REP. NORM DICKS (D-WA 6th)
United States House of Representatives
February 14, 2007
Mr. SKELTON. Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to my friend for years and my colleague, the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Dicks), who is the vice chairman of the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations.
Mr. DICKS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your kindness.
The resolution that is being considered in the House of Representatives today expresses a very clear message to the American people that it is time to change the direction of our policy in Iraq.
The meetings and communications that I have had with people from the Sixth Congressional District from the State of Washington have made it clear that the people I represent want to hear from Congress. My resolve in this is strengthened by the loss and grief I have heard from families in my district whose loved ones have been lost or injured in this conflict.
I also deplore the mistakes by this administration: failing to deploy enough troops to stabilize Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi Army, failing to provide jobs and economic restoration. Those are but a few.
It has been 4 years since U.S. and Coalition Forces invaded Iraq based on what was faulty intelligence. The premise for our military action against the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq was that he had weapons of mass destruction, and even the President has now acknowledged that this determination resulted from an incorrect interpretation of intelligence information.
With more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel killed and thousands more wounded, people across the Nation, including many Members of Congress, are questioning our continued involvement very seriously and very legitimately, especially since the President has now ignored the advice we know he received from many senior military advisors and has decided to increase the number of military troops deployed to Iraq. It is time for this Congress to speak clearly and forcefully in opposition to this escalation and in support of changing course in Iraq.
In this resolution we are clear that our determination that American forces have accomplished everything they have been asked to do in Iraq courageously and with the professionalism the Nation expects of the best-trained and best-equipped military in the world. These troops have not let us down, to be sure; but in many ways they have been let down by a policy that ignores the reality of their situation, and by a Commander in Chief whose only response to what is unmistakably a civil war in Iraq is to place more American troops in harm's way while sectarian violence plays out in the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
Day after day, U.S. service people are being killed and injured by bullets and bombs traded by Shiite and Sunni zealots for reasons that predated our involvement and which will likely endure long beyond the time we finally leave Iraq.
For the past 4 years, I regret that the Republican leadership of Congress has abdicated much of its oversight responsibility for the Iraq war and its funding. To date, the Bush administration has not adequately explained to Congress or the American people the reasons for our continued military involvement in Iraq. In announcing his intention to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq, last month the President said it is time for the Iraqi Government to act, to take charge of their security and to begin to govern themselves.
What we in Congress are saying now is that we believe the Maliki government in Iraq will be more apt to accomplish that goal if we do not send more American troops into Baghdad and if we signal to Iraqis that we are planning for a phased withdrawal from their country. That is what we must do to change the policy that keeps our forces acting as the local police officers on the streets of Baghdad, and to give the Iraqi people greater incentive for taking charge so that our troops can begin to come home. This was a view of the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group, which pointed to a compromise recommendation calling for gradual drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq.
It is instructive to recall the views expressed by many of the generals on the ground, including General Abizaid, General Casey, General Petraeus, that this conflict cannot be won militarily; it will require a political solution. That political solution requires the involvement of other regional governments, including Syria and Iran.
All Americans, certainly every Member here in the House of Representatives, wants the Iraqi Government to succeed and to become the stable democracy we had hoped to achieve at the outset of our involvement. None of us want Iraq to fall into chaos and to become a haven for terrorists, including al Qaeda. But the current U.S. policy and the proposed escalation of a number of American troops offers little promise, I am convinced, of accomplishing those goals.
Even the recently completed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which the President presumably relies upon, concludes that the war, as it is currently being prosecuted, will not or cannot bring about these results. My colleague, Mr. Murtha, has also suggested that it will be up to the Iraqi people themselves who will expel what remains of al Qaeda in the country, and I believe there is merit in his argument.
This is an important debate, Mr. Speaker, and one that is perhaps long overdue. We as a new Congress, led by a new Democratic leadership team, must communicate that we are placing a firmer hand on the tiller of this ship of state and that we are demanding greater accountability for both the policy and funding of the Iraq war. This new direction starts with a brief and declarative statement, that "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq," but it must be followed by that harder task of guiding our military policy through aggressive oversight and more careful direction of our political and military leadership by all of the relevant committees here in Congress.
That is our task ahead, Mr. Speaker, and as a member of the Defense appropriations subcommittee, I am prepared to do my part.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA 9th)
United States House of Representatives
February 15, 2007
Mr. SMITH of Washington. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I guess the first thing I want to point out, and there are other arguments I want to make, but during Mr. [Jerry] Lewis' [R-CA 41st] comments, and I have a great deal of respect for the gentleman from California, he mentioned that, you know, George Washington never retreated. Well, as it happens, I just read a biography of Mr. Washington, and not to go puncturing holes in the midst [N.B. -- Smith actually said "myths"] of our great Nation, he retreated a fair amount, actually.
In fact, I don't know where we got this idea that the great leaders of our time only went forward. We have heard about President Kennedy and President Truman. At one time or another, they retreated from a fair number of battles. Now, sometimes that was a wise and tactical maneuver to win the larger war. Sometimes it was a mistake.
History judges, but I think it does sort of portray the thinking of the President that the only way is forward, regardless of the details. A little more thought, I think, might help us. I will return to that point at the end of my remarks.
But the first thing I want to say, I think this is by and large a very good debate on a very important issue facing our Nation. The only time I become troubled in this debate is when speakers on the other side say that this is just political, and that this resolution is irrelevant. What they are saying is that the opinion of the United States House of Representatives on the most important public policy issue facing our Nation today is irrelevant. The opinion of the people's House doesn't matter.
Now, that explains a lot for the last 4 years while the minority party was in the majority, when they did not question this President, when they did not express their opinion in a way that would move us in a more positive direction.
I feel very strongly that it is absolutely the responsibility of those of us in Congress who represent people, our constituents, to express our opinion. In a way we are expressing their opinion. That is what we are supposed to be here in the House, the most directly reflective voice of the people of this country.
So to say that this is irrelevant is just an absolute attack on the Constitution and the way this country is supposed to be set up. We must express our opinion on the most important issues of the day.
Then we come to the next issue, which is, you cannot question the Commander in Chief. He is the guy in charge, he knows more than the rest of us. You cannot question him. It undermines everything.
Let me say I express a certain amount of sympathy for the view that we should place faith in the Commander in Chief. That is a good part of the reason why I voted for this resolution 4 years ago. A little more than a year after 9/11, our President was saying to us, To prosecute the broader war on terror I need this authority. And I had my doubts, but, by and large, I want to be supportive of the Commander in Chief, recognizing the power he has.
But the question I have for the minority is for how long? How many mistakes does this President have to make before we don't have an obligation, not just a right, but an obligation to express our disapproval and try to get him to move in a different direction? Books have been written, more than I can count, about all of mistakes that this President has made in Iraq; books not written just by opponents of the war, many of them written by proponents, outraged that they took their idea, the President took their idea and made such a hash of it.
We have an obligation at some point to stand up and say, enough. Mr. Commander in Chief, I am sorry, but based on 4 years, we do not trust you enough to give you a blank check anymore. We have to express our opinion, and that is what this resolution does.
Let me also assure you, we want to win. We, on this side of the aisle, recognize everything that has been said on that side about the threat that al Qaeda and their followers present. We
will fight them anywhere, anytime, because we recognize that threat.
In fact, I believe that there is al Qaeda in Iraq, and we should fight them.
But what we are talking about specifically today, and Mr. [Steve] Buyer [R-IN 4th] mentioned the 21,000 troops, that is the aspect of the plan that we focused on, precisely because that is the aspect of the plan that is most wrong, that does the exact wrong thing, sending 21,000 U.S. troops to fight in a civil war that has been better described by some of my colleagues, so I won't go into it any further, that they cannot possibly sort out the bad gays from the good guys is the exact wrong thing to do.
Given that feeling, and I have personally thought about this a great deal, I met with the President on a couple of occasions as he outlined this plan. I talked with many soldiers who served, gotten many opinions on this, and have come to the honest conclusion that it is a mistake, that it undermines our ability to win that larger war against al Qaeda, which is the war we are fighting.
Given the fact that I feel that way, I would be betraying everything that I said I was going to do when I got elected if I didn't on the Record express that opinion. That is what this resolution does.
So I know this hope will go unfulfilled, but I would hope at a minimum that the minority can stop saying that the opinion of this House is irrelevant. If they feel that way, they should all just go home. All right, it matters. You may disagree with the opinion we are expressing. I urge you to vote "no" if you feel that way, but I don't feel that way.
I feel we need to tell the Commander in Chief that he has led us down one too many blind alleys. We disagree with him. We want him to change course, and that is the will of the people's House, being expressed by us. That is not just our right. It is our duty as Members of Congress.
* [Begin Insert]
Mr. Speaker, it has been nearly four years since the war in Iraq began -- four-and-a-half since President Bush and his team in the White House started the effort to launch our nation on the path to this war. We learned a lot during that time frame, but two things stand out. First, the war effort has failed to achieve the outcome the President hoped for, instead creating problems he clearly felt would not come to pass. Even he admitted that he is dissatisfied with the way the war has gone. Second, at every step along the way, beginning with the way the President got us into the war, right up to the President's latest plan to once again increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad, President Bush and his administration made mistake after mistake -- failing to an almost incomprehensible level to learn from past errors or to demonstrate even a modest level of competence in prosecuting this war. Countless books from all points on the political spectrum lay out in painful detail all the mistakes this administration made in Iraq.
It is way past time for this Congress to stand up and say enough. We disapprove of what President Bush is doing in Iraq.
But our friends on the other side of the aisle claim that such a statement is meaningless. This is an astounding assertion. The United States House of Representatives -- the elected voice of the people of our Nation -- stating clearly and on the record how they feel about the single most important policy issue of our time is meaningless? This opinion, expressed by the minority party, perhaps explains the utter lack of oversight and accountability that they employed when they were in charge -- standing by and acting as mere cheerleaders for the President's actions in Iraq as he made mistake after mistake. The other side of the aisle at least has a consistent record of believing that the opinion of Congress, a body our Constitution set up as a coequal branch of government with the Executive, is meaningless.
As much as I disagree with this conclusion as to the proper role of Congress in expressing its opinion on the Iraq War, I do understand this initial reluctance to pressure President Bush to change course. In a time of war we all want to stand behind our Commander-in-Chief as a first option, and the powers of the presidency make it difficult for Congress to, in a clear-cut straightforward manner, direct the President in the conduct of war. But the President's record of mistakes in Iraq makes it clear we can no longer cling to this first option, and, difficulties notwithstanding, the cost of continuing down the same path the President has been pursuing in Iraq has reached the point where Congress must at least try to force a change in direction.
This effort should logically begin with a clear statement from the House that we disapprove of the way the President is conducting the war in Iraq. That is what this resolution does. With this vote members can no longer hide behind, "on the one hand, but then again on the other" statements. We can all mutter about things we don't like in Iraq, but an official on the record vote is required to make that disapproval clear. Do you support the way President Bush is conducting the war in Iraq? Yes or no.
And make no mistake about it the President's plan to increase the number of U.S troops in Baghdad represents no change in policy. It is stay the course, more of the same. In the last year we made large increases in the number of our troops in Baghdad twice already. Both times violence went up in the city, and as we have begun the current increase in troops that violence has once again increased. The lesson should be clear at this point -- United States military might will not stop or even reduce the violence in that city.
Listening to the arguments against this resolution helps to understand why our President insists on making some of the same mistakes over and over again in Iraq. We are told that our fight in Iraq is a clear-cut battle against the same type of al Qaeda-backed extremists who attacked our Nation on 9/11 and that we are defending a worthy Iraqi government against these evil forces. If this were true, I would support whatever increase in troops was necessary to defeat that evil force.
But it is not even close to true -- it is instead a dangerous attempt to paint a black and white picture on a situation that is far, far more complex. Baghdad is caught in a sectarian civil war. Both Shia and Sunni militias are battling each other as well as United States forces and the Iraqi government. It is a complex web of frequently changing alliances and interests that makes it impossible for our troops to separate good guys from bad guys. This is why our troops cannot stop or even reduce the violence. And the Maliki government we are being asked to support spends as much time acting like they are supporting the Shia side of the civil war as they do acting like they want to bring Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds together to form a stable Iraq.
Al Qaeda is in Iraq and we should continue to target them, but that effort will require a far, far smaller U.S. military presence than we have there today. Currently we are expending an enormous amount of resources in Iraq, most of which is going towards putting our forces in the middle of a chaotic civil war where our efforts do not advance and may even retard our fight against al Qaeda. That massive military commitment reduces our ability to pursue al Qaeda in the dozens of other nations where they have influence -- most glaringly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This larger, more important fight is not solely or even primarily military. Diplomacy and other efforts to move disaffected Muslim populations away from joining al Qaeda are a huge part of our battle, and we need to enhance those efforts. But we can't, because we're hamstrung both by a lack of resources -- financial and strategic -- that are tied down in Iraq, and because our open-ended occupation of Iraq continues to undermine America's standing in the world.
Instead of sending more troops to Baghdad the United States policy in Iraq should be to instruct our military leaders there to put together plans to as quickly and responsibly as possible reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. We need our troops to focus on al Qaeda and its supporters, not to be bogged down in a sectarian civil war that is only tangentially related to the larger fight against al Qaeda.
The first, critical step in this process of changing our policy in Iraq is this resolution. Congress must make its disapproval of the President's policy in Iraq clear and on the record.
* [End Insert]
Mr. Speaker, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Allen).
REP. DAVE REICHERT (R-WA 8th)
United States House of Representatives
February 14, 2007
Mr. REICHERT. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, I support our troops wholeheartedly and without reservation, but I cannot support a resolution that simply opposes a new strategy without offering any alternative plan to win. There is too much at stake.
Let us just think about where we are today as a country, about the global war we are in with people with intent to kill Americans and how that affects our strategy in Iraq. When considering this, we must consider our Nation's history and other difficult times of war.
There have been many bleak moments in America's history, battles we have been engaged in where American victory was far from certain.
In 1942, hell bent on dominating the world with his ideology, Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich systematically marched through Europe, taking the most basic freedoms from the Jewish people and killing millions. The United States entered World War II reluctantly and we were not ready for the hurdles we faced.
Don't forget, there were times when victory was far from certain. The outlook was grim. Many Americans and Europeans alive today can remember how bleak those times were as the war drug [sic] on and on and on. But we didn't give up. We persevered, because we knew there was too much at stake.
Eighty years before World War II, in 1862, President Lincoln faced a war that most believed could not be won. He faced vocal and unrelenting criticism for his resolve to win the Civil War. When the war began, Lincoln called for 74,000 troops for 90 days; 74,000 troops for 90 days. And history has showed us that Lincoln greatly underestimated the resources needed, because, as we know, over 620,000 soldiers were killed during that war.
At a time in our history when it might have been politically expedient to win the Civil War without first achieving victory, President Lincoln pressed on, constantly seeking a new strategy, until he found one that worked because so much was at stake.
Perhaps some of the resolve Lincoln displayed came from lessons he learned 15 years earlier when he entered a smaller battle. In 1848, Abraham Lincoln was an often criticized young
freshman Member of this body, the House of Representatives, and was facing a difficult point in his career. Lincoln criticized the reasons President Polk gave for getting us into the Mexican-American War, a war that began before Lincoln came to office, a position that I can identify with today as I stand here.
Then-Congressman Lincoln voted for a resolution that stated the Mexican-American War was "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally" initiated by President Polk. Lincoln thought the war was nothing more than a political move to grab land from the Mexican people.
My friends, it is legitimate and in fact our duty to question the reasons why our country goes to war, and Abraham Lincoln showed us that. However, he also showed us something else. Abraham Lincoln made an incredibly important distinction that we can learn from today.
A Lincoln biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, writes that after being criticized for that vote "Lincoln sought to clarify his position, arguing that although he had challenged the instigation of the war he had never voted against supplies for the soldiers."
This is an important point to make again. Lincoln sought to clarify his position, arguing that although he had challenged the instigation of the war he had never voted against supplies for the soldiers. Lincoln knew the damage of condemning a war while claiming to support the troops. Yet that is what this resolution before us does today.
During the American Revolution, the men and women who had become this country's first citizens were declared by the King of England to be in rebellion. The King sent soldiers across the Atlantic to quell the uprising.
In every war, it is the average citizen who stands up and fights for his neighbor's freedom. It is the same today. In response to the King of England's attack, again it was the average citizen who raised his hand, volunteered, stood up, and fought for our freedom. A bookstore owner, the manager of an iron foundry, and a land surveyor all stood and fought for our freedom. Those men were Henry Knox, Nathaniel Green, and George Washington.
During America's War for Independence, it was not clear if we would prevail then. We lost battle after battle. Troops deserted the battlefields. General Washington and his deputies persevered, continuing to engage the enemy until the tide turned, because so much was at stake.
We are the United States of America today and we are free because General Washington refused to quit. We are the United States of America today and we are free because Abraham Lincoln refused to quit. And we are the United States of America today and we are free because Roosevelt and Truman refused to quit. And we are the United States of America today and we are free because of the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all around the world, preserving our freedom.
Today, the United States is engaged in another war, and just as before we face an enemy that wants to destroy our way of life. Just as before we face an enemy that thinks it is winning. Just as before our country is divided. Just as before we are making mistakes. Just as before we face a moment of truth about what to do next. And just as before the consequences of losing are devastating.
The enemy is clear about what their intentions are by what they say and what they do. Al Qaeda and the global movement that it has spawned have made it clear they want nuclear and biological weapons. It is clear they want to kill us, Americans. Osama bin Laden has called acquiring nuclear weapons a "religious duty." The fact is we are engaged in a global war with people intent on killing Americans, and regardless of how we got into Iraq, Iraq is now the central front of that war.
And yet while we debate this nonbinding resolution, what is really at stake is winning or losing. Like Lincoln, I was not in this office as the war began. I understand the arguments. I understand the questions. I have been asking questions, too, as an elected official in this body for the past 2 years, as a concerned citizen, and before that, as a veteran. I understand that there are many who think we should never have entered Iraq. We now know there was faulty intelligence that led to that decision.
But the war is upon us nonetheless. I am elected to deal with what is happening now. Will we succeed? Will we win? Just as at other moments in our history, those questions stand unanswered. The consequences of declaring an end to the war in Iraq without victory would be felt for decades. Our enemies around the world would be emboldened. Iran and al Qaeda would declare victory. Our allies in Iraq would certainly face bloodshed, and our allies around the world would question our resolve to help protect them.
Sergeant Eddie Jeffers is a U.S. Army infantryman serving in Ramadi, Iraq. Sergeant Jeffers has a firsthand appreciation for what is at stake in Iraq and our presence there and what it means to the Iraqi people.
He writes, "We are the hope of the Iraqi people. They want what everyone else wants in life: Safety, security, somewhere to call home. They want a country that is safe to raise their children in. They want to live on, rebuild and prosper. And America has given them that opportunity, but only if we stay true to the cause and see it to its end. But the country must unite in this endeavor. We cannot place the burden on our military alone. We must all stand and fight, whether in uniform or not. Right now the burden is all on the American soldier. Right now hope rides alone. But it can change. It must change, because there is only failure and darkness ahead for us as a country, as a people, if it doesn't."
Sergeant Jeffers' words hit at the heart of our present challenge in Iraq. Our current strategy in Iraq is failing, and yet failure is not an option. In November, the American people told us they wanted a new strategy, not because they wanted to lose, but because they wanted to win. Now we have a new strategy before us.
Is this new plan going to work? I don't know. No one in this body who is voting on this resolution knows.
What I do know is that we must find a way to achieve victory, and simply saying "no" to a new plan without offering up an alternative will not work and sends a terrible message to our enemies and our soldiers.
This is an historic war. America is engaged in a war for our freedoms on a scale that we have never experienced before. I understand the dissension, the questions, and the uncertainty.
I understand the cost is high and the way is often unclear. I have served in law enforcement for 33 years. I understand the loss. I have lost partners and friends in the line of duty. I understand the cost of freedom and the sacrifices that must be made. The sacrifices are hard, they are tragic and they are never forgotten, but we must remain focused and not let those sacrifices be in vain.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote "no" on this resolution. Lincoln warned us against tying a criticism of the war to support for our troops. Let us send a message to our enemies and our troops alike that we will always support our young men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom.