Mr. President, on September 3, 2007, President Bush told a room full of troops at Al-Asad Air Base that the build-up of U.S. troops has strengthened security – and that the military successes are
paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress in Iraq.
“When Iraqis feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods,” said President Bush, “they can focus their efforts on building a stable, civil society.”
Well, I believe that the last part of that statement is true.
When an Iraqi, sitting at home with his family, believes he can walk out his front door without fear he will be attacked, or blown up, or bribed once he’s stepped into the street, or have his family harmed, or his house taken, or his business taken in his absence, when he is confident that his children will have enough food and water and be able to attend school in peace, he will be able to focus on building a more stable civil society.
But what I don’t see
is any independent evidence that the increased U.S. troop presence has, as promised, led to greater civilian security, let alone paved the way for political and economic success.
The 2007 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill required President Bush to report to Congress and the American people in July and General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to report in September on the progress Iraqis are making toward achieving certain critical benchmarks, many of which were identified by President Bush himself in his January “New Way Forward” speech.
That same legislation asked the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) to make the same investigation.
It also chartered the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq to investigate the progress those institutions are making toward independence.
As of today, we have received each of those reports.
Not even President Bush claims that political or economic progress toward these benchmarks has occurred, nor could he.
As reported by his administration in July, the independent GAO this September, and Admiral Crocker today, the constitutional review process is not complete, nor has there been any significant progress on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, or amnesty laws. The GAO reports that the Iraqi government has met only one of the eight legislative benchmarks.
The rights of minority party political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected, though the GAO reports the same is not true for the Iraqi population whose “rights are often violated.”
Ambassador Crocker suggests we ignore the political benchmarks that all agree are the best indicators of Iraqi political progress, and instead focus on private discussions about governmental structures and small-scale informal actions to include Sunnis in the military and police.
But we would be irresponsible if we fail to mark progress in reaching these critical milestones.
Any prospects for further progress toward these goals have been dashed by the withdrawal of 15 of the 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet.
In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) has reported that the boycott of the government by certain Shiite and Kurdish political blocs has left Iraq’s leadership hanging by a thread.
Because of “the number and breadth of parties boycotting the cabinet,” according to CRS, “the Iraqi government is in essential collapse.”
But more important, there is
no independent evidence that increased troop presence has created the security necessary to foster
future political and economic progress in Iraq.
General Petraeus told us this morning that violence and that civilian deaths of all categories (less natural causes) have declined by over 45 percent across Iraq since the height of the sectarian violence in December and by some 70 percent in Baghdad.
But others who have looked at the
full range of U.S. government statistics on violence paint a quite different picture.
The GAO reports that it was
not clear whether sectarian violence has been reduced and that the
average number of daily attacks against civilians has remained about the same over the last six months. The GAO believes that the decrease in total average attacks in July is largely due to a decrease in attacks on coalition forces rather than civilians.
The August National Intelligence Estimate reports that the level of overall violence in Iraq, including
attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high and will remain high over the next 6-12 months.
According to figures compiled by the Associated Press (AP), Iraqis are suffering approximately
double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared to this time last year.
AP tracking, based on morgue, hospital, and police records, includes Iraqi civilians, government officials, police, and security forces killed in attacks.
It includes execution-style killings associated with Shi’a militias as well as bombings and gun fights associated with Sunni insurgents.
The AP considers these numbers a minimum as many killings go unreported or uncounted.
When one looks at how the Pentagon keeps its data, the source of the discrepancy begins to emerge.
According to the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), military data does not include “Shi’a on Shi’a” violence in the South or “Sunni on Sunni” violence in the Sunni Triangle.
U.S. military figures do not include deaths from car bombings.
One intelligence analyst told the
Washington Post that “if a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian.
If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”
So the administration’s numbers on sectarian violence exclude intra-sectarian violence, car bombings, and people shot through the front of the head.
If I were an Iraqi, each one of those excluded threats would certainly make me fear for my safety and that of my family.
Even if we could assume a decline in violence in Baghdad or Anbar, it is far from clear that increased U.S. troops are responsible.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Organization reports that Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq doubled since February 2007 to 1.1 million in July 2007 and are increasing
by 80,000 to 100,000 each month.
At that rate, the entire population of Washington, D.C., would be gone by March.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that 63 percent of those displaced said they moved because of threats to their security.
Sixty-nine percent had left homes in Baghdad.
It is widely acknowledged that Baghdad is undergoing sectarian cleansing.
Shiite militias are driving Sunnis out of much of the city.
If the death toll in a Sunni district falls because its residents have fled, the resulting reduction in violence is not attributable to increased troops, nor is that kind of development that could be characterized as “progress.”
President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker attribute improvements in Anbar’s security situation to the troop escalation, but Secretary Gates has recently stated that Sunni tribes decided to fight to retake control of Anbar from al Qaeda in Iraq before the President sent 4,000 Marines to the province as part of the troop build-up.
Al Qaeda fighters are foreigners with a different agenda and little respect for the long-term interests of Iraqi Sunnis.
Right now, we are arming Sunni tribes for a fight in which they were already engaged.
What will happen when we want them to give up those arms to participate in a Shi’a-led government?
The question is troubling and the answer far from clear.
Although violence may have fallen in Baghdad and Anbar, it has risen in Diyala, Balad, Basra, and Amarah.
This is an effect we have called, in turn, the “whack-a-mole” or balloon effect.
When you address the problem in one place, it just pops up or out somewhere else.
The GAO report found only two of nine security benchmarks have been met: the Iraqi government had established committees to implement the Baghdad security plan and established almost all of the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad.
It has not eliminated militia control over local security, however.
Nor has it eliminated political intervention in military operations, ensured evenhanded enforcement of the law, increased the number of army units capable of independent operations, or ensured that political authorities make no false accusations against security forces.
So are Iraqis more secure?
In a country with a disintegrating government, it is, to some extent, understandable that concrete data would be hard to collect.
But, for me, the 100,000 people
fleeing their homes each month in fear for their safety answer the question.
President Bush predicted that increased U.S. troop levels would stabilize the country so that its national leaders could operate in a safe environment in which to reach political agreement on oil- and revenue-sharing laws and amend their constitution.
He stated that increased U.S. troop levels would enable us to accelerate training initiatives so that Iraqi army and police force could assume control of all security in the country by November 2007.
President Bush sent over 28,000 more soldiers into Iraq to fulfill these goals.
But the reports before us today, like the reports before us three months ago, and the months and years before that, show us that President Bush’s troop escalation is ineffective.
It has failed to make Iraq more secure, failed to stem the civil war going on in Iraq, and failed to lead to political reconciliation.
The Iraqi government remains incapable of organizing its security forces or its legislature to achieve stability or political reconciliation.
That failure was clear when I last came to the floor to discuss this issue in July, and it is clear today.
In the interim, 134 more American soldiers have died; nearly 5,000 more have been wounded.
My home state of Maryland has lost three more of its bravest citizens.
According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty County, for instance, every month in 2007 has seen more U.S. military casualties over the same month in 2006.
Terrorist attacks around the world, as evidenced by the recent arrests in Germany and Denmark, continue to rise.
Tensions between countries in the Middle East region are growing.
No progress has been made on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Our military might has been stretched even further toward its breaking point.
And the most recent intelligence analysis reports that the al Qaeda group that attacked our nation, the al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is stronger now than at any other time since six years ago today, September 11, 2001.
In fact, Osama bin Laden has just recently appeared on our TV screens after a three-year hiatus.
But it is hard for us to say, on today’s sorrowful anniversary, that we have instituted a foreign policy to confront the weaknesses the 9/11 attacks revealed.
Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, wrote in the
Washington Post last weekend that “we face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world – a trend in which our own actions have contributed.”
While our military and diplomatic energies have been focused on Iraq, our foreign policy has not stemmed the rising tide of extremism in the Muslim world, we have not eliminated terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, we have been unpersuasive in enlisting the energy and sympathy of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims against the extremist threat, Guantanamo and the policies it represents continue to exist and to undermine our legitimacy, and no progress has been made toward a solution in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
In order to bolster our military and refocus its attention on the global terrorist threat, this Congress has attempted on more than one occasion to redeploy U.S. forces and change the mission of our operation in Iraq.
But President Bush and a minority in Congress have rebuffed the effort.
It’s time to change the mission in Iraq.
The cost of further delay in lives, matériel, treasure, and our standing in the world is too great.
President Bush’s strategy has put this nation at greater risk – a risk that metastasizes each day that we sit by and wait.
The effect of the war on our defense forces has been devastating.
The war has seriously damaged our armed forces.
Troops are rushed to the field without proper weapons and combat training.
The Pentagon has deferred updating weapons systems in order to pay for current military costs and recruitment is problematic.
It is critical for the United States to change policy in Iraq and it starts by removing our troops from the middle of a civil war and giving them a more realistic mission: counter-terrorism, training, and force and border protection.
The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by retired General James L. Jones, and composed of 20 prominent senior retired military officers, chiefs of police, and a former deputy secretary of defense, issued a positive report about the progress the Iraqi Army has made, but is less sanguine about the police forces.
The report suggests a similar change in mission; that “Coalition forces begin to be adjusted, realigned, and re-tasked
. . .
to better ensure territorial defense . . .
concentrating on the eastern and western borders and the active defense of the critical infrastructures essential to Iraq.”
The Commission also emphasized the importance of transferring responsibility to Iraqis, noting the “fine line between assistance and dependence.”
Sunnis have turned to us for defense against al Qaeda but also the Shiite majority.
Localities have turned to our military to provide the basic services the government has not been capable of providing.
What we want is for Iraqis to become loyal to a national government, not to the local United States military commander.
We must begin to extricate ourselves and hand responsibility to the Iraqis themselves.
Unfortunately, we cannot rewrite history.
The U.S. does have a responsibility to assist the Iraqis and work for peace in that region.
It is in the interest of our country to do that.
There is no easy path to achieve the objectives of stability in Iraq and protection of all of its ethnic communities.
As the bipartisan Iraq Study Group noted, “There is no action the American military can take that, by itself, can bring about success in Iraq.”
In addition to supporting the national government, any effort must certainly include stepped-up diplomacy – a “diplomatic surge,” if you will.
Iraq’s neighbors have a stake in Iraq’s stability.
The war in Iraq has produced hundreds of thousands of refugees; an escalation in the conflict means even more refugees.
An escalation in the conflict means the spread of fundamentalist insurrection and sectarian violence, and an increase in basic crime and lawlessness – and not just in Iraq.
We must support and broaden efforts made to create the International Compact for Iraq, a five-year plan launched this past April under the auspices of the United Nations (U.N.) with benchmarks for Iraq’s national reconciliation and economic reconstruction.
That Compact includes formal commitments of support from the international community.
But we must begin to have a broader diplomatic and economic vision in the Middle East that includes engaging international entities such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The various agencies of the United Nations are best suited to tackle the myriad problems plaguing Iraq.
Matters of economic and community development and providing electricity, water, and sanitation service are all areas where the U.N. has expertise.
Just as important, the United States should request the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to accept Iraq as a partner for cooperation.
Afghanistan has begun to participate in OSCE proceedings under this program.
This status could allow OSCE to assist Iraq with collective border security, police training, and immigration and religious tolerance efforts.
The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq reported last week that the Iraqi armed forces are “increasingly effective” and “capable of assuming greater responsibility for the internal security of Iraq,” while the Iraqi National police are not improving at a rate sufficient to meet their responsibilities.
The report notes the Iraqi Security Forces will continue to rely on outside help to provide critical support and training.
There is no reason why Coalition forces should be the only ones providing this support.
Engaging the U.N. and OSCE could help initiate much-needed engagement with regional nations such as Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
The international community must deal with Iran and Syria’s destabilizing regional policies, along with a renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Iraq should request assistance from the United Nations and other international forces to help prevent continued sectarian cleansing.