterans' healthcare;

  • $20 million to repair Walter Reed Hospital;

  • $6.9 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina;

  • $650 million for the SCHIP children's health program to address the shortfall facing children in 14 states;

  • and $2.25 billion to secure the homeland - a vital need -- including - port and border security, transit security, screening for explosives at airports, and screening cargo on passenger aircraft.

Now somehow the White House is claiming that all these investments are somehow unnecessary. I think most Americans would disagree. I know most Americans want us to take care of our citizens here at home.

In recent weeks, we've heard some false claims about this supplemental that I want to take a moment to correct.

First, we are moving this bill to the President at a rapid pace. In fact, we're moving even faster than the Republicans did last year, and the year before that.

Second, we are doing our job in meeting the needs here at home. Anyone who thinks domestic needs should be ignored in an emergency supplemental ought to look at the past four supplementals ---- all written and passed by a Republican Congress, and signed by a Republican President.

The emergency supplementals approved by Republican Congresses in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 included funding for domestic needs. And interestingly, during these years, the President never complained about domestic funding in supplementals.

Mr. President, as our government spends billions in Iraq, I believe it's our job to also meet needs here at home.

President's Veto Threat

If the President vetoes this bill, he will have to explain to the American people -

  • why he is delaying funding to our troops overseas;

  • why he is blocking funding to care for our injured troops;

  • why he is ignoring the will of military experts, the Iraq Study Group and the American people;

  • he's going to have to explain why he is ignoring the needs of hard-hit communities that are struggling to recover;

  • and why he is standing in the way of the security needs here at home at our ports, airports, and borders.

Congress has agreed to a supplemental bill that shows our troops that they come first. The President has repeatedly reminded Congress that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and that he is the one with the authority to make the military and policy decisions that impact not only our troops and veterans, but the well-being of our Gulf Coast, our borders and, indeed, the future of America's security.

Mr. President, the President is alone in his bunker.

If he truly cares about getting this funding to our troops as soon as possible and providing them with the supplies, health care and direction they deserve, he will quickly sign this bi-partisan bill.

Mr. President, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is just a short distance from Capitol Hill, but if the President vetoes this sensible legislation to give our troops a successful path forward in Iraq, then he is miles away from the will of the American people, for whom he serves.