Our purpose here today is to assess the report we received on Friday from the Bush Administration on the current status of U.S. political and military efforts in Iraq. To help us in that task, we have two very able and knowledgeable witnesses: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is one of America’s most intelligent and experienced diplomats.
The Administration’s report -- just like the President’s latest speech and the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last week -- has one basic underlying goal. And that, of course, is to persuade Congress and the American people to stay the course in the religious civil war in Iraq.
The President says that his policy in Iraq needs more time, but that is nothing new. Already, this fiasco has lasted longer than World War Two.
This endless war has killed, injured or displaced millions of Iraqi civilians – men, women and children. It has taken the lives of more than 3700 of our courageous men and women in uniform and wounded at least 27,000 more. “Every month,” said Major General John Batiste in recent testimony before our committee, “American formations continue to lose a battalion’s worth of dead and wounded… with little to show for it.”
In economic terms, the cost of this war is catastrophic. To date, we’ve poured an estimated $455 billion into the war in Iraq, and that is just for starters. According to one of our most distinguished economists, Professor Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University -- who happens to be a Nobel Prize winner and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors -- the total actual real cost to our economy could well exceed $2 trillion.
Senator Graham, when General Petraeus testified recently before the Senate Armed Services Committee, you asked him an excellent question. This is how you put it:
“So you’re saying to Congress that you know that at least 60 soldiers, airmen and Marines are likely to be killed every month from now until July; that we are going to spend $9 billion a month of American taxpayer dollars, and when it’s all said and done, we’ll still have about 100,000 people there. (Do) you believe that it’s worth it in terms of our national security interests to pay that price?”
Now that, Senator Graham, is the question, and I commend you for asking it.
As we know, General Petraeus believes that the answer to that question is “yes,” and so does the President.
But a large and growing majority of Americans, myself very much included, do not agree.
We answer that question loud and clear, and our answer is “no.”
The people of this country do not want to stay the course in Iraq. Instead, we want to change the course --- and to move in a new direction.
Back in January, the President announced that in order to buy time for the factions in Iraq to come together and reach a political settlement, he was sending over tens of thousands of additional US combat troops.
Those troops have done what they were asked to do. They did buy time for Prime Minister Maliki and his associates.
And what did the regime in Baghdad do with that time? Hardly anything. There was no real progress.
Instead of acting as the architect of a new Iraq, Mr. Maliki behaved like what he has always been: the front man for a Shiite faction.
Does anyone really think that in six or eight months from now, this is suddenly going to change?
Not long ago, Senator Graham, you gave to us a very good definition of what would constitute an American victory in Iraq, and I quote you: “Winning is a stable, functioning representative government that can contain Iran, will reject Iranian domination.”
With that definition, I certainly will not argue. I would be very pleased indeed to witness the emergence of that kind of an Iraq.
But how long it will take, and at what cost to our country and to the people of Iraq, to get from here to there?
General Petraeus is quoted as saying that he anticipates that by June of 2009, Iraq will reach what he calls “sustainable security.”
Other military experts think that it will take quite a bit longer -- up to five years, says General John Abizaid, the former commander in Iraq.
And how about a, quote, “stable, functioning representative government?”
When asked when something like this might appear, Ambassador Crocker said last week that he would not even try to give a time line. And I note, Senator Graham, that in David Broder’s column in this past Sunday’s Washington Post, you are quoted as observing, “if we don’t see progress on two of the three big issues -- oil revenues, de-Baathification, provincial elections -- in the next 90 days…. Iraq could be a failed state.”
From day one, the Bush Administration has made mistake after mistake after costly, deadly mistake in Iraq. And all that we are being offered now is more of the same.
The time has come for a dramatic change of course in Iraq. United States policy in Iraq needs to move in a new direction, and we need to do so now.