I welcome this opportunity to talk about the current status of the United States involvement in Iraq. I'm glad we're having this discussion. I start by not only thanking our troops for their incredible service to our country and the incredible work that they're doing,
I think that this Congress by words and deeds has shown its support for our troops. The budget that we passed last year provides the resources to take care of our veterans and the funds to take care of our active military. That's what we should be doing. But we have now been in Iraq for many years.
Several years ago I was in Iraq. I had a chance to visit our troops and take a look at what was happening on the ground. I saw then that we didn't have the right equipment there, that the Administration had sent our troops without having the right support.
I was proud the action the Congress took in providing the military support and the type of equipment that our troops needed. But the discussion of what was best for our troops is why we have the right mission in Iraq.
This campaign is now entering its sixth year. We’ve been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II. We have now spent half a trillion dollars directly in our war in Iraq, almost 4,000 Americans have been killed, almost 30,000 have been wounded, 67 Marylanders have given their lives, over 400 have been injured.
Many of these injuries are life-changing. I have had a chance to visit Andrews Air Force Base as our wounded soldiers come home and am able to see firsthand the type of injuries they sustained and they're going to have to deal with that for the rest of their lives.
Our experts tell us that al-Qaeda is stronger today than they've ever been. So we haven't accomplished our mission as far as dealing with the threat against the United States. Let's talk about the facts. The inescapable conclusion is that President Bush was wrong in sending our troops to Iraq in the first place.
I'm proud that I voted against that authorization when I was in the other body. Our troops are involved in trying to referee a civil war. That's their primary focus in Iraq. Yes, we need to be fighting terrorists and we will continue do that, but right now the primary need for American troops is to deal with the civil unrest that is currently taking place in Iraq.
The costs in lives has been our deepest loss, but also the dollars. I think about what we could have done with that money. We could have replaced every school in Baltimore with the money that we spent in Iraq so our children could get a proper education. We could have dealt with the energy crisis in this country or built the transit systems we need so we're not dependent upon more than oil in the Middle East. We could have done something about the health care system that allowed a 12-year-old Prince George’s' County boy to die because he couldn't get dental care.
We're suffering in an economic downturn because, in part, we have large debt that is accumulating because we're not only spending a half a trillion dollars in Iraq, we're not paying for it. We're borrowing the money. It’s even more dangerous for our economy.
There's been a lot of debate about whether the President's surge policy has worked or not worked. I think our soldiers are performing in a great manner. You put American troops in a country and they're going to do their job. And they're going to provide the type of help to that country and to its communities that American troops are trained to do.
The problem is that the mission is wrong. The surge has not worked in accomplishing a U.S. mission that is in the best interests of this country. I remember when the President said we're going to have the surge because we are going to provide stability in the country so that the Iraqi government can take control and we can bring our troops home. That was the mission. That's what we were trying to accomplish, but we haven't accomplished that.
Let's look at the facts. Violence in Iraq continues to today. Violence continues. It's a dangerous country. Suicide bombers operate at will.
The troop levels were supposed to be reduced in January of 2007. We had 130,000 American troops in Iraq. But today we have in excess of 140,000. There's now a pause in reducing our troop levels. So we have not been able to reduce the troop levels.
And on governance, the Iraqi government representing the people of Iraq, set their own benchmarks. We didn't set them. Of 18 benchmarks, only three have been accomplished. So we haven't accomplished the mission for why we needed our troops in Iraq.
But let's take a look at our military and foreign policy experts. They tell us that our military is spread too thin that we aren't looking after the best interests of America's military interests. Talk to our people who run our National Guards and reservist units.
I had a chance to meet with members of the Maryland National Guard. They have again answered the call. People from the Maryland National Guard have been deployed regularly into Iraq and Afghanistan. But I'm told today that we don't have the equipment in our national guard to continue the proper training missions because the equipment was left in Iraq. We haven't replaced it.
And recruitment is going to be more difficult and we need to deal with the reintegration of the National Guard people who are coming back to Maryland in our community and that's going to take a real effort. And now they've got to be prepared for redeployment.
We've lost our focus, according to our experts on the war against terror, and we should have taken care of Osama bin laden in Afghanistan. We haven't done that. And now Afghanistan looks like it’s moving in the wrong direction because we're not focusing on the threat which was terrorism. Instead we have our troops dealing with a civil war in Iraq.
And there's no disagreement among the foreign policy experts that America has lost its leadership internationally in galvanizing the international community to help news a war against terror. We’ve lost that focus.
So our mission is wrong. The question, though, is where do we go from here? If we want to follow president bush's policy, we'll have a permanent presence of American troops in Iraq. I think that's the wrong policy. I believe the people of Maryland and this Nation believe it is the wrong policy.
The president's policy is basically waiting out a civil war. We know that 4 million Iraqis are displaced, some inside the country, some outside the country. That's not the right answer for the people of Iraq. It is certainly not the right answer for U.S. policy. So we have an alternative.
Senator Feingold has brought to us a resolution which I believe warrants our support. It is the right mission for our troops and our nation. Fight terrorism. I'm for that. That's what we should be doing. Protect our troops. That's what we should be doing. Helping the Iraqis in their training of their own military. That's what we should be doing. It focuses our mission on what's in the best interest of the United States.
We need a political solution not a military solution for the people of Iraq. The Feingold resolution acknowledges that. We need to help the international community. We work best when we work with the international community. And the international community is wondering what we're doing in Iraq. The Feingold resolution does not place a time limit on the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It's an honorable and orderly process for us to complete a mission in Iraq. I believe it's in the best interests of the United States. I believe it's the right policy for our soldiers. And I believe it deserves the support of this body.