A Better Way Forward in Iraq
Mr. Speaker, it has been nearly 4 years since President Bush ordered American military forces into Iraq with the intention of toppling the government of Saddam Hussein. Now, after more than 3,100 American troops have been lost and this Nation has spent in excess of $365 billion, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Do we endorse the President's decision to escalate the conflict, or do we, as a coequal branch of government, exercise our prerogative to force a change in course?
In October of 2002 I voted for the resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq based on three assumptions: First, that the intelligence community correctly assessed that Iraq had active stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing a nuclear bomb; second, that President Bush would exhaust all diplomatic efforts to resolve the international community's standoff with Iraq over its weapons programs; and, third, that if the President determined that a resort to force was necessary the prosecution of the war and its aftermath would be competently managed by the President and his administration.
Each of these assumptions proved to be wrong. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no nuclear program; President Bush did not exhaust all diplomatic efforts; and perhaps most tragically, his administration made terrible, costly and repeated blunders in its conduct of the war.
I have been to Iraq three times to visit our troops and to thank them for their service and their sacrifice. I have met the families of five soldiers and marines from my district who have been lost in Iraq. I have visited with our wounded here and overseas.
Words cannot convey the admiration that I have for the magnificent job that these men and women, many of them still in their late teens and early twenties, are doing on our behalf in Iraq. Whatever failings there have been in the prosecution of this war by the administration, our troops have performed magnificently in wretched conditions and against an often unseen enemy that has targeted U.S. military and Iraqi citizens without discrimination.
We must and we will continue to ensure that they have the resources they need to do their jobs and to come home safely, and once they are home, we will provide them with the care and benefits that they have paid for in blood.
Unlike some of my friends in the minority, I have never construed support for the troops to require a blind, unquestioning and slavish devotion to the Executive, even when the Executive is wrong, even when its policies will not achieve the desired result, and even when those very policies place our troops unnecessarily and unproductively at greater risk. On the contrary, an engaged Congress is essential to meaningful support for the troops.
On many occasions here on the House floor, in committee and in meetings with senior officials, I have pressed for accountability, oversight and a more vigorous commitment to force protection. In October 2003, I voted against the $87 billion Iraq supplemental because I believed that it shortchanged security for our troops and allocated too much for no-bid contracts.
Now, more than 3 years later, our reconstruction efforts in Iraq are a disaster and a national disgrace. Too many of our troops still ride into battle in vehicles that are not properly protected against IEDs and other weapons.
Last June I voted against the administration's “stay the course” resolution that sought to conflate the war in Iraq with the entire struggle against al Qaeda, even as it failed to acknowledge that our strategy to stabilize the country was not working and that its country was slipping into civil war.
Now, against the advice of Congress, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, most military experts and the American people, President Bush has determined that victory in Iraq can be achieved by deploying 21,000 additional combat troops to Baghdad and its environs.
Regrettably, I cannot see how this escalation can be successful. Instead, I believe it will further the cycle of dependency that has allowed Iraq's Shiite dominated government to avoid making compromises with Sunnis and to avoid building capable security forces. It will increase the strain on our military at a time when the Army and Marines are already stretched to the breaking point. And, most of all, it will deepen our military commitment to Iraq at a time when there is a national consensus that we should be taking steps to reduce our combat role and reinvigorate the diplomatic process.
The administration and the minority charge that those who do not support the escalation have no plan and that this is the only possible path to success. I disagree. The Iraq Study Group laid out a strategy that centered around a reduced American combat presence in Iraq, increased efforts to train Iraqi forces, increased pressures on the Iraqis to make compromises and a regional conference to hammer out a common approach to Iraq.
This resolution is a clear message to the President that his approach has lost the confidence of this House and we need a change of direction. I hope he chooses to take our counsel. But he should be aware that the days of a rubber-stamp Congress are over, and we are willing to take other steps to insist on charting a new course in Iraq.
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