Thursday, March 15, 2007
Floor Statement on Funding the War in Iraq
MR. REED: Madam President, we are debating a serious proposal with respect to the future of our involvement in Iraq and the future of Iraq and, indeed, that region of the world. I believe the proposal Senator Harry Reid of Nevada advanced is a sensible way to begin to change our policy, so it can be sustained over time and it can lead to a successful termination of our operations in Iraq but, more importantly, give the Iraqis the opportunity to establish a stable government in a very difficult part of the world. The elements of the proposal that Senator Reid has advanced, are right on target. First, to define the mission in a way that they can be fully supported by the United States and also that they are congruent with our best interests in the region and the world. Next, obviously, is force protection. We have to be able to assure our forces that they can protect themselves at all times. Third, to continue to develop the Iraqi security forces--not just to put guns in their hands but to develop their capacity to do other things, such as civil affairs, intelligence operations, those critical military skills that will allow them to be an effective force in their country, to bring not just stability but a sense of competence, coherence to the operation of their Government. The next mission is the constant attention to counter-terrorism. This is a mission that I believe transcends every border in the world. Wherever there are those elements that are actively plotting to attack us or our allies, we should be prepared, together with local authorities, if they are cooperative, to take these elements out very dramatically, preemptively. That is essentially what we did in Somalia, without the presence of hundreds of thousands of American troops in Somalia. But we had the special operations capacity, intelligence, and the cooperation of local parties so we could do that. Those are the three critical missions I believe we have in Iraq that will be longer term. But I think, also, when recognizing those missions, we can begin to recognize and begin to redeploy our combat brigades that are there. They are essentially now engaged in a civil war, a sectarian battle between the Sunnis and Shia in Baghdad, but not just there. These forces we have to begin to redeploy away from Iraq. Initially, they could be redeployed within the country, to adjacent countries, and at some time back to their home stations. I think this is the wisest course. I hope, as the legislation suggests, we could at least have as a goal March of 2008 for the redeployment of these combat brigades, understanding that these residual missions--force protection, training Iraqi security forces, and counter-terrorism--will endure. That is a wise policy that is consistent with our national security objectives and also consistent with our ability and the ability of the American people to sustain these efforts over many months. The continued course of simply adding more troops and hoping for the best, which is the President's strategy, is not going to work. More importantly, I cannot see it being sustained indefinitely by the American people or supported by a terribly overstretched military force, particularly our Army and Marine Corps. This whole approach to Iraq, I believe, from the very beginning, was a flawed strategy. It disregarded fundamental aspects of any coherent strategy--identify the most serious threat and apply adequate, very robust resources to the threat. Iraq wasn't the most serious threat in that region. Iran is much more powerful and much more potentially dangerous and, also, at that juncture, the most serious threat, and still lingering are the international terror cells. But this administration, against my judgment, entered into this conflict in Iraq. Not only did they have a flawed strategy, but the execution has been horrific, incompetent. Today, we are left with very few good choices. One of the most revealing aspects of why the strategic decisions made by the administration were so faulty was given a few weeks ago when I asked Admiral McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence: What is the most likely source of an attack on the United States, groups in Iraq or groups in Pakistan? His answer, without any delay, immediately, was: "Pakistan, of course." So we have invested billions and billions of dollars, 140,000-plus troops, over 3,000 Americans killed in action, many more seriously wounded, and yesterday, the highest intelligence official in the country says the most serious potential threat to our homeland, an existential attack on the order of 9/11, is from our ally Pakistan. That is because, once we focused on Iraq, we took our focus off Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have allowed the Taliban to rehabilitate itself. The Pakistanis have been unable to deny a safe haven to bin Laden, Zawihiri, and other key elements of al-Qaida's leadership who are not only surviving but beginning to reorganize and reassert themselves as directors or aspirers or at least coconspirators with other terror groups around the world. That is a stunning indictment of the strategy that this administration has unveiled. There are other costs to this strategy. You will recall the "axis of evil." The President boldly announced that it was Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. Well, frankly, after ignoring the North Koreans for many years, now the administration is seeking to cut a deal with them with respect to their nuclear weapons. But this is a much worse deal than the administration had when it stepped into office. In 2000, their plutonium was capped by international inspectors on the ground. But through a series of miscues, the administration allowed the North Koreans to take away their plutonium, create up to 10 nuclear devices, we think, test long-range missiles and, in a shocking act, detonate a nuclear device, becoming part of the nuclear club. Now we are offering them essentially the same terms that could have been had, without all this damage, many years ago. With respect to Iran, we know one of the consequences, one of the costs of our operations in Iraq is that Iran is in a much more secure strategic position today. They have colleagues and cohorts who are integral parts of the Government in Baghdad. The people we rely on, the Maliki Government, has huge support from people who have spent years, who have fought alongside the Iranians against the Iraqis. Yet we are supporting, as we must, the Maliki Government. But we should all recognize the huge influence Iran has today as a result of this strategy. Now, these costs are strategic costs, but there are some obvious costs in terms of dollars and cents. We are spending in Iraq about $8.4 billion a month. That level of effort is difficult to sustain. In Afghanistan, we are spending less but still significant dollars. All these costs are being funded from the supplemental. We are borrowing the money from the next generation of Americans to pay for these efforts. The President already set up another supplemental request that will be pending in a few days. It includes $93 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will bring the total for this fiscal year--what was in the original budget, together with the supplemental--to $145 billion. We will likely see totals such as that in succeeding years. In the 5 years the United States has been engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan--Iraq particularly--we have spent about $530 billion. That is a huge sum of money. That is very difficult to sustain. We can also see the cost in terms of supplying the Army. We have a situation where units are without equipment. Our National Guard is in disarray. Now we are going to, once again, put a huge demand on our military forces to support this escalation. It has been suggested to me that, shortly, upward of nine brigades of National Guard and Reserve forces will be notified for redeployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Once again, our citizen soldiers will be taken from their homes and sent overseas. When they go this time, they will not have quite the same equipment as they did the last time because National Guard equipment is in disrepair, even worse than the regular forces. Their training will likely not be as authentic because of the difficulty in getting out to the national training centers. They might do most of the training at their home stations. We are beginning to see this accumulation of costs reflected in many ways. A few days ago, the Boston Globe published a story in which it showed that because of the retirement and resignations of captains in the Army, senior NCOs in the Army, promotion rates have been going up astronomically to fill these vacancies. That is probably the worst potential trend for any military force, because without those capable company grade leaders, we will not be able to assure the American public we have the same level of professional skill that we have today. I believe, for all these reasons, the resolution proposed by Senator Harry Reid is the right course of action. But there will be an alternative approach, and that is a proposal by Senator Gregg with respect to funding. A few points can be made about that. The Gregg resolution misinterprets the Constitution by saying the Congress's only role is simply to rubberstamp what the President does--or worst case, they can only take funds away. That is not the case at all. As I mentioned on the floor yesterday, way back in 1799, the Supreme Court of the United States clearly said that Congress had the right to make decisions with respect to national policy involving foreign affairs. In fact, their decision essentially said the Congress could pass a law that would allow the President to stop ships going into certain ports but not leaving certain ports. Many of my colleagues on the other side came down and talked about us micromanaging. That is micromanaging. It is constitutionally permissible, perhaps, but it is not something we will do. It is not something we would want to do. We want to give the President the latter two that he needs but for missions that are consistent with our national security. Under the Gregg resolution's interpretation of the Constitution, Congress's only responsibility seems to be to fund whatever the President asks. That I don't think is appropriate constitutionally or with respect to our obligations as thoughtful participants in the policy process along with the President. Senator Murray will offer an alternative, and that alternative strongly supports our troops but also properly interprets the Constitution by stating the President and the Congress have shared responsibilities for the decisions involving our Armed Forces. I suspect if you took the Gregg logic to the extreme, if the President sent up a funding bill and we thought it was inadequate, then I suspect we couldn't do anything because, after all, all we can do is either agree with the President or cut off the funds. That is not the case at all. I can recall the President sending up to the Senate budgets that did not have enough resources for armored humvees, body armor, et cetera. It was this Congress that put more money in because we have a role when it comes to funding the operations of the military. When it comes to Presidential policy, it is not simply accepting it or taking away the money; it is altering that policy if it is wrong, it is redefining missions, and it is fully resourcing those missions which are the product of this interaction between the President and the Congress. A quote from Senator Murray's resolution: "...the President and Congress should not take any action that will endanger the Armed Forces of the United States, and will provide necessary funds for training, equipment, and other support for troops in the field, as such actions will ensure their safety and effectiveness in preparing for and carrying out their assigned missions." That I think is a much more accurate, appropriate, and sensible approach to the issue of shared responsibility. In addition, the Murray resolution makes it clear that the Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to take actions that help our troops and our veterans. We have had a lot of talk about not funding the troops. But wait a second, it was the President who sent in forces without a plan. It was the President who sent in forces without adequate armored humvees. It was the President who sent in forces without body armor. It was the President and his Department of Defense who weren't aware of the travesties that were taking place at Walter Reed when it comes to veterans. It is the President's Veterans Administration that refused a few years ago to ask for adequate money for the Veterans Administration hospitals because of the new demand from veterans. If anyone over the last several years failed to fund the troops properly, it is the President. So our concerns should be directed at his failures to fund the troops rather than that of Congress. This is a collaborative process that both the White House and the Congress have to ensure our forces have the resources they need, but we also have to make sure they are performing the missions most important to the United States. By endorsing the Murray resolution, we are sending a clear message of our joint responsibility to fully fund our soldiers in the field, and by supporting Majority Leader Reid's resolution, we are sending a signal that the right policy, phased redeployment, carefully defined missions, providing a stable regional approach to Iraq and, in the long term, redeploying troops so we can face with more flexibility the challenges of a North Korea, of an Iran, of places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and places perhaps at this moment we are not aware of but will suddenly burst onto the front page because of the presence of terrorists or other destabilizing activities. I urge strong support of the resolution supported by Majority Leader Reid and the resolution supported by Senator Murray. I yield the floor.