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Levin Amendment No Alternative To Petraeus Plan

Mitch McConnell

"Yesterday I characterized that the Democratic Leadership's decision to hold us here through the night as a theatrical display more worthy of Hollywood than Washington. Indeed, anyone who watched it all unfold might have thought they were tuning in to an episode of the Twilight Zone.

"How else can we explain a majority party that was asked repeatedly the day before to schedule a vote on the pending Levin Troop Withdrawal Amendment standing straight-faced on the Senate floor in front of giant billboards that read: 'Let us Vote.' How else to explain member after member standing up to rail against a 60-vote threshold that they frequently insist upon themselves.

"Sen. Lieberman has embodied the best traditions of this country and this body throughout this entire debate. He's taken a lonely stand. And in acting out the freedom and the power that he and every other proud voice of dissent has under the Rules of this Body, he showed the world the greatness and the genius of our government. Here's what he said:

I am exercising my right within the tradition of the Senate to do what senior colleagues have advised over the years -- to stop the passions, the political passions of a moment from sweeping across Congress into law ... so with respect to my colleagues who are saying, let us vote, we will vote. But the question is, on that vote, will we ask for 60 votes to pass this very, very significant amendment? And I say it is in the best traditions of the United States Senate to require 60 votes before this amendment is adopted.

"So before discussing the amendment itself, I want to thank my colleague, Sen. Lieberman for his courage. For reminding us again and again, at no little personal cost to himself, what we are about in this war and what we are about in this body.

"Last night's theatrics accomplished nothing. Nearly every major paper in America noted this morning that we could have had the vote on the Levin Troop Withdrawal Amendment without any of this fanfare. And that's really all it amounted to: sound and fury.

"Because after 24 hours of debate, after all the gags and giggles and gimmicks, the cold pizza and the empty cots, the essential thing remained unsaid. We still don't know what the amendment we're about to vote on would mean for our troops, our allies, our mission, or our interests. "And so, with the Senate now in its second week of debate on the Levin Amendment, after last night's 24-hour talk-a-thon, I rise yet again to ask a simple question: What would the Levin Amendment do?

"Its sponsor tried to explain on Sunday the practical effect it would have. He said, quote, 'Most of our troops would be out of there by April 30.'

"Can he show me where in the text it says this? He can't. It doesn't. This one and a half page amendment contains nothing but vague assertions.

"We need to know what the authors of this amendment intend to do with this mission, what their plan is. General Petraeus deserves to know. Our troops deserve to know. Our allies deserve to know. The people of Iraq deserve to know.

"So I ask again the questions I asked last week: the Levin Amendment says the Secretary of Defense shall 'commence the reduction of the number of United States forces in Iraq not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this act.'

"What would this reduction involve?

"The Levin Amendment says members of our Armed Forces will only be free to protect United States and Coalition personnel and infrastructure, to train Iraqi Security Forces, and to engage in 'targeted counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda.'

"What does 'targeted' mean?

"The Senior Senator from Michigan was asked these questions by the press. He said he didn't want to get into a debate as to how many troops will be needed. He said answering that question would be changing the subject. But that is the subject. Isn't it? -- whether and how many troops we're going to keep in Iraq.

"Isn't that what this whole debate is about? Don't we have a right to know how many troops the Senior Senator from Michigan thinks are necessary to achieve our goals? To prevent the mayhem our top commanders have warned would be the result of a precipitous withdrawal?

"The most important questions are left unanswered. All we have are vague assertions that no one, not even the sponsor of this amendment, has attempted to explain with any measure of clarity.

"Now let me remind my colleagues what we do have clarity on. Let me remind the Senate of what we agreed to in legislation in May as a framework for considering our current strategy in Iraq.

"A bipartisan majority voted 80 to 14 in May to fund General Petraeus's Baghdad Security Plan. We agreed that we would receive a report on benchmarks in July. We voted, and put into law, that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker would report in September on progress.

"We are now in the second week of debate on the Levin Amendment, and we expect several others will be filed outlining a number of different ways of revisiting the Petraeus Plan.

"But in my judgment, the plan we put forward in May, and put into law, is still valid -- to give General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker about 60 more days to prepare their assessment.

"At that point we will have allowed the Baghdad Security Plan three months to work since it became fully manned last month. The benchmarks report and the timeline we set in May was clear. It gave us, the troops, and our allies, clarity on what was expected.

"A Democratic-led Senate voted 81-0 to send General Petraeus into Iraq. A bipartisan majority of 80 senators told him in May that he had until September to report back on progress. His strategy has led to some military successes. Yet just one month after this strategy became fully-manned, Democrats are declaring it a failure. Some of them were calling it a failure as early as January.

"The Levin Amendment is not a credible alternative to the current strategy. By aiming to short-circuit the Petraeus Plan just one month after it became fully manned and two months before we said we'd expect a report, we short- change ourselves and our forces on the field.

"We need to give General Petraeus until September to do his work. That's a commitment we made and signed into law. We need to stand by that commitment.

"For this and the other reasons I've outlined, I will vote against cloture on the Levin Amendment. I urge my colleagues to do the same."

Mitch McConnell is a U.S. Senator from Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader.

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