Verbatim, as delivered
Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021
February 13, 2007
Remarks by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA)
Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
On Skelton-Lantos-Jones legislation H. Con. Res. 63, disapproving of the decision of the President announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.
I must begin by reacting to the two distinguished Republican speakers who preceded me.
The distinguished Republican leader recited movingly and accurately terrorist outrages across the globe. Those terrorist outrages make the passage of our resolution all the more urgent and all the more imperative. We are not fighting terrorism in Iraq; we are attempting to referee a religiously-based civil war which saps our strength and destroys our fabric as a society.
As to the distinguished Republican whip, may I say this resolution does not make tactical decisions -- it reverses a mistaken course. The Administration is recommending an acceleration of the wrong course. Our resolution reverses that course.
Mr. Speaker, it is too late to go back and make right all that has gone wrong in Iraq. And clearly, carrying on with more of the same will do no good. But the Administration has yet to learn that you cannot unscramble an omelet. Instead, it is trying to add to the mix another 21,500 men and women who deserve better than that.
In pursuing its policies in Iraq, the Administration cannot unscramble and undo its many mistakes: buying into rogue intelligence; disbanding the Iraqi army; conducting mindless and extreme de-Baathification; permitting the early looting and destruction; supporting the growth of a government based on hate-filled sectarianism; allowing waste, fraud, and abuse in the use of U.S. taxpayer funds … and on and on, ad nauseam and ad infinitum.
While we all hope that the goal of a quiet and stable Iraq will be achieved under General Petraeus, I am deeply skeptical. It will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. The place is just too much of a mess.
Our continued heavy presence in Iraq has not forced Iraqi leaders to take the requisite actions on power-sharing, resource-sharing, and national reconciliation. In fact, it has done the exact opposite. They have made minimal and cosmetic efforts in the knowledge that we will fill the gaps.
In the meantime, there are so many other fronts globally and here at home on which we might well have made more progress if we had not been fixated these last four years on Iraq. Domestic and foreign problems have festered while we invested blood and treasure in Iraq. As our Iraq problems have mounted, our commitment and ability to resolve other pressing issues have vanished.
Last November the American people sent a loud and unmistakable message. With the announcement of an escalation of the war in Iraq, it is obvious that the Administration didn’t get it.
So we are trying one more time. The resolution before the House is the second chance for this Administration to hear a strong, clear message on Iraq, one it ignores at its peril, and at ours as a country.
The Majority of Congress wants de-escalation. The majority of the American people want de-escalation. Many Republicans throughout the nation – and even our Republican colleagues in this Congress – want de-escalation. Poll numbers show that even the Iraqi people want the United States to gradually withdraw. And Prime Minister al-Maliki has indicated in virtually every way he can that he, too, opposes the surge.
But the Administration wants escalation. So it is going its own way, nearly alone.
There is a clear-cut policy difference here, Mr. Speaker. It is reflected, simply and unambiguously, in our resolution. Those of our colleagues who oppose escalation should vote for the resolution. Those of our colleagues who stand with the Administration in supporting escalation should oppose it.
Along with 52 hearings on Iraq in the House and the Senate over the past five weeks, this resolution represents the first phase in a long-overdue process of Congressional oversight of the war in Iraq. It is not the last phase. Congress will be dealing with the Iraq issue for months to come – in fact, for as long as it takes to end this nightmare. But this simple resolution will establish the first marker. Those who want to draw down the U.S. presence will be on one side of that marker. Those who want to take further steps into the quagmire will be on the other.
Mr. Speaker, we are throwing our soldiers into the midst of a civil war – particularly those whom we are sending to Baghdad. It is utterly unrealistic – and grossly unfair – to expect soldiers straight out of Iowa or Alabama or California to be able to differentiate between Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shiites, much less to be able to tell at a glance which of these groups are with us and which are against us. But that is exactly what we are asking them to do, and we are asking them to do it in an urban terrorist setting and to do it without any linguistic or cultural background.
The first sentence of the recent National Intelligence Estimate tells us everything we need to know – and I quote – “Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the [Iraqi] security forces and the [Iraqi] state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism.”
Every day, we read another article illustrating the impossibility of the situation into which we have inserted our brave men and women. One day, we read how the Iraqi army is infested with militia members. Another day, we read that countless members of al-Sadr’s violently anti-American Mahdi Army have actually been trained by our soldiers unaware of the trainees’ true affiliation. On yet another day, we read that U.S. soldiers cannot even tell their Iraqi counterparts the object of their joint military missions, for fear that the mission will be compromised. This weekend, we read an interview with a U.S. soldier who acknowledged that he had no idea whatsoever whether an arrest he witnessed by Iraqi security forces was justified or merely another instance of sectarian revenge.
Mr. Speaker, Iraq is a hall of mirrors, and the Administration has utterly lost its way. More troops will not help. The United States wants Iraq to be a state based on the rule of law, but too many Iraqis prefer score-settling, chaos, and civil war. We cannot create a stable Iraq when the Iraqis themselves don’t seem to want it.
Let’s not leave our finest young men and women literally stranded in an Iraqi maze. Let’s make this resolution the first step on their journey home. We must begin a reduction in force at the fastest responsible rate possible, consistent with the safety of our troops.
And then it will be time to rebuild our battered military and, just as importantly, rebuild the battered reputation of the United States.
For the sake of our troops and our national interest, I strongly support this resolution, and urge all my colleagues to do likewise.