It is a privilege to give this speech at the Council
on Foreign Relations here in Chicago.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit
Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While I was there, I met a young
man whose legs had been blown off from mortar fire and who had sustained
severe nerve damage in his arms and hands. He was sewing as a means
of regaining his small motor skills, and as his wife looked on,
they talked about their efforts to piece their lives back together.
They talked about the wonderful way their young daughter had embraced
her father and told him she loved him despite his disfigurement.
I also met a young man who had lost a leg and an
arm and who now had a breathing tube in his throat. He was working
with two of the therapists in a mock-up kitchen to cook hamburgers
on his own.
We went down to the physical therapy area where
I talked to a 19-year-old former track star who had lost both his
legs and was working out on one of the weight machines. And I spoke
to a sergeant from Iowa who had lost one of his legs but was working
vigorously to get accustomed to his prosthetic leg so he could return
to Iraq as soon as he could. I then went up to the wards to visit
with other injured veterans - to take pictures, talk about basketball,
and to say thank you.
Listening to the stories of these young men and
women, most of them in their early twenties, I had to ask myself
how I would be feeling if it were my son, my nephew, or my sister
lying there. I asked myself how I would be feeling if it were me
struggling to learn how to walk again? Would I feel bitter? Would
I feel hopeless?
I don't know. None of us can answer that question
fully until we find ourselves in that situation. What I do know
is that the extraordinary men and women that I met seemed uninterested
in rage or self-pity. They were proud of their service. They were
hopeful for their future. They displayed the kind of grit and optimism
and resourcefulness that represents the very best of America.
They remind us, in case we need reminding, that
there is no more profound decision that we can make than the decision
to send this nation's youth to war, and that we have a moral obligation
not only to send them for good reasons, but to constantly examine,
based on the best information and judgment available, in what manner,
and for what purpose, and for how long we keep them in harm's way.
Today, nearly 160,000 American soldiers, sailors,
airmen, and marines are risking their lives in the Middle East.
They are operating in some of the most dangerous and difficult circumstances
imaginable. Well over 2,000 men and women have made the ultimate
sacrifice - given their full measure of devotion. Thousands more
have returned with wounds like those that I saw at Walter Reed.
These men and women are willing to lay down their
lives to protect us. When they were told there was danger that needed
to be confronted they said, "I will go. I will leave my family
and my friends and the life I knew and I will fight." And they
went. And they're fighting still.
And so as the war rages on and the insurgency festers
- as another father weeps over a flag-draped casket and another
wife feeds her husband the dinner he can't fix for himself - it
is our duty to ask ourselves hard questions. What do we want to
accomplish now that we are in Iraq, and what is possible to accomplish?
What kind of actions can we take to ensure not only a safe and stable
Iraq, but that will also preserve our capacity to rebuild Afghanistan,
isolate and apprehend terrorist cells, preserve our long-term military
readiness, and devote the resources needed to shore up our homeland
security? What are the costs and benefits of our actions moving
forward? What urgency are we willing to show to bring our troops
home safely? What kind of answers are we willing to demand from
those in charge of the war?
In other words -- What kind of debate are we willing
Last week, the White House showed exactly what kind
of debate it wants on future of Iraq - none.
We watched the shameful attempt to paint John Murtha
- a Marine Corp recipient of two-purple hearts and a Bronze Star
- into a coward of questionable patriotism. We saw the Administration
tell people of both parties - people who asked legitimate questions
about the intelligence that led us to war and the Administration's
plan for Iraq - that they should keep quiet, end the complaining,
and stop rewriting history.
This political war - a war of talking points and
Sunday news shows and spin - is not one I'm interested in joining.
It's a divisive approach that only pushes us further from what the
American people actually want - a pragmatic solution to the real
war we're facing in Iraq.
I do want to make the following observations, though.
First, I am part of that post Baby Boom generation that was too
young to fight in Vietnam, not called to fight in Desert Storm,
too old for the current conflict. For those like me who - for whatever
reason - have never seen battle, whether they be in the Administration
or in Congress, let me suggest that they put the words "coward"
and "unpatriotic" out of their vocabulary - at least when
it comes to veterans like John Murtha who have put their lives on
the line for this country. I noticed that the President recognized
this bit of wisdom yesterday. I hope others do to.
Second - the Administration is correct to say that
we have real enemies, that our battle against radical Islamist terrorism
will not be altered overnight, that stability in the Middle East
must be part of our strategy to defeat terrorism, that military
power is a key part of our national security, that our strategy
cannot be poll driven. The Administration is also correct when it
says that many overestimated Saddam's biological and chemical capacity,
and that some of its decisions in going to war were prompted by
real errors in the intelligence community's estimates.
However, I think what is also true is that the Administration
launched the Iraq war without giving either Congress or the American
people the full story. This is not a partisan claim - you don't
have to take my word for it. All you need to do is to match up the
Administration's statements during the run-up to the war with the
now declassified intelligence estimates that they had in their possession
at the time. Match them up and you will conclude that at the very
least, the Administration shaded, exaggerated and selectively used
the intelligence available in order to make the case for invasion.
The President told the American people about Iraqi
attempts to acquire yellow cake during the State of the Union. The
Vice-President made statements on national television expressing
certainty about Iraq's nuclear weapons programs. Secretary Rice
used the words "mushroom cloud" over and over again.
We know now that even at the time these unequivocal
statements were made, intelligence assessments existed that contradicted
these claims. Analysis from the CIA and State Department was summarily
dismissed when it did not help the Administration make the case
I say all this not to score cheap political points.
I say this because war is a serious business. It requires enormous
sacrifice, in blood and treasure, from the American people. The
American people have already lost confidence in the credibility
of our leadership, not just on the question of Iraq, but across
the board. According to a recent Pew survey, 42% of Americans agree
with the statement that the U.S. should "mind its own business
internationally and let other countries get along the best they
can on their own" - a significant increase since the immediate
aftermath of 9/11. We risk a further increase in isolationist sentiment
unless both the Administration and Congress can restore the American
people's confidence that our foreign policy is driven by facts and
reason, rather than hopes and ideology. And we cannot afford isolationism
- not only because our work with respect to stabilizing Iraq is
not complete, but because our missteps in Iraq have distracted us
from the larger threat of terrorism that we face, a threat that
we can only meet by working internationally, in cooperation with
Now, given the enormous stakes in Iraq, I believe
that those of us who are involved in shaping our national security
policies should do what we believe is right, not merely what is
politically expedient. I strongly opposed this war before it began,
though many disagreed with me at that time. Today, as Americans
grow increasingly impatient with our presence in Iraq, voices I
respect are calling for a rapid withdrawal of our troops, regardless
of events on the ground.
But I believe that, having waged a war that has
unleashed daily carnage and uncertainty in Iraq, we have to manage
our exit in a responsible way - with the hope of leaving a stable
foundation for the future, but at the very least taking care not
to plunge the country into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable
crisis. I say this not only because we owe it to the Iraqi people,
but because the Administration's actions in Iraq have created a
self-fulfilling prophecy - a volatile hotbed of terrorism that has
already begun to spill over into countries like Jordan, and that
could embroil the region, and this country, in even greater international
In sum, we have to focus, methodically and without
partisanship, on those steps that will: one, stabilize Iraq, avoid
all out civil war, and give the factions within Iraq the space they
need to forge a political settlement; two, contain and ultimately
extinquish the insurgency in Iraq; and three, bring our troops safely
Last week's re-politicization of the war makes this
kind of focus extremely difficult. In true Washington fashion, the
Administration has narrowed an entire debate about war into two
camps: "cut-and-run" or "stay the course." If
you offer any criticism or even mention that we should take a second
look at our strategy and change our approach, you're branded cut-and-run.
If you're ready to blindly trust the Administration no matter what
they do, you're willing to stay the course.
A variation on this is the notion that anything
short of an open-ended commitment to maintain our current troop
strength in Iraq is the equivalent of issuing a "timetable"
that will, according to the Administration, undermine our troops
and strengthen the insurgency. . This simplistic framework not only
misstates the position of thoughtful critics on both sides of the
aisle - from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to Democrat Russ Feingold.
It completely misses where the American people are right now.
Every American wants to see a peaceful and stable
Iraq. No American wants to leave behind a security vacuum filled
with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing and genocide. But no American
wants a war without end - a war where our goals and strategies drift
aimlessly regardless of the cost in lives or dollars spent, and
where we end up with arbitrary, poll-driven troop reductions by
the Administration - the worst of all possible outcomes.
It has been two years and seven months since the
fall of Baghdad and any honest assessment would conclude that the
Administration's strategy has not worked. The civilian efforts to
rebuild Iraq, establish a secure environment, and broker a stable
political framework have, thus far, come up short.
The Administration owes the American people a reality-based
assessment of the situation in Iraq today. For the past two years,
they've measured progress in the number of insurgents killed, roads
built, or voters registered. But these benchmarks are not true measures
of fundamental security and stability in Iraq.
When the Administration now talks about "condition-based"
withdrawal, we need to know precisely what those conditions are.
This is why the amendment offered by Senator Levin
and the one that passed from Senator Warner are so important. What
the Administration and some in the press labeled as a "timetable"
for withdrawal was in fact a commonsense statement that: one, 2006
should be the year that the Iraqi government decreases its dependency
on the United States; two, that the various Iraqi factions must
arrive at a fair political accommodation to defeat the insurgency;
and three, the Administration must make available to Congress critical
information on reality-based benchmarks that will help us succeed
We need to know whether the Iraqis are making the
compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable
political settlement essential for defeating the insurgency.
We need to know how many Iraqi security forces and
police and the level of skill they will require to permit them to
take the lead in counter-insurgency operations, the defense of Iraq's
territory, and maintaining law and order throughout the country.
We need to get accurate information regarding how
many Iraqi troops are currently prepared for the transition of security
responsibilities, and a realistic assessment of the U.S. resources
and time it will take to make them more prepared.
And, we need to know the Administration's strategy
to restore basic services, strengthen the capacities of ministries
throughout the country, and enlist local, regional, and international
actors in finding solutions to political, economic, and security
Straight answers to critical questions - for the
most part, that is what both the Levin Amendment and the Warner
Amendment call for. Members of both parties and the American people
have now made clear that it is not enough to for the President to
simply say "we know best" and "stay the course."
As I have said before, there are no magic bullets
for a good outcome in Iraq. I am not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, the Secretary of State, or the Director of National Intelligence.
I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to micro-manage
war from Washington.
Nevertheless, given the best information I have,
and in an effort to offer constructive ideas, I would suggest several
broad elements that should be included in any discussion of where
we go from here. I should add that some of these ideas have been
put forward in greater detail by other senators and foreign policy
experts - I claim no pride of authorship, but rather offer my best
assessment of the steps we need to take to maximize the prospects
First and foremost, after the December 15 elections
and during the course of next year, we need to focus our attention
on how reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I
say "reduce," and not "fully withdraw."
This course of action will help to focus our efforts
on a more effective counter-insurgency strategy and take steam out
of the insurgency.
On this point, I am in basic agreement with our
top military commander in Iraq. In testimony before Congress earlier
this year, General Casey stated that a key goal of the military
was to "reduce our presence in Iraq, taking away one of the
elements that fuels the insurgency: that of the coalition forces
as an occupying force."
This is not and should not be a partisan issue.
It is a view shared by Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam
veteran, and someone with whom I am proud to serve on the Foreign
I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the
solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited
drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective
counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces
in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.
At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops
should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil
war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism.
We must find the right balance - offering enough
security to serve as a buffer and carry out a targeted, effective
counter-insurgency strategy, but not so much of a presence that
we serve as an aggravation. It is this balance that will be critical
to finding our way forward.
Second, we need not a time-table, in the sense of
a precise date for U.S. troop pull-outs, but a time-frame for such
a phased withdrawal. More specifically, we need to be very clear
about key issues, such as bases and the level of troops in Iraq.
We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from
now and the United States armed forces cannot stand-up and support
an Iraqi government in perpetuity - pushing the Iraqis to take ownership
over the situation and placing pressure on various factions to reach
the broad based political settlement that is so essential to defeating
I agree with Senator Warner that the message should
be "we really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it."
Without a time-frame, this message will not be sent.
With the Shiites increasingly in control of the
government, the U.S. is viewed as the military force that is keeping
the Shiites in power, picking sides in the conflict, driving a wedge
between the factions, and keeping the Sunnis out of the government.
Wrong as these perceptions may be, they are one
of the key elements unifying the insurgency and serving as its best
We need to immediately recognize and address this
On October 25, Ambassador Khailizad stated that
he believes that the United States is on the right track to start
significant reductions of U.S. military forces in the coming year.
Earlier in the year, when I pressed Ambassador Khalizad on this
during his confirmation hearing to be more specific about a time-frame
for withdrawal, he said that there would not be a U.S. presence
in Iraq a decade from now. That's at a start - but I think we need
to be clearer than somewhere between one and ten years.
Third, we need to start thinking about what an Iraqi
government will look like in the near term.
The post-election period will be critically important
in working with the Shia and Kurdish leaders to help address Sunni
concerns and to take steps to bring them into the government.
In testimony before Congress, Secretary Rice stated
that while she believed it was possible to create a multi-ethnic,
democratic Iraq under a unified national government, it was also
possible that, in the near term, Iraq may look more like a loose
federation and less like a tightly-knit, multi-ethnic society. According
to the deal struck in the writing of the Constitution, the structure
of the national government may still be altered by discussion among
the three major factions. If it is the Administration's most realistic
assessment that the Iraqi government will take the form of a loose
confederation, then we need to be thinking about how we should calibrate
our policies to reflect this reality. We cannot, and should not,
foist our own vision of democracy on the Iraqis, and then expect
our troops to hold together such a vision militarily.
Fourth, we have to do a much better job on reconstruction
The Iraqi people wonder why the United States has
been unable to restore basic services - sewage, power, infrastructure
- to significant portions of Iraq. This has caused a loss of faith
among the Iraqi people in our efforts to rebuild that nation and
help it recover from decades of brutal tyranny.
The Administration tells us there can not be reconstruction
without security, but many Iraqis make the opposite argument. They
say Iraq will never be secure until there is reconstruction and
citizens see that a better future awaits them.
The Administration also tells us that they are making
progress, but can not publicize the specific successes out of security
If we are unable to point out the progress, how
are Iraqis - especially ones we are trying to persuade to claim
a bigger stake in the future of their country - ever to know that
the Americans efforts are helping to make their lives better? How
does this approach help to quell the insurgency?
We need to break this cycle. We have to get more
Iraqis involved with the reconstruction efforts. After all, it is
the Iraqis who best know their country and have the greatest stake
in restoring basic services.
We need to work with the best and brightest Iraqis,
inside and outside of government to come up with a plan to get the
power back on in Baghdad and help to restore the faith of the Iraqi
people in our important mission in Iraq.
Fifth, we have to launch a major diplomatic effort
to get the international community, especially key neighboring states
and Arab nations, more involved in Iraq. If one looks at the Balkans
- our most recent attempt to rebuild war torn nations - the international
community, from the European Union to NATO to the United Nations,
were all deeply involved. These organizations, driven largely by
European countries in the region, provided legitimacy, helped with
burden-sharing, and were an essential part of our exit strategy.
Ten years later, conditions are not perfect, but the blood-shed
has been stopped, and the region is no longer destabilizing the
European Continent. And so a part of any strategy in Iraq must more
deeply integrate Iraq's neighbors, international organizations,
and regional powers around the world.
Finally, it is critical for this Administration,
and Congress, to recognize that despite the enormous stakes the
United States now has in seeing Iraq succeed, we cannot let this
mission distract us from the larger front of international terrorism
that remains to be addressed. Already we are getting reports that
the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Our progress in improving
our intelligence capabilities - particularly human intelligence
- has lagged. Iraq has absorbed resources that could have gone into
critical homeland security measures, or in improved coordination
with our global allies and partners. At the outset of this war,
I challenged the Administration's assertion that deposing Saddam
Hussein was the central measure in our war on terrorism. And although
I believe we must stabilize Iraq, I continue to believe that the
Administration's tendency to equate the military defeat of the Iraqi
insurgency with the defeat of international terrorism is dangerously
Long the before the war in Iraq, international terrorism
posed a grave security threat to the United States. Well over two
years after the start of the Iraq war, these threats to our way
of life remain every bit as serious. Some have argued that these
threats have grown. The Administration has to be capable of finding
a solution in Iraq and strengthening our efforts to combat international
In the end, Iraq is not about one person's legacy,
a political campaign, or rigid adherence to an ideology.
What is happening in Iraq is about the security
of the United States. It is about our men and women in uniform.
It is about the future of the Middle East. It is about the world
in which our children will live.
Responsible voices from all parts of the political
spectrum are coming forth to say this in increasing numbers.
Colin Powell had the courage to call his presentation
to the United Nations on Iraq a "blot" on his distinguished
record. And recently John Edwards said he made a mistake in voting
to go to war in Iraq, and accepted responsibility for this decision.
It is no coincidence that both Mr. Edwards and Mr.
Powell no longer serve the government in Washington. Those of us
in Washington are falling behind the debate that is taking place
across America on Iraq. We are failing to provide leadership on
Iraq was a major issue in last year's election.
But that election is now over.
We need to stop the campaign.
The President could take the politics out of Iraq
once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to
the American people "Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are
things I would have done differently. But now that we're here, I
am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the
most responsible way out."
Nearly four decades ago, John F. Kennedy took responsibility
for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He admitted that mistakes had been
made. He didn't spend a good deal of time publicly blaming the previous
Administration, or the other party, or his critics. And through
these decisive actions, he earned the respect of the American people
and the world - respect that allowed his diplomacy to be trusted
a few years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Americans everywhere are crying out for this kind
of leadership today. They want to find pragmatic solutions to the
difficult and complicated situation in Iraq. They want to move forward
on of the greatest foreign policy challenges that this nation has
faced in a generation. And they want to get it right for every American
son and daughter who's been willing to put their lives on the line
to defend the country they love. It's time for us in Washington
to offer the rest of the country this leadership. Thank you.