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McCain's Opening Statement at the Petraeus Hearing

John McCain

Folllowing is the transcript of Sentor John McCain's statement during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq, as provided by CQ Transcriptions.

Well, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome back to our two distinguished witnesses.

We've come a long way since early 2007 and quite a distance, even, since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appeared before our committee last September. We owe these two patriotic Americans a debt of gratitude for their selfless service to our country.

At the beginning of last year, we were engaged in a great debate about what to do in Iraq. Four years of mismanaged war had brought us almost to the point of no return. Sectarian violence in Iraq was spiraling out of control. Life had become a struggle for survival. And a full-scale civil war seemed almost unavoidable. Al Qaeda in Iraq was on the offensive and entire Iraqi provinces were under the control of extremists.

And yet, rather than retreat from Iraq and face thereby the terrible consequences that would ensue, we chose to change strategies, try to turn things around. Instead of abandoning Iraq to civil war, genocide and terror, and the Middle East to the destabilizing effects of these consequences, we changed the strategy and sent additional troops to carry it out. And by the time our two witnesses testified in September, it had become clear that these new efforts were succeeding.

Since the middle of last year, sectarian and ethnic violence, civilian deaths and deaths of coalition forces have all fallen dramatically. This improved security environment has led to a new opportunity, one in which average Iraqis can in the future approach a more normal political and economic life. Reconciliation has moved forward. And over the weekend, Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish leaders backed by the prime -- backed the prime minister in a statement supporting his operation in Basra and urging the disbandment of all militias.

Much, much more needs to be done. And Iraq's leaders need to know that we expect them to show the necessary leadership to rebuild their country, for only they can. But today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there.

But while the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished, as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated, we're no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success. Success, the establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threats to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists, this success is within reach. And with success, Iraqi forces can take responsibility for enforcing security in their countries, and American troops can return home with the honor of having secured their country's interests at great personal costs and of helping another people achieve peace and self-determination. That's what I hope every American desires for our country in our mission in Iraq. Yet should the United States instead choose to withdraw from Iraq before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long-lasting. Al Qaeda in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions, pushing for a full-scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East. Iraq would become a failed state. It could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations. Iranian influence would increase substantially in Iraq and encourage other countries to seek accommodation with Tehran at the expense of our interests.

An American failure would almost certainly require us to return to Iraq or draw us into a wider and far, far costlier war. If, on the other hand, we and the Iraqis are able to build on the opportunity provided by recent successes, we have the chance to leave in Iraq a force for stability and freedom, not conflict and chaos. In doing so, we will --


SENATOR LEVIN: (Sounds gavel.) We're going to ask you, please, to sit down. No more demonstrations, or if there is another one, we're going to have to ask our Capitol Police to remove any demonstrations.

SENATOR MCCAIN: I have had this experience previously, Mr. Chairman. (Laughs.)

If, on the other hand, we and the Iraqis are able to build on the opportunity provided by recent successes, we have the chance to leave in Iraq a force for stability and freedom, not conflict and chaos. In doing so, we will ensure that the terrible price we have paid in the war, a price that has made all of us sick at heart, has not been paid in vain. Our troops can leave behind a successful mission, and our nation can leave behind a country that contributes to the security of America and the world.

To do this, we must continue to help the Iraqis protect themselves against the terrorists and the insurgents. We must press ahead against al Qaeda, the radical Shi'ite militias -- Shi'a militias, and the Iranian-backed special groups. We must continue to support the Sunni volunteers, the Iraqi Awakening, as they stand up to al Qaeda in Iraq.

And we must continue to build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, so they can play an ever stronger and more neutral role in suppressing violence. This means rejecting, as we did in 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal of our forces at the moment when they are succeeding.

I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interest there. Our goal, my goal, is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops. And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine. But I also believe that the promise of withdrawal of our forces, regardless of the consequences, would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.

Achieving our goals in Iraq will require much more than a military effort. The Arab neighbors should increase their investment and engagement, including an overdue dispatch of ambassadors to Baghdad. We should encourage greater United Nations involvement, building on the work its representatives have done on the Kirkuk issue.

The Iraqis must continue the reconciliation that has helped dampen violence over recent months. And they need to move a portion of their growing budget surpluses into job creation programs, move toward an end to their reliance on outside sources of aid and look for other ways to take on more of the financial burdens currently borne by American taxpayers. This is especially important as the government of Iraq continues to take in revenues it finds difficult to disburse through its own government channels.

One way they might begin to do this is by contributing significantly to the Commanders Emergency Response Program, CERP, which pays for employment and reconstruction projects throughout the country. This is a start. Other programs of this type can and should be funded by the Iraqis themselves.

By giving our men and women in uniform the time and support necessary to succeed in Iraq, we have before us a hard road. It is a privilege beyond measure to live in a country served so well by these individuals. The sacrifices made by these patriots and their families are incredibly great. Yet the alternative path is, in the end, the far costlier one.

As we convene this hearing and as we continue to debate our future in Iraq, Americans continue to risk everything -- everything -- to accomplish their mission on our behalf. With the untold costs of their failure and the benefits offered by success, the Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq. We should choose instead to succeed.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

John McCain, a U.S. Senator from Arizona, is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

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