Challenging Bush’s Defense of the Iraq Occupation

September 10th, 2007 - by admin

Hon. Tom Lantos / US House of Representatives – 2007-09-10 21:13:07

“Opening Statement by Chairman Lantos at hearing with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker
US House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (September 10, 2007) — Two of our nation’s most capable public servants have come before us today to assess the situation in Iraq. General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, every single one of us wants you to succeed in your efforts to the maximum possible extent. We admire the heroism and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and the dedication of our diplomatic corps in Iraq, and we fully understand the terrible burden on their families.

Our witnesses have been sent here this morning to restore credibility to a discredited policy. We and the American people already know that the situation in Iraq is grim, and a growing majority of this Congress and of the American people want our troops out.

In October of 2003 I flew in a helicopter with you, General Petraeus, over Northern Iraq around Mosul. As we passed over the countryside, you pointed out to me several ammunition dumps that had once belonged to the army of Saddam Hussein. “I don’t have enough troops to guard these places,” you said. “Someday, this might come back to haunt us.”

Well, General Petraeus, you saw it coming. Those unguarded ammo dumps became the arsenals of insurgency. Those weapons have been turned against us. How very typical of this war.

The Administration’s myopic policies in Iraq have created a fiasco. Is it any wonder that on the subject of Iraq, more and more Americans have little confidence in this Administration? We can not take ANY of this Administration’s assertions on Iraq at face value anymore, and no amount of charts or statistics will improve its credibility.

This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus, or on you, Ambassador Crocker. But the fact remains, gentlemen, that the Administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two Committees and the Congress that victory is at hand.

With all due respect to you, I must say … I don’t buy it. And neither does the independent Government Accountability Office or the Commission headed by General Jones. Both recently issued deeply pessimistic reports.

The current escalation in our military presence in Iraq may have produced some tactical successes. But strategically, the escalation has failed. It was intended to buy time for Prime Minister Maliki and the other Iraqi political leaders to find ways to move toward the one thing that may end this terrible civil conflict – and that, of course, is a political settlement. As best we can see, that time has been utterly squandered.

Prime Minister Maliki has not shown the slightest inclination to move in the direction of compromise. Instead of working to build national institutions – a truly Iraqi army, a competent bureaucracy, a non-sectarian police force – Maliki has moved in the opposite direction. The so-called “Unity Accord” announced with such fanfare a couple of weeks ago, is just another in a long list of empty promises.

Instead of acting as a leader for Iraq as a whole, Maliki has functioned as the front man for Shiite partisans. And he has presided over a Shiite coalition that includes some of the most notorious militias, death squads, and sectarian thugs in Iraq.

This is not what the American people had in mind. And when Mr. Maliki states, as he recently did, that if the Americans leave, he can find, quote, “new friends,” we are reminded most forcefully of his and his Party’s intimate ties to Iran.

In his recent visit to Anbar Province, the President made much of our cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda with Sunni tribal militias. This alliance may in the short run be a positive development – but it also raises some serious and profound questions.

Anbar, of course, includes just five per cent of the population of Iraq – an important five per cent, but still only five. What’s more, by arming, training and funding the Sunni militias in that province, we are working against our own strategy of building national Iraqi institutions.

America should not be in the business of arming, training and funding both sides of a religious civil war in Iraq. Did the Administration learn nothing from our country’s actions in Afghanistan two decades ago, when by supporting Islamist militants against the Soviet Union, we helped pave the way for the rise of the Taliban? Why are we now repeating the short-sighted patterns of the past?

In Iraq today, we are wrecking our military, forcing their families to suffer needlessly, sacrificing the lives of our brave young men and women in uniform. And the enormous financial cost of this war is limiting our ability to address our global security needs, as well as pressing domestic problems such as health care, crumbling infrastructure and public education. The cost of this war in Iraq will be passed along to our grandchildren and beyond.

In the last few days, General Petraeus, media have reported that you are prepared to support a slow drawdown of our forces in Iraq – beginning with a brigade or two, perhaps at the end of this year.
This clearly is nowhere near enough.

We need to send Maliki’s government a strong message, loud and clear. Removing a brigade is nothing but a political whisper – and it is unacceptable to the American people and to the majority of the Congress.

As long as American troops are doing the heavy lifting in Iraq, there is no reason – none at all – for the Iraqis themselves to step up. Military progress without political progress is meaningless.

It is their country – and it is their turn. Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi politicians need to know that the free ride is over and that American troops will not be party to their civil war.

The situation in Iraq cries out for a dramatic change of course. We need to get out of Iraq, for that country’s sake and for our own. It is time to go – and to go now.

“Beyond the September Report: What’s Next for Iraq?”
Opening Remarks of Chairman Lantos at hearing,

WASHINGTON (September 6, 2007) — Our two committees will come together again next Monday to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. It would be refreshing if these two capable and dedicated men would outline a new plan that would redeploy our troops and bring them home from Iraq.

But I expect instead that the September report — written not by of one of our great military leaders and one of our most capable diplomats, but by Administration political operatives — will be a regurgitation of the same failed Iraq strategy. I expect this report will be replete with the same litany of requests – more troops, more money, more patience – and all in the unlikely belief that our intervention in a bloody, religiously-based civil war will bear fruit.

The Administration won’t listen – not to Congress, not to the American people, and not to the military and foreign policy experts who have repeatedly told both our committees that the current course in Iraq is failing, and failing miserably.

When the September report lands on our doorsteps next week, it will be a political document – drafted in Washington by those who see Iraq not as it is, but as they would like it to be.

As we heard in great detail yesterday from the Government Accountability Office, Iraq has met only three of the 18 benchmarks for political and military progress. By any standard, this is a failing grade. Constitutional reform – failed to meet the goal. Iraqi military units operating independently – failed to meet the goal. Reducing sectarian violence, reversing de-Baathification, passing new oil laws: failed, failed, failed on every single count.

More than six months into the President’s troop escalation, it is readily apparent that it isn’t working – either in promoting political change in Iraq or in increasing security. In July and August alone, more than 150 American soldiers lost their lives, and more than 1000 of our brave men and women were injured. The horrific casualty rate for Iraqi civilians has also remained largely unchanged.

With his visit to Anbar Province, the President trumpeted our new cooperation with tribal militias. This alliance may contribute to peace in the short term, but will inevitably escalate the intensity of the civil war which will ensue once American forces leave the province.

According to a report released this morning by General Jones, we should not expect the Iraqi police to help. They are so riddled with corruption and incompetence that he recommends they be completely disbanded.

Republicans and Democrats in this room can all agree that we’d like to see peace and good government in Iraq. But our increased troop presence is not contributing to achieving this critical goal. Rather, it is undermining it. Our troops have become a rallying point for militant sectarian groups and terrorists of all stripes, and an excuse for failing to make tough political compromises about Iraq’s future.

There will be no peace and stability as long as key elements in Iraqi society want to continue to fight – Shia to solidify their newfound power and Sunnis to regain it. There will be no peace and stability as long as Iraq’s neighbors – particularly Iran and Syria – actively promote militant groups as a means to counter American troops in Iraq. And I, for one, doubt seriously that we will see any movement in the direction of a political settlement until such time as Prime Minister Maliki is informed that our troop transports have landed in Baghdad, ready to begin bringing home our men and women in uniform.

Until then, Prime Minister Maliki will continue to run his government like a Shiite factional leader. He will obstruct efforts to build a strong, national Iraqi army in favor of a militia-infiltrated force protecting Shiite power. He will stymie initiatives to reverse de-Baathification, and in so doing, demonstrate to the Sunni population that this is not their government.

Without meaningful progress in Iraq and an effective partner in the Iraqi government, the majority of Congress will continue to insist on a reasonable and responsible withdrawal plan that presents the least-bad option for Iraq, the region, and our national security interests. By definition, this will involve training Iraqi security forces, attacking terrorist cells in hotspots, and shielding important Iraqi infrastructure facilities.

I wish Congress would have the President’s cooperation in this effort, but absent a September Surprise, we won’t have it. But we will continue to do what is right – reach out across the aisle to our friends and colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle to push for a bipartisan consensus towards wise redeployment of our forces in Iraq. The American people have asked us to accomplish this task, and we will not rest until it is done.

It is now my great pleasure to turn to my dear friend and distinguished colleague, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton of Missouri.