Thursday, July 12, 2007

I've got sunshine on a cloudy day ...

"The report released today is further indication and affirmation of the failure of the political leadership in Iraq to initiate the passage of the political benchmarks that would achieve national reconciliation," said Senator Snowe, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The Iraqi government has failed to meet the deadlines and goals they established as far back as last September. The surge was designed to provide the Iraqi government with breathing room to work toward a national reconciliation, yet they have failed to take advantage of this time. The interim report released today states that movement toward new elections, legislation to fairly distribute oil revenue, and reversal of existing "de-Baathification" laws that limit Sunni participation in the government is "unsatisfactory." Indeed, the Iraqi government has consistently bypassed, overlooked or set aside critical deadlines for achieving these goals. One must question whether the Iraqi government and its political leadership is more interested in enacting an agenda on behalf of all of Iraq rather than consolidating power for sectarian interests. And this is the key issue – if the Iraqi government is not prepared to integrate the minority population and to move forward in a manner representative of the entire country, than clearly our military should no longer be on the front lines making an extraordinary sacrifice when the Iraqi government is unwilling to unify its own nation.

"As we are coming off of the bloodiest quarter for Americans since the war began, the number of attacks across Iraq has remained steady, and the Iraqi government has failed to enact or implement any of the benchmarks necessary for national reconciliation, then it is time to send a strong message from the United States Congress on behalf of the American people that the current strategy is unacceptable and that we must move in a different course."

Mr. President, I rise today to join my distinguished colleagues from both parties in offering a bipartisan way forward on what is the greatest challenge facing our country: the war in Iraq.

I have repeatedly expressed my opposition to the President's strategy of sending tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq.

Despite my opposition and that of many others, the Administration pushed forward with its plan, arguing that the surge would give the Iraqi government the time to make the political compromises necessary to end the continued sectarian violence. Unfortunately, my initial concerns with this misguided policy have been proven to be well-founded.

First, there has been a terrible loss of life among our troops over the past few months. Three hundred thirty-one American soldiers were killed from April to June, the highest three-month level of the war. One such soldier was Sergeant Joel House, a brave and patriotic Mainer whose funeral was held last week in his hometown of Lee.

Second, the Iraqi government has utterly failed to pursue the political reforms that are necessary to quell the sectarian violence. When you combine the increased sacrifice of our troops and the unwillingness or inability of the Iraqi leaders to act, it is not surprising to see a steady erosion of support for the President's policy.

It is clear that our country needs a new direction in Iraq. We need a new strategy that will redefine the mission and set the stage for a significant but gradual withdrawal of our troops over the next year.

Mr. President, we do not have to search far and wide for this new policy. It is already mapped out for us in the unanimous recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. The Iraq Study Group's recommendations chart the path forward and remain just as viable today as they were when they were released last December.

The Iraq Study Group has laid out three core principles for salvaging a measure of stability in Iraq and the surrounding region. First, the ISG says that the U.S. must shift the primary mission of military forces in Iraq from combat to training, with the goal of removing all combat brigades not necessary for training, force protection, and counter-terrorism by March 2008.

Shifting the mission of our troops to a new and more defined set of goals will ultimately encourage the Iraqi military to step up to the plate, while lowering U.S. casualty rates, relieving our servicemembers of heavy deployment schedules, and improving the long-term readiness of our units.

Second, the ISG states that U.S. support for the Iraqi government should be conditional on Iraq's making progress in meeting specific benchmarks. Senator Warner and I authored legislation in May to require the President to provide two reports to Congress, on July 15 and September 15 of this year, on whether the Iraqis are meeting a number of benchmarks essential to achieving political reconciliation. The first of these reports will be released tomorrow. Although we have not yet seen the report, from everything I have heard, the Iraqi government is unlikely to have met any of the benchmarks we laid out.

The Warner-Collins proposal also included a provision that I authored to condition the release of reconstruction funds to progress made by the Iraqi government. If the Iraqis are not doing their part to meet their own goals, the United States should not continue to provide reconstruction funds. This is also consistent with the ISG's recommendations.

Third, the ISG says that the U.S. must launch a new diplomatic offensive in the region to ensure Iraq's long-term stability. Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues and interests. Both the international community and Iraq's neighbors are clearly not doing enough to foster its stability, and it is time that this changed.

Senators Salazar and Alexander have incorporated these recommendations into legislation, S. 1545, which I have cosponsored, and into the amendment we will offer to the Defense Authorization bill.

Mr. President, Iraqi leaders must reach political agreements in order to achieve reconciliation, and their failure to do so is greatly contributing to the spiraling violence in Iraq and the causalities among American troops. The responsibility for Baghdad's internal security and for halting sectarian violence must rest primarily with the Government of Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces. An open-ended commitment of American forces in Iraq does not provide the Iraqi government with the incentive it needs to take the political actions that give Iraq the best chance of quelling sectarian violence. Ultimately, resolving the sectarian violence requires a political, not a military, solution in which the Sunni minority is more fully integrated into the power structures and oil revenues are more fairly distributed among Iraq's citizens.

This war, and the way it has been prosecuted, has cost our nation much over the past four years. It has cost us the lives of our men and women in uniform, and it has cost us billions of dollars.

While our nation's armed forces have sacrificed greatly, they continue to persevere. They inspire us. Many of our nation's soldiers have been to Iraq more than once. This, of course, has been very hard on them, and it is also difficult for the families they leave behind. We especially need to thank our reservist and National Guard members, who continue to answer the call of duty. Far too much is being asked of these citizen-soldiers, their families, and employers. Whether they are from Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, or Mississippi, these citizen-soldiers are willing put their lives on the line and their jobs and families aside to answer the call of duty. But we as a nation are asking too much of them given the failures of the Administration's policy in Iraq.

Now it is time that we stand up and show these service members, and the American people, that we in Congress can move past politics on the most critical issue facing our country today. That we can build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to this war. That is exactly what this amendment will do, and I ask my fellow Senators to join us in supporting this measure.

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