John Kerry: “Our Troops Are Doing Their Jobs, Now Congress Needs To Do Its Job”

Statement by Senator John Kerry from the floor of the United States Senate on the unwillingness to allow a floor vote on the troop surge resolution:

Mr. President, this new Congress comes here with a mandate, as well as a moral obligation, to find not just a new way forward in Iraq but the right way forward. That is what we owe the families; that is what we owe our fighting forces.

The mistakes of the past do not change the fact that Congress bears some responsibility for getting us into this war and must take responsibility for getting us out.

That responsibility begins with having a real bipartisan dialogue about where we go from here. The American people have spoken clearly: they want a real change of direction in Iraq – not more of the same failed strategy that has gotten us into the mess we are in today.

Mr. President, our troops on the ground in Iraq have done their duty – we have a moral and constitutional obligation to do ours. We owe the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day an honest debate on the way forward in Iraq. We owe them a vote on the President’s senseless decision to escalate the war in Iraq by sending over 20,000 more of them into the middle of a raging civil war. And most importantly, we owe them a policy that is worthy of their sacrifice. Anything less would be a complete abdication of our most basic responsibilities as Senators.

It is incredible to me that some here would seek to obstruct debate over the most fundamental issue facing our country today. I know many on the other side of the aisle oppose this escalation – they say it every day. And the Majority Leader has given every opportunity for those who support the escalation to vote in favor of it. Yet still, many on the other side of the aisle voted against holding a real debate — and having a real vote – on Iraq. Why? Politics, plain and simple. It’s obvious the White House does not want a clear expression of disapproval for the President’s escalation, and they are doing whatever they can to avoid it.

But while some here are playing political games, American kids are being killed in Iraq — at least 3,084 so far. And just today, we learned the names four more who recently died: Sergeant Corey Aultz; Sergeant Milton Gist, Sergeant Major Michael Mettille; and Specialist Eric Sieger – and we know several others have been killed since then. How many more American are going die while we argue over process?

Mr. President, the American people aren’t interested in hearing Senators bicker while their sons and daughters are being killed in Iraq. They know that every day more brave Americans are giving their lives, more young men and women are suffering permanent disabilities, more families are having their futures taken away.

They have every right to expect this body to have a real debate and a vote on a policy that has so deeply divided our country – and we need to give it to them now. It is time to stop this travesty. It’s time for the Senate to show the leadership the people expect from us. No more delays, no more hiding behind procedural votes. It’s a simple question: do you support the escalation of the war or not? The time has come for Senators to make their case then stand up and be counted.

And it’s time to set aside the hollow rhetoric and straw men that have stymied real debate for so long. We all agree on the incredible bravery of the men and women of our Armed Forces who put their lives on the line every single day in Iraq. We all want to see a stable Iraq. We all agree on the need to preserve our vital national security interests in the region, and we all agree on the importance of preventing the violence in Iraq from spreading into a broader regional conflict. We all understand the need to prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists.

Trying to pretend that this resolution is a vote of “no confidence” in our troops – as some have argued — is outrageous. Let’s be clear: it’s a vote of “no confidence” in another disastrous decision by this President, a vote of “no confidence” in the continuation of a failed policy that has not worked in the past and will not work now. To suggest otherwise is nothing more than a cynical effort to distort the debate. Our troops and our country deserve better. The best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles.

The simple fact is that sending in over 20,000 additional troops isn’t the answer – in fact, it’s a tragic mistake. It won’t end the violence; it won’t provide security; it won’t turn back the clock and avoid the civil war that is in fact already underway; it won’t deter terrorists who have a completely different agenda; it won’t rein in the militias who are viewed as the protectors of the general population.

It will simply postpone the political solution that is the only solution in Iraq, while further damaging our prestige and credibility in the region. And most importantly, it will also expose our troops to unnecessary death and injury.

Our generals understand this. General Abizaid said clearly in his testimony before the Armed Services Committee that more U.S. troops will not solve the security problem. In fact, he said they would only slow the process of getting Iraqi security forces to take more responsibility. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously opposed this escalation. In fact, according to recent news reports, the Pentagon warned that any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends.

Already, we are seeing the concerns our military commanders voiced about the troop surge manifest themselves. Since the President announced his decision to escalate the war, we have already seen a major surge – a surge in violence against civilians in Iraq. This weekend we saw the biggest single suicide attack since the war began, with over 130 civilians killed and over 300 wounded. In fact, some 1000 Iraqis have died in the past week alone. One Shiite politician put it simply: “A long time has passed since the plan was announced, but so far security has only deteriorated.”

I will support the resolution offered by Senators Warner, Levin and Biden because I believe it is important for the Senate to send a strong bipartisan message to the President and the country that we do not support this senseless escalation. This is important enough that I will vote for this Resolution even though I do not agree with everything in it.

In particular, I strongly disagree with Section 4, which states that the reduction of funds for troops “would undermine their safety or harm their effectiveness in pursuing their assigned missions.” The notion that if Congress uses its Constitutional power to cut off funds as a means of forcing the Administration to face facts and get our policy right Iraq it is somehow undermining the safety of troops in the field is absurd.

In fact, the opposite is true. The best way we fight for the safety of our troops is to get them out of harm’s way, out of the middle of a raging civil war that U.S. soldiers – no matter how brave, no matter how well trained, no matter how effective – cannot end if the policymakers and the diplomats don’t start doing the jobs they should have done long ago.

I strongly believe it is not enough for Congress simply to go on record opposing the President’s reckless plan. That’s why I support the legislation introduced by my friend and colleague, Senator Kennedy, which requires a new congressional authorization before any federal funds can be spent on this senseless escalation. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to vote on the legislation in the near future.

Stopping this escalation, even, is not enough. I believe Congress has an obligation to provide a responsible exit strategy that preserves our interests in the region, preserves our ability to continue to protect the security of the United States, and honors the sacrifice our troops have made. I believe those are tests we need to pass.

Eight months ago in the Senate, thirteen of us stood up against appeals to politics and pride and demanded a date to bring our troops home, to make Iraqis stand up for Iraq and fight a more effective war on terror. But while we lost that roll call, I still believe it was the right policy to put in place, to demand accountability, and to leverage action.

Now, I am more convinced than ever that a combination of serious, sustained diplomacy and the enforcement of benchmarks for progress by the Iraqi government, leveraged by a one year deadline for redeployment of U.S. troops, is the best way to achieve our goal of stability in Iraq and security in the region.

Let me emphasize that this strategy does not mean abandoning Iraq in one year: in fact, it provides the President the discretion to leave the minimum number of United States troops necessary to complete the training of Iraqi security forces, go after terrorists, and protect United States facilities and personnel.

That is why I will again introduce legislation that offers a comprehensive strategy for achieving a political solution and bringing our troops home within one year. We have to find a way to end this misguided war and bring our troops home, and I believe this legislation, while protecting all the interests I described, can do that.

Some say that opponents of the President’s failed policy in Iraq do not offer an alternative – nothing can be further from the truth. Sending more troops into Iraq is not a strategy – it is simply more of the same tactic that has already failed. This legislation offers a comprehensive military and diplomatic strategy that incorporates many of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group to provide us with the best chance to succeed. — including launching a major diplomatic initiative – including holding a summit with all of Iraq’s neighbors – including Iran and Syria – and creating an international contact group, enforcing a series of benchmarks for meeting key political objectives, shifting the military mission to training Iraqi security forces and conducting targeted counter terrorism operations, and maintaining an over-the-horizon presence to protect our interests throughout the region.

The one year deadline is not arbitrary. In fact, the Iraq Study Group report effectively sets a goal of withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008, or within approximately 1 year. This date was based on the timeframe for transferring responsibility to Iraqi security forces set forth by General Casey and on the schedule agreed upon with the Iraqi Government itself for achieving key political security objectives. The President even said that under that new strategy, responsibility for security would be transferred to Iraqis before the end of this year. That is how unarbitrary it is. The President has said it, our generals have said it, the Iraq Study Group has said it.

It is time for Iraqis to assume responsibility for their country, and that is not just a statement. We need a timetable which forces Iraqi politicians to confront reality and start making the hard compromises necessary to find the political solution. Americans should not be dying because Iraqi politicians refuse to compromise and come together. They are using the security blanket of American presence in order to avoid making those compromises, and we need to get about the business of leveraging the compromise that is the only solution to what is happening in Iraq.

My recent trip to Iraq and the Middle East strongly reinforced my view that setting this deadline is the key to making Iraqis stand up for Iraq. We must give the Iraqis more control over their own destiny, as they have repeatedly requested — and make them accountable for making the hard political compromises necessary to achieve a lasting political solution. That means recognizing that Iraqi politicians have repeatedly shown they only respond to deadlines – a deadline to transfer authority, deadlines to hold two elections and a referendum, and a deadline to form a government.

Conversely, without hard deadlines hopes for progress in Iraq have been frustrated. When Prime Minister Maliki took power in May, General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad said the new government had six months to make the political compromises necessary to win public confidence and unify the country. They were right, yet with no real deadline to force the new government’s hand, that period passed without meaningful action — and we are now seeing the disastrous results.

Mr. President, it has been nearly 4 years since the invasion of Iraq. For four years, we have been hearing from this Administration that progress is right around the corner. We’ve been hearing the Iraqis are near a deal on oil revenues, that they are making progress towards reconciliation – but we still haven’t seen any results.

To ensure that history does not repeat itself, we must also enforce the interim benchmarks agreed upon by the Iraqi government for meeting key objectives on national reconciliation, security and governance. Meeting these benchmarks is key to forcing the Iraqis to reach a sustainable political agreement — but without any enforcement mechanism, they are little more than a wish list. That’s why, as the Iraq Study Group report suggests, this legislation calls on the President to condition United States political, military, or economic assistance on meeting these benchmarks.

I also believe a deadline is essential to getting Iraq’s neighbors to face up to the realities of the security needs of the region. They all share our interest trying to bring stability to Iraq, and they must play a more active and constructive role in helping the parties reach a political solution and aiding in the reconstruction effort. This deadline will help create the sense of urgency that is necessary to bring about real results.

We cannot turn back the clock and reverse the decisions that brought us to this pass in Iraq and the Middle East. We cannot achieve the kind of clear and simple victory the Administration promised the American people so often even as the conditions in Iraq grew worse and worse. But we can avoid an outright defeat. We can avoid creating the chaos we say we want to avoid. We can avoid a victory for our adversaries by identifying specifically what we can and cannot accomplish in Iraq.

With a new Congress comes a new responsibility: to get this policy right. That starts with preventing the President from going forward with this senseless escalation. And it has to end with finding an exit strategy that preserves our core interests in Iraq, in the region, and throughout the world.

I look forward to having a real debate. I hope we can find that way.

1 Comment

  1. 1
    Probus says:

    This is an excellent speech and this is a practical and doable bill. It is much more comprehensive than the weak non-binding resolution put forth by Sen. Warner and Levin. It is better than the legislation put forth by Sen. Obama which doesn’t even focus on a forceful and lasting push for robust diplomacy. It is certainly better than the plan put for by Sen. Clinton. We are way past the time when we should have a cap on the number of troops. This legislation has teeth and is a sound exit strategy. I look forward to its passage. Sen. Kennedy’s bill is also a good bill. It will stop the escalation dead in its tracks. We definitely need a new war authorization. Our mission in Iraq has changed. The plan put forth by the president is not an exit strategy. It is an escalation.

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