Verbatim, as delivered

July 17, 2007

Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021

Statement of Chairman Lantos at hearing, “U.S. Policy Options in the Iraq Crisis”

If there was any question about the direction of Congress on Iraq, it has become crystal clear in the past two weeks. With respected Republican leaders like Richard Lugar and John Warner breaking ranks and firmly stating the need for a change in course, the pressure on the Administration is becoming greater by the day. Soon, the chorus of voices calling for a responsible redeployment will be impossible for the White House to quell with a veto threat.

For now, the Administration remains willfully deaf to these calls. But even if the President does veto the redeployment bill that I co-sponsored and that passed the House last week, Congress will send yet another telegram to the door of the White House – and next time, more Republicans will show up to help deliver it. And the time after that, even more will stand up and be counted.

I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I fear that it might. The Administration astonishingly signaled yesterday that it is considering a further increase in troop levels in Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace said one of the options on the table would be to boost the number after General Petraeus’ crucial report in September. This would represent an irresponsible disregard for the strong will of Congress and of the American people.

The Administration is fighting against the tide with a misinformation campaign. After each damning military report and devastating development, the White House spins a story about partial progress and the slimmest of successes.

The fact is that Iraq has spiraled into a civil war that cannot be contained. Four years and four months into the war, the level of violence is once again flaring, as demonstrated by the ghastly bombings yesterday in the city of Kirkuk.

In its interim benchmark report, the Administration again tried to sugarcoat the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground. Using the most liberal grading standard possible, the Administration could give no more than a 50-percent grade to the Iraqis.

Among the list of the unmet benchmarks were some of the most critical of all, including the disarming of militias and the ability of the Iraqi security forces to operate independently. Let’s face it: the troop escalation is a categorical failure and the American people know it.

Like most Americans, I am convinced that the war has dragged on too long and cannot be “won” any time soon by any definition of winning that includes peace and good government. The issue is no longer whether we get out. It is how we get out, how soon, and how we manage the aftermath.

So even if the Senate passes a redeployment bill this week to match ours and the Administration vetoes it, we 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.

Many doomsayers predict the direst of consequences in the aftermath of a withdrawal from Iraq. There is concern about the prospect of regional war and possibly a genocide. There is concern about the possibility of a war between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. And there is considerable concern about the prospect that Iraq will fall fully under the sway of Iran once the United States withdraws.

We must grapple with and address these concerns as we craft a withdrawal plan. I look forward to working with Republican leaders on ensuring that our withdrawal is safe and responsible, both for our troops and for Iraq.

A few courageous Republican Senators have seen the writing on the wall and are boldly stating that we must change our strategy urgently. The bill introduced by my friends Senators Warner and Lugar calls for the Administration to adopt a shift in our approach to Iraq by October. While I do not think that their bill goes far enough to really change course, it does employ a tactic that might accomplish a great deal: reconsidering the 2002 war authorization legislation and reshaping it for today’s more realistic mission.

I applaud Republican leaders for breaking ranks and I urge Republicans in the Senate to turn up the heat on the White House by voting for a responsible redeployment plan this week as the House has already done. Congress must bring the Administration back down to Earth on Iraq.

The Administration must come to grips with what the Congress and the American people have known for months: We have to finally get our troops out of harm’s way. Over the past week, it has become apparent that Congress and the Administration do not just disagree about the war, but are in fact working in two different orbits.

The Administration has no concrete plan to bring an end to the war before the conclusion of its term. Meanwhile, Congress is becoming increasingly committed to crafting strong, substantive initiatives towards a wise redeployment. I urge the Administration finally to heed the calls of the leaders of its own party and the will of the American people.