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No Military Solution To Iraq

Hillary Clinton

Mr. President, the description of the problems that are currently existing in Iraq and in the region by my friend and colleague is not only accurate, but unfortunately, an indictment of the policies of this Administration. What has been described in terms of the instability in Iraq and the consequences for further conflict are ones that I take very seriously.

The issue before us now is what is the best approach that we, as a nation, can take that will fulfill our obligations to our men and women in uniform, that will make clear to the Iraqi government and people that their lives and futures are at stake, and will strengthen the hand of the United States diplomatically to deal with the consequences of the misguided policies that have brought to us this point. There are no good answers. Anyone who stands here and believes that he or she has the truth, the facts, understands both what is going on and what is likely to flow from whatever decision we take is most probably to be proven wrong by reality as it unfolds. Many of us have been searching for the best approach to take with respect to our involvement in Iraq for a number of years. But we don't do it with any sense that we know everything that will happen no matter what decisions are taken.

But what we do have is a history of miscalculation and mistakes that we are now attempting to deal with. The Levin-Reed Amendment attempts to put into law a new direction for Iraq, one that I and others believe is long overdue.

The reason that I have come to support this amendment is because if one looks at the actions of our military in Iraq based on the authority under which they are operating, they have achieved the missions they were given. They were asked to remove Saddam Hussein from power and bring him to justice, and they did so. They were asked to provide the Iraqi people with the opportunity for free and fair elections, and they did that as well. They were asked to give the Iraqi government the space and time to make the difficult political decisions that are required in order to have any hope of stabilizing Iraq over the longer term, and they did that as well. Our military has performed not only heroically, but successfully, with courage and determination against odds and enemies from all sides.

What we know is that when the people of Iraq turn against violence, there is a chance for success. That's the basis of the counterinsurgency strategy. It cannot succeed unless the people on the ground are part of the winning strategy.

What has happened in Al Anbar province is an example of that. The tribal sheikhs and the people turned against the violence and extremism of the Al Qaeda factions, many of whom were led by foreign fighters who violated not just the human rights, but the cultural norms that existed in the area. So there became the opportunity for an alliance, an alliance between our military and local people against Al Qaeda. That is why the Levin-Reed Amendment includes the continuing efforts against Al Qaeda as a remaining mission and a vital national security interest of the United States.

If one looks, though, at the map that was just on the easel, that does not describe the situation in the rest of Iraq. In the south, I think it is clear that Iran is the political occupier, that Iranian agents are largely calling the shots and that there is an internecine struggle for power among a variety of Shiite militias. The lawlessness inside Basra and in the surrounding region cannot be quelled by any external force. The British have not only drawn down their troops, but they've withdrawn to their bases. They know they can't go out and calm the waters, because the various factions are vying for power. They're going to continue to do so until someone emerges. And Iran is largely influential in determining who that might be.

In Baghdad, we've gone from neighborhood to neighborhood. And, yes, where we are, we secure the area. The violence recedes only to pop up somewhere else, either in Baghdad or maybe in Diyala or Baqoubah or somewhere else.

So, Madam President, the problem is that Iraq is not Al Anbar province. Al Qaeda is not the major source of the instability in Iraq. It conducts the most violent and spectacular missions. It provides the suicidal killers who blow themselves up and blow up the cars and trucks in which they live at the moment. But they are not the primary cause of the violence and instability in Iraq.

Therefore, the counterinsurgency cannot succeed unless there is a dramatic change in the attitude of both the government and the people of Iraq. I do not see that happening.

The Iraqi government has not been willing to make the hard decisions. The debate as to whether they are incapable or unwilling is beside the point. They haven't done it. We keep hearing every year, every month, every week: things will be different. How many times have we heard that as the Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down? How many times have we heard that in 6 months, 8 months, 12 months our troops may start coming home?

Meanwhile, there are more American troops in Iraq today than ever before. The Iraqi government is more fractured and less effective.

The right strategy before the surge and the right strategy now, post-escalation, is the same. Start bringing our troops out of this multisided, sectarian civil war. I believe since our troops have accomplished the missions that were originally set forth, that withdrawing them from urban combat, from patrol duty, from the kind of hand-to-hand engagement that they are currently confronted by is the right military and political strategy.

It is clear that as we look at where we are today in Iraq, we are asking our young men and women to police a civil war. There is no argument about the very basic premise that there is no military solution.

And yet, the political front has been neglected. If there had been a political surge and a diplomatic surge, we might be looking at a different situation.

We also know that the training and performance of the Iraqi army and police forces have not been sufficient to relieve our troops of the primary responsibility for the fight. In fact, because of setbacks and other problems, the number of Iraqi troops that are actually available to fight alongside or to take responsibility for the fight has diminished.

And as our troops serve alongside Iraqi army officers and soldiers, they find that, yes, some do have loyalty to Iraq. Others, however, are loyal to sectarian militias. Others have looked the other way when the insurgents have planted bombs. And some have even taken up arms against Americans while wearing the uniforms that we helped provide.

The catalog of miscalculations, misjudgments and mistakes in Iraq shocks the conscience. And the unilateral decision to rush to a preemptive war without allowing the inspectors to finish their work or waiting for diplomacy to run its course, to the failure to send enough troops or provide proper equipment for them, to the denial of a rising insurgency and the failure to adjust the military strategy, to continued support for a government unwilling to make the necessary political compromises, to the adherence to a broken policy more than four years after the invasion began.

Many of us believe that it is time for us to move our troops out of harm's way in the middle of the Iraqi civil war. We believe that is an appropriate military decision that will be made sooner or later.

The recent report which was an interim report did not have very much good news in it. In September, we will get another report which I predict will be also mixed, which will put the best face on whatever the facts are, but the bottom line will remain the same. Our troops and their families are paying the price for this administration's policies.

Since the Bush administration announced this escalation, 14 brave New Yorkers have been killed in Iraq and hundreds more wounded. Two soldiers from the Tenth Mountain Division based in Fort Drum listed as captured or missing.

Since the war began, 3,619 young Americans have been killed. 26,000 wounded. Many with very visible wounds, loss of limbs, loss of eyes. Others with those wounds that are invisible but no less injurious. Depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

We've spent more than $450 billion so far, $10 billion each month. We're straining our budget. The president's two major initiatives since he was sworn into office in January 2001 have been tax cuts for the rich and the war in Iraq, neither of which he's paid for. They have been put on the American credit card. They have been funded by borrowing money from foreign countries, further undermining our standing and our leverage in the world.

Our involvement in Iraq continues to erode our position. It has damaged our alliances and it's limited our ability to respond to real threats. The unclassified key judgments of the recent National Intelligence Estimate, called the Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland, says that the threat of Al Qaeda is persistent and evolving. The report states that Al Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al Qaeda in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland.

This reality is a sobering one and I believe one that demands a new direction. I continue to press for a basic three-step approach. First, start bringing our troops out of harm's way now. Second, demand and back up those demands that the Iraqis take responsibility for their country or lose the aid we are providing them.

Everyone knows that the Iraqi government is as much a client of Iran as it is an ally of the United States. Our presence in this multisided sectarian civil war without a diplomatic or political strategy makes it unlikely that the Iraqi government will seek the resolution of the disputes that lie at the heart of this ongoing civil war.

Thirdly, we should begin long overdue intensive regional and international diplomacy on a sustained basis. Now, diplomacy in and of itself does not promise any great solution, but we have neglected it at our peril. Others have rushed to fill the vacuum. In fact, the problems that were pointed out on the map of the region have also been impacted by the Administration's failure to pursue smart diplomacy. And as we look at the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, the pressures on the Israeli government because of the rise of Hamas and the strength of Hezbollah, we can see the consequences of both our failed diplomatic strategy and our problems in Iraq today.

I have called for the strategic redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq for several years. I've introduced legislation to end the war, but to remain committed to vital national security interests that can be enumerated and more carefully defined. I voted against funding the war without any plan for ending it or without any companion efforts to engage in realistic, political, and diplomatic initiatives.

That is why I joined a bipartisan majority in supporting the Levin-Reed Amendment. It has been very difficult to get the President's attention. I hear that from both sides of the aisle. The Congress has both a duty and an opportunity to try to do that. We have one Commander in Chief at a time, and we have seen repeatedly this Administration fail to deal with the realities that we confront in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. When they do change course, as long as it takes them to make that decision as we have just seen in North Korea, the results can be very positive. And I can only hope that in the remaining 18 months of this Administration, similar actions are undertaken to deal with the problems we confront in the larger region, including Iraq and the Middle East.

I believe, too, that it's imperative that the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs inform the Congress of the plans they have for redeployment and withdrawal. Withdrawing troops is dangerous and difficult. We must not redeploy out of Iraq with the same failure of planning with which our troops were deployed into Iraq. And yet, I wrote several weeks ago to Secretary Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, asking whether there is planning, very specific planning, not the usual response "Oh, yes, we plan for everything, we plan for every contingency." What is the planning that will protect our troops when they do withdraw, which will happen, whether it happens in 120 days or it happens next year or it happens the year after? What have we done to make sure that we do it in as careful and orderly a way as possible?

Madam Chairman, I believe our troops, as well as the American people, deserve a vote yes or no on this bill. If you believe in giving the President the continued power to pursue a failed strategy without checks or balance by this Congress, make your case and cast your vote. If not, then put partisanship aside and stand with the bipartisan majority working to end this war.

Our message to the President is clear: It's time to start thinking of our troops and our broader position in Iraq and beyond, not next year, not next month, but today.

I hope, Madam President, that we will be able to vote on the Levin-Reed Amendment. I fear that we will not in the face of objections on the other side, but we are just postponing the inevitable. Come September, we will have another inconclusive report. We will have more casualties, we will have more who are injured, we will still have the same Iraqi government waiting us out. We will continue to empower Iran and to destabilize Jordan and to give a free hand to Syria and Hezbollah, and we will face an even more dangerous set of choices then. There is no reason to wait.


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