Throughout American history,
there have been moments that call on us to meet the challenges of
an uncertain world, and pay whatever price is required to secure
our freedom. They are the soul-trying times our forbearers spoke
of, when the ease of complacency and self-interest must give way
to the more difficult task of rendering judgment on what is best
for the nation and for posterity, and then acting on that judgment
? making the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to uphold our
most deeply held values and ideals.
This was true for those
who went to Lexington and Concord. It was true for those who lie
buried at Gettysburg. It was true for those who built democracy’s
arsenal to vanquish fascism, and who then built a series of alliances
and a world order that would ultimately defeat communism.
And this has been true
for those of us who looked on the rubble and ashes of 9/11, and
made a solemn pledge that such an atrocity would never again happen
on United States soil; that we would do whatever it took to hunt
down those responsible, and use every tool at our disposal ? diplomatic,
economic, and military ? to root out both the agents of terrorism
and the conditions that helped breed it.
In each case, what has
been required to meet the challenges we face has been good judgment
and clear vision from our leaders, and a fundamental seriousness
and engagement on the part of the American people ? a willingness
on the part of each of us to look past what is petty and small and
sensational, and look ahead to what is necessary and purposeful.
A few Tuesdays ago, the
American people embraced this seriousness with regards to America’s
policy in Iraq. Americans were originally persuaded by the President
to go to war in part because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction,
and in part because they were told that it would help reduce the
threat of international terrorism.
Neither turned out to be
true. And now, after three long years of watching the same back
and forth in Washington, the American people have sent a clear message
that the days of using the war on terror as a political football
are over. That policy-by-slogan will no longer pass as an acceptable
form of debate in this country. “Mission Accomplished,”
“cut and run,” “stay the course” ? the American
people have determined that all these phrases have become meaningless
in the face of a conflict that grows more deadly and chaotic with
each passing day ? a conflict that has only increased the terrorist
threat it was supposed to help contain.
2,867 Americans have now
died in this war. Thousands more have suffered wounds that will
last a lifetime. Iraq is descending into chaos based on ethnic divisions
that were around long before American troops arrived. The conflict
has left us distracted from containing the world’s growing
threats ? in North Korea, in Iran, and in Afghanistan. And a report
by our own intelligence agencies has concluded that al Qaeda is
successfully using the war in Iraq to recruit a new generation of
terrorists for its war on America.
These are serious times
for our country, and with their votes two weeks ago, Americans demanded
a feasible strategy with defined goals in Iraq ? a strategy no longer
driven by ideology and politics, but one that is based on a realistic
assessment of the sobering facts on the ground and our interests
in the region.
This kind of realism has
been missing since the very conception of this war, and it is what
led me to publicly oppose it in 2002. The notion that Iraq would
quickly and easily become a bulwark of flourishing democracy in
the Middle East was not a plan for victory, but an ideological fantasy.
I said then and believe now that Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator
who craved weapons of mass destruction but posed no imminent threat
to the United States; that a war in Iraq would harm, not help, our
efforts to defeat al Qaeda and finish the job in Afghanistan; and
that an invasion would require an occupation of undetermined length,
at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.
Month after month, and
then year after year, I’ve watched with a heavy heart as my
deepest suspicions about this war’s conception have been confirmed
and exacerbated in its disastrous implementation. No matter how
bad it gets, we are told to wait, and not ask questions. We have
been assured that the insurgency is in its last throes. We have
been told that progress is just around the corner, and that when
the Iraqis stand up, we will be able to stand down. Last week, without
a trace of irony, the President even chose Vietnam as the backdrop
for remarks counseling “patience” with his policies
When I came here and gave
a speech on this war a year ago, I suggested that we begin to move
towards a phased redeployment of American troops from Iraqi soil.
At that point, seventy-five U.S. Senators, Republican and Democrat,
including myself, had also voted in favor of a resolution demanding
that 2006 be a year of significant transition in Iraq.
What we have seen instead
is a year of significant deterioration. A year in which well-respected
Republicans like John Warner, former Administration officials like
Colin Powell, generals who have served in Iraq, and intelligence
experts have all said that what we are doing is not working. A year
that is ending with an attempt by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group
to determine what can be done about a country that is quickly spiraling
out of control.
According to our own Pentagon,
the situation on the ground is now pointing towards chaos. Sectarian
violence has reached an all-time high, and 365,000 Iraqis have fled
their homes since the bombing of a Shia mosque in Samarra last February.
300,000 Iraqi security forces have supposedly been recruited and
trained over the last two years, and yet American troop levels have
not been reduced by a single soldier. The addition of 4,000 American
troops in Baghdad has not succeeded in securing that increasingly
perilous city. And polls show that almost two-thirds of all Iraqis
now sympathize with attacks on American soldiers.
Prime Minister Maliki is
not making our job easier. In just the past three weeks, he has
? and I’m quoting from a New York Times article here ? “rejected
the notion of an American ‘timeline’ for action on urgent
Iraqi political issues; ordered American commanders to lift checkpoints
they had set up around the Shiite district of Sadr City to hunt
for a kidnapped American soldier and a fugitive Shiite death squad
leader; and blamed the Americans for the deteriorating security
situation in Iraq.”
This is now the reality
Now, I am hopeful that
the Iraq Study Group emerges next month with a series of proposals
around which we can begin to build a bipartisan consensus. I am
committed to working with this White House and any of my colleagues
in the months to come to craft such a consensus. And I believe that
it remains possible to salvage an acceptable outcome to this long
and misguided war.
But it will not be easy.
For the fact is that there are no good options left in this war.
There are no options that do not carry significant risks. And so
the question is not whether there is some magic formula for success,
or guarantee against failure, in Iraq. Rather, the question is what
strategies, imperfect though they may be, are most likely to achieve
the best outcome in Iraq, one that will ultimately put us on a more
effective course to deal with international terrorism, nuclear proliferation,
and other critical threats to our security.
What is absolutely clear
is that it is not enough for the President to respond to Iraq’s
reality by saying that he is “open to” or “interested
in” new ideas while acting as if all that’s required
is doing more of the same. It is not enough for him to simply lay
out benchmarks for progress with no consequences attached for failing
to meet them. And it is not enough for the President to tell us
that victory in this war is simply a matter of American resolve.
The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have
seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of
Fallujah. They have spent hundreds of billions of their hard-earned
dollars on this effort ? money that could have been devoted to strengthening
our homeland security and our competitive standing as a nation.
No, it has not been a failure of resolve that has led us to this
chaos, but a failure of strategy ? and that strategy must change.
It may be politically advantageous
for the President to simply define victory as staying and defeat
as leaving, but it prevents a serious conversation about the realistic
objectives we can still achieve in Iraq. Dreams of democracy and
hopes for a perfect government are now just that ? dreams and hopes.
We must instead turn our focus to those concrete objectives that
are possible to attain ? namely, preventing Iraq from becoming what
Afghanistan once was, maintaining our influence in the Middle East,
and forging a political settlement to stop the sectarian violence
so that our troops can come home.
There is no reason to believe
that more of the same will achieve these objectives in Iraq. And,
while some have proposed escalating this war by adding thousands
of more troops, there is little reason to believe that this will
achieve these results either. It’s not clear that these troop
levels are sustainable for a significant period of time, and according
to our commanders on the ground, adding American forces will only
relieve the Iraqis from doing more on their own. Moreover, without
a coherent strategy or better cooperation from the Iraqis, we would
only be putting more of our soldiers in the crossfire of a civil
Let me underscore this
point. The American soldiers I met when I traveled to Iraq this
year were performing their duties with bravery, with brilliance,
and without question. They are doing so today. They have battled
insurgents, secured cities, and maintained some semblance of order
in Iraq. But even as they have carried out their responsibilities
with excellence and valor, they have also told me that there is
no military solution to this war. Our troops can help suppress the
violence, but they cannot solve its root causes. And all the troops
in the world won’t be able to force Shia, Sunni, and Kurd
to sit down at a table, resolve their differences, and forge a lasting
I have long said that the
only solution in Iraq is a political one. To reach such a solution,
we must communicate clearly and effectively to the factions in Iraq
that the days of asking, urging, and waiting for them to take control
of their own country are coming to an end. No more coddling, no
more equivocation. Our best hope for success is to use the tools
we have ? military, financial, diplomatic ? to pressure the Iraqi
leadership to finally come to a political agreement between the
warring factions that can create some sense of stability in the
country and bring this conflict under control.
The first part of this
strategy begins by exerting the greatest leverage we have on the
Iraqi government ? a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq
on a timetable that would begin in four to six months.
When I first advocated
steps along these lines over a year ago, I had hoped that this phased
redeployment could begin by the end of 2006. Such a timetable may
now need to begin in 2007, but begin it must. For only through this
phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions
that the U.S. is not going to hold together this country indefinitely
? that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can
effectively run and secure Iraq.
Let me be more specific.
The President should announce to the Iraqi people that our policy
will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces.
He should then work with our military commanders to map out the
best plan for such a redeployment and determine precise levels and
dates. When possible, this should be done in consultation with the
Iraqi government ? but it should not depend on Iraqi approval.
I am not suggesting that
this timetable be overly-rigid. We cannot compromise the safety
of our troops, and we should be willing to adjust to realities on
the ground. The redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the
parties in Iraq reach an effective political arrangement that stabilizes
the situation and they offer us a clear and compelling rationale
for maintaining certain troop levels. Moreover, it could be suspended
if at any point U.S. commanders believe that a further reduction
would put American troops in danger.
Drawing down our troops
in Iraq will allow us to redeploy additional troops to Northern
Iraq and elsewhere in the region as an over-the-horizon force. This
force could help prevent the conflict in Iraq from becoming a wider
war, consolidate gains in Northern Iraq, reassure allies in the
Gulf, allow our troops to strike directly at al Qaeda wherever it
may exist, and demonstrate to international terrorist organizations
that they have not driven us from the region.
Perhaps most importantly,
some of these troops could be redeployed to Afghanistan, where our
lack of focus and commitment of resources has led to an increasing
deterioration of the security situation there. The President’s
decision to go to war in Iraq has had disastrous consequences for
Afghanistan -- we have seen a fierce Taliban offensive, a spike
in terrorist attacks, and a narcotrafficking problem spiral out
of control. Instead of consolidating the gains made by the Karzai
government, we are backsliding towards chaos. By redeploying from
Iraq to Afghanistan, we will answer NATO’s call for more troops
and provide a much-needed boost to this critical fight against terrorism.
As a phased redeployment
is executed, the majority of the U.S. troops remaining in Iraq should
be dedicated to the critical, but less visible roles, of protecting
logistics supply points, critical infrastructure, and American enclaves
like the Green Zone, as well as acting as a rapid reaction force
to respond to emergencies and go after terrorists.
In such a scenario, it
is conceivable that a significantly reduced U.S. force might remain
in Iraq for a more extended period of time. But only if U.S. commanders
think such a force would be effective; if there is substantial movement
towards a political solution among Iraqi factions; if the Iraqi
government showed a serious commitment to disbanding the militias;
and if the Iraqi government asked us ? in a public and unambiguous
way ? for such continued support. We would make clear in such a
scenario that the United States would not be maintaining permanent
military bases in Iraq, but would do what was necessary to help
prevent a total collapse of the Iraqi state and further polarization
of Iraqi society. Such a reduced but active presence will also send
a clear message to hostile countries like Iran and Syria that we
intend to remain a key player in this region.
The second part of our
strategy should be to couple this phased redeployment with a more
effective plan that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead,
intensifies and focuses our efforts to train those forces, and expands
the numbers of our personnel ? especially special forces ? who are
deployed with Iraqi as units advisers.
An increase in the quality
and quantity of U.S. personnel in training and advisory roles can
guard against militia infiltration of Iraqi units; develop the trust
and goodwill of Iraqi soldiers and the local populace; and lead
to better intelligence while undercutting grassroots support for
Let me emphasize one vital
point ? any U.S. strategy must address the problem of sectarian
militias in Iraq. In the absence of a genuine commitment on the
part of all of the factions in Iraq to deal with this issue, it
is doubtful that a unified Iraqi government can function for long,
and it is doubtful that U.S. forces, no matter how large, can prevent
an escalation of widespread sectarian killing.
Of course, in order to
convince the various factions to embark on the admittedly difficult
task of disarming their militias, the Iraqi government must also
make headway on reforming the institutions that support the military
and the police. We can teach the soldiers to fight and police to
patrol, but if the Iraqi government will not properly feed, adequately
pay, or provide them with the equipment they need, they will continue
to desert in large numbers, or maintain fealty only to their religious
group rather than the national government. The security forces have
to be far more inclusive ? standing up an army composed mainly of
Shiites and Kurds will only cause the Sunnis to feel more threatened
and fight even harder.
The third part of our strategy
should be to link continued economic aid in Iraq with the existence
of tangible progress toward a political settlement.
So far, Congress has given
the Administration unprecedented flexibility in determining how
to spend more than $20 billion dollars in Iraq. But instead of effectively
targeting this aid, we have seen some of the largest waste, fraud,
and abuse of foreign aid in American history. Today, the Iraqi landscape
is littered with ill-conceived, half-finished projects that have
done almost nothing to help the Iraqi people or stabilize the country.
This must end in the next
session of Congress, when we reassert our authority to oversee the
management of this war. This means no more bloated no-bid contracts
that cost the taxpayers millions in overhead and administrative
We need to continue to
provide some basic reconstruction funding that will be used to put
Iraqis to work and help our troops stabilize key areas. But we need
to also move towards more condition-based aid packages where economic
assistance is contingent upon the ability of Iraqis to make measurable
progress on reducing sectarian violence and forging a lasting political
Finally, we have to realize
that the entire Middle East has an enormous stake in the outcome
of Iraq, and we must engage neighboring countries in finding a solution.
This includes opening dialogue
with both Syria and Iran, an idea supported by both James Baker
and Robert Gates. We know these countries want us to fail, and we
should remain steadfast in our opposition to their support of terrorism
and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But neither Iran nor Syria want
to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, terrorism, refugees,
and violence, as it could have a destabilizing effect throughout
the entire region ? and within their own countries.
And so I firmly believe
that we should convene a regional conference with the Iraqis, Saudis,
Iranians, Syrians, the Turks, Jordanians, the British and others.
The goal of this conference should be to get foreign fighters out
of Iraq, prevent a further descent into civil war, and push the
various Iraqi factions towards a political solution.
Make no mistake ? if the
Iranians and Syrians think they can use Iraq as another Afghanistan
or a staging area from which to attack Israel or other countries,
they are badly mistaken. It is in our national interest to prevent
this from happening. We should also make it clear that, even after
we begin to drawdown forces, we will still work with our allies
in the region to combat international terrorism and prevent the
spread of weapons of mass destruction. It is simply not productive
for us not to engage in discussions with Iran and Syria on an issue
of such fundamental importance to all of us.
This brings me to a set
of broader points. As we change strategy in Iraq, we should also
think about what Iraq has taught us about America’s strategy
in the wider struggle against rogue threats and international terrorism.
Many who supported the
original decision to go to war in Iraq have argued that it has been
a failure of implementation. But I have long believed it has also
been a failure of conception ? that the rationale behind the war
itself was misguided. And so going forward, I believe there are
strategic lessons to be learned from this as we continue to confront
the new threats of this new century.
The first is that we should
be more modest in our belief that we can impose democracy on a country
through military force. In the past, it has been movements for freedom
from within tyrannical regimes that have led to flourishing democracies;
movements that continue today. This doesn’t mean abandoning
our values and ideals; wherever we can, it’s in our interest
to help foster democracy through the diplomatic and economic resources
at our disposal. But even as we provide such help, we should be
clear that the institutions of democracy ? free markets, a free
press, a strong civil society ? cannot be built overnight, and they
cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun. And so we must
realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of ? especially freedom
from want and freedom from fear ? do not just come from deposing
a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the
personal and material security of a people is ensured as well.
The second lesson is that
in any conflict, it is not enough to simply plan for war; you must
also plan for success. Much has been written about how the military
invasion of Iraq was planned without any thought to what political
situation we would find after Baghdad fell. Such lack of foresight
is simply inexcusable. If we commit our troops anywhere in the world,
it is our solemn responsibility to define their mission and formulate
a viable plan to fulfill that mission and bring our troops home.
The final lesson is that
in an interconnected world, the defeat of international terrorism
? and most importantly, the prevention of these terrorist organizations
from obtaining weapons of mass destruction -- will require the cooperation
of many nations. We must always reserve the right to strike unilaterally
at terrorists wherever they may exist. But we should know that our
success in doing so is enhanced by engaging our allies so that we
receive the crucial diplomatic, military, intelligence, and financial
support that can lighten our load and add legitimacy to our actions.
This means talking to our friends and, at times, even our enemies.
We need to keep these lessons
in mind as we think about the broader threats America now faces
? threats we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to because
we have been distracted in Iraq.
The National Intelligence
Estimate, which details how we’re creating more terrorists
in Iraq than we’re defeating, is the most obvious example
of how the war is hurting our efforts in the larger battle against
terrorism. But there are many others.
The overwhelming presence
of our troops, our intelligence, and our resources in Iraq has stretched
our military to the breaking point and distracted us from the growing
threats of a dangerous world. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently
said that if a conflict arose in North Korea, we’d have to
largely rely on the Navy and Air Force to take care of it, since
the Army and Marines are engaged elsewhere. In my travels to Africa,
I have seen weak governments and broken societies that can be exploited
by al Qaeda. And on a trip to the former Soviet Union, I have seen
the biological and nuclear weapons terrorists could easily steal
while the world looks the other way.
There is one other place
where our mistakes in Iraq have cost us dearly ? and that is the
loss of our government’s credibility with the American people.
According to a Pew survey, 42% of Americans now 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.”
We cannot afford to be
a country of isolationists right now. 9/11 showed us that try as
we might to ignore the rest of the world, our enemies will no longer
ignore us. And so we need to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless
in pursuing our enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around
But to guard against isolationist
sentiments in this country, we must change conditions in Iraq and
the policy that has characterized our time there ? a policy based
on blind hope and ideology instead of fact and reality.
Americans called for this
more serious policy a few Tuesdays ago. It’s time that we
listen to their concerns and win back their trust. I spoke here
a year ago and delivered a message about Iraq that was similar to
the one I did today. I refuse to accept the possibility that I will
have to come back a year from now and say the same thing.
There have been too many
speeches. There have been too many excuses. There have been too
many flag-draped coffins, and there have been too many heartbroken
The time for waiting in
Iraq is over. It is time to change our policy. It is time to give
Iraqis their country back. And it is time to refocus America’s
efforts on the wider struggle yet to be won. Thank you.