Our two committees will come together again next Monday to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. It would be refreshing if these two capable and dedicated men would outline a new plan that would redeploy our troops and bring them home from Iraq. But I expect instead that the September report -- written not by of one of our great military leaders and one of our most capable diplomats, but by Administration political operatives -- will be a regurgitation of the same failed Iraq strategy. I expect this report will be replete with the same litany of requests – more troops, more money, more patience – and all in the unlikely belief that our intervention in a bloody, religiously-based civil war will bear fruit.
The Administration won’t listen – not to Congress, not to the American people, and not to the military and foreign policy experts who have repeatedly told both our committees that the current course in Iraq is failing, and failing miserably.
When the September report lands on our doorsteps next week, it will be a political document – drafted in Washington by those who see Iraq not as it is, but as they would like it to be.
As we heard in great detail yesterday from the Government Accountability Office, Iraq has met only three of the 18 benchmarks for political and military progress. By any standard, this is a failing grade. Constitutional reform – failed to meet the goal. Iraqi military units operating independently – failed to meet the goal. Reducing sectarian violence, reversing de-Baathification, passing new oil laws: failed, failed, failed on every single count.
More than six months into the President’s troop escalation, it is readily apparent that it isn’t working – either in promoting political change in Iraq or in increasing security. In July and August alone, more than 150 American soldiers lost their lives, and more than 1000 of our brave men and women were injured. The horrific casualty rate for Iraqi civilians has also remained largely unchanged.
With his visit to Anbar Province, the President trumpeted our new cooperation with tribal militias. This alliance may contribute to peace in the short term, but will inevitably escalate the intensity of the civil war which will ensue once American forces leave the province.
According to a report released this morning by General Jones, we should not expect the Iraqi police to help. They are so riddled with corruption and incompetence that he recommends they be completely disbanded.
Republicans and Democrats in this room can all agree that we’d like to see peace and good government in Iraq. But our increased troop presence is not contributing to achieving this critical goal. Rather, it is undermining it. Our troops have become a rallying point for militant sectarian groups and terrorists of all stripes, and an excuse for failing to make tough political compromises about Iraq’s future.
There will be no peace and stability as long as key elements in Iraqi society want to continue to fight – Shia to solidify their newfound power and Sunnis to regain it. There will be no peace and stability as long as Iraq’s neighbors – particularly Iran and Syria – actively promote militant groups as a means to counter American troops in Iraq. And I, for one, doubt seriously that we will see any movement in the direction of a political settlement until such time as Prime Minister Maliki is informed that our troop transports have landed in Baghdad, ready to begin bringing home our men and women in uniform.
Until then, Prime Minister Maliki will continue to run his government like a Shiite factional leader. He will obstruct efforts to build a strong, national Iraqi army in favor of a militia-infiltrated force protecting Shiite power. He will stymie initiatives to reverse de-Baathification, and in so doing, demonstrate to the Sunni population that this is not their government.
Without meaningful progress in Iraq and an effective partner in the Iraqi government, the majority of Congress will continue to insist on a reasonable and responsible withdrawal plan that presents the least-bad option for Iraq, the region, and our national security interests. By definition, this will involve training Iraqi security forces, attacking terrorist cells in hotspots, and shielding important Iraqi infrastructure facilities.
I wish Congress would have the President’s cooperation in this effort, but absent a September Surprise, we won’t have it. But we will continue to do what is right – reach out across the aisle to our friends and colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle to push for a bipartisan consensus towards wise redeployment of our forces in Iraq. The American people have asked us to accomplish this task, and we will not rest until it is done.
It is now my great pleasure to turn to my dear friend and distinguished colleague, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton of Missouri.