Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, on November 7, the voters in Maryland and all around the Nation voted for change. Ten new Senators were elected to this body, six defeating incumbents.
After serving the people of Maryland for 20 years in the House of Representatives, I am honored that they have sent me here, to the other side of the Capitol, where I will continue to fight on their behalf.
The voters in Maryland and across the Nation sent a clear message on November 7: It's time for a change.
Our constituents want things done differently in Washington. They want their interests put before the special interests.
Therefore, it is appropriate that the Senate's first order of business is ethics legislation that will bring greater transparency and fairness to the political process in Washington and help restore the American people's confidence in their Government.
The American people also called for a reordering of our priorities. They want Congress to respond to the needs of families fighting for the American dream.
They want their children to have a better chance at that dream, and they know that achieving it is impossible without stronger communities, access to quality health care, and better educational opportunities. They want to raise their families in an energy-independent Nation with cleaner air and water. They want a country that respects the rights of all, and that celebrates and embraces our diversity.
But the loudest cry in November was the call for a change in our policies in Iraq. Americans overwhelmingly want to see our troops begin to come home and they don't want to see thousands of additional troops go to Iraq.
Iraq is a country today torn by civil war. Victory in Iraq will not be achieved with our military might. It will come only from successfully aiding Iraq in establishing a government that protects the rights and enjoys the confidence of all its people. It must be a government that respects both human rights and democratic principles. The efforts of U.S. soldiers, no matter how heroic, cannot accomplish these objectives for the Iraqis.
For 4 years, our soldiers have helped the Iraqis in ousting Saddam Hussein, providing security to the country and advising and training Iraqi security forces.
Our soldiers have performed their responsibility with bravery and devotion to their country. We honor their service. More than 3,000 soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice and many more have suffered life-changing injuries.
It is well past time for a change in strategy in Iraq. The circumstances on the ground are worsening. Last June, I laid out a plan for success in Iraq. It started with reducing our combat troop levels and having the Iraqis take greater responsibility for the defense of their own country. It stressed the need for diplomatic and political solutions–with the international community engaged in negotiating a cease fire with the warring militias.
I called on greater support from our allies in helping us to train the Iraqi security forces.
And last June, I spoke about the need for a negotiated government in Iraq that would represent all of its ethnic people–Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.
Last month, the Iraq Study Group came forward with similar recommendations–highlighting the need for the President to start drawing down troops. Many military experts agree, including some of our generals on the ground.
As GEN George Casey recently said:
“It's always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq over the long term.”
On November 7, the American people told us that they too agree that it's time for a change in Iraq.
So when President Bush said several weeks ago that he was reevaluating the situation in Iraq and would announce a new policy shortly after the new year, there was great hope that the President, Congress and the American people could come together with an effective new policy to help the people in Iraq and advance U.S. interests.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. President Bush has decided to ignore the advice of the Iraq Study Group, many of his own military officials and the American people in making his decision to send 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
The President's announcement last night represents more of the same, more staying the course,'' just now with more American troops in harm's way. An escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq is counterproductive.
Former Secretary of State Collin Powell recently said:
“I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war.”
We need a surge in U.S. troops coming home, not a surge in those going to war. We need a surge in diplomatic and political efforts to end the civil war. We need a surge in the urgency of the U.S. engagement of the international community to deal with its regional politics and problems in the Middle East.
This Congress has a responsibility to our citizens to evaluate a clear record of the facts in Iraq.
The hearings taking place in the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees are vital. But our responsibility goes well beyond the hearings. Individually and collectively, we must act with our voices and our votes, speaking out vigorously and taking action against the continued mismanagement of this war.
The American people deserve an opportunity to hear from military experts and administration officials on the consequences of a surge in troops in Iraq. Congress has a responsibility to scrutinize this plan and offer its own recommendations.
In October 2002, in the other body of Congress, I voted against giving the President the right to use force in Iraq. I am proud of that vote. As a Senator, I have the responsibility to acknowledge where we are today and take action that is, in my view, in the best interest of Maryland and the Nation.
I want the U.S. to succeed in Iraq and in the Middle East. I want our soldiers to return home with the honor that they deserve. I want to work with my colleagues to strengthen our military and to make sure that promises made to our veterans are promises kept.
We can achieve these objectives, but they would be more achievable if the President would act on the overwhelming evidence and work with this Congress to truly set a new direction in Iraq. We must begin by starting to bring our troops home, not by escalating troop levels. We need to engage and energize the international community, including our traditional allies as well as other countries in the Middle East. Our primary focus must be extensive political and diplomatic negotiations directed toward the twin goals of a cease-fire and a lasting and stable Iraqi Government. Let that be our mission.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.