01.12.07

Responsible Redeployment - A Way Forward In Iraq

Mr. Speaker, yesterday's decision by President Bush to escalate the U.S. troop commitment in Iraq will not bring stability to Baghdad. It will not ameliorate the growing civil war in Iraq. A troop increase will not result in a more rapid exit for the more than 130,000 American troops serving there, many of them on their third or fourth tour in Iraq. And worst of all, it makes apparent that the President has paid little heed to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, a multitude of experts, both civilian and military, the Congress and, most importantly, an overwhelming majority of the American people.

For a long time, many of us have been calling for a new way forward in Iraq, and the White House billed last night's speech as a dramatic departure from current policy. But while the rhetoric may have been different, the plan outlined by the President was more of the same, and he clearly intends to stay the course. This is a position that I believe is unwise and that I strongly oppose.

I will support a resolution of disapproval, and I am willing to explore other options to force the President to truly change policy in Iraq.

In his remarks, the President told us that failure in Iraq is unacceptable, but his prosecution of the war has made success in Iraq recede further and further from our reach. The latest escalation is another in a long series of poor decisions by the administration that have cost the lives of so many brave and dedicated troops, cost American taxpayers more than $350 billion and left Iraq in chaos. Shiites and Sunnis who once lived in integrated neighborhoods in Baghdad are slaughtering each other now at a terrifying pace. Iraqis spend 16 of every 24 hours without electricity.

Rather than sending additional troops to combat the insurgency, we should begin to responsibly redeploy our forces in Iraq while redoubling our efforts to train and equip Iraqi forces to provide their own security, an effort which is at the very heart of the Iraq Study Group recommendations for bolstering security in Iraq.

President Bush rightly characterized the most recent pushes to stabilize Baghdad, Operation Together Forward and Operation Together Forward II, as unsuccessful, because there were not enough Iraqi forces to hold areas cleared by American troops. But the President's assertion that we will now be able to rely on 18 Iraqi army and police brigades to shoulder much of the burden in a new offensive in Baghdad is clearly at odds with reality.

The Iraqi Army has not distinguished itself in combat. And four of the six battalions that were deployed to the capital last summer failed to show up at all.

The Iraqi police, which are under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have been heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias and death squads and cannot be expected to take on Shiite extremists as Prime Minister Malaki has pledged. There is little support for an escalated American military presence in Iraq. American military commanders do not see an increase as improving the security situation on the ground, and the strain of multiple deployments has seriously eroded our capacity to respond to other contingencies should the need arise.

The American people, Democrats and Republicans alike, do not support an increase in the troop strength in Iraq. Perhaps most important of all, the Iraqis do not want more American troops in Iraq. In fact, if there is one thing that unites Iraqis, it is the desire that American forces should not remain indefinitely.

Furthermore, by continuing to bear the brunt of the fighting against insurgents, foreign fighters, and militias, the United States has fostered a dangerous dependence that has slowed efforts to have Iraqis shoulder the burden of defending their own country and government.

Even as we focus our military efforts on training Iraqi security forces, we need to push the Sunnis and Shiites to make the political compromises that are the necessary precondition to any reconciliation process. I have been arguing for more than 2 years that the struggle in Iraq is primarily a political one. The Iraq Study Group and numerous outside experts have also pressed the administration to force the Iraqi Government to make the hard decisions on power sharing, minority rights, and the equitable distribution of oil revenues that could help quell the Sunni insurgency and undermine support for Shiite maximalists like Muktada al Sadr.

I also believe the United States must work to convene a regional conference to support Iraq's bringing together its neighborhoods to find ways to stem the flow of weapons and foreign fighters into Iraq and to pursue common strategies in support of reconstruction and political reconciliation efforts.

There is hard evidence that Iran is facilitating the flow of weapons, trainers, and intelligence to Shiite militias in a bid to assert greater control over its neighbor. At the same time, the long and porous Syrian border has continued to be a transit point for foreign jihadis who have carried out some of the spectacular and devastating attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.

Finally, our efforts in Iraq cannot be pursued in a vacuum. We need to do more to engage the Arab and Muslim world, and there must be a renewed effort to start peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This week's passage of the 9/11 implementation bill included excellent proposals for buttressing our leadership by improving our communication of ideas and communication in the Muslim world and by expanding U.S. scholarship exchange and other programs in Muslim countries.

Mr. Speaker, failure is unacceptable, but so is staying the course. I hope and expect that the debate we are going to have, the first real debate we have had in years, will convince the President to listen to those who are calling for a new way forward and not more of the same.