Senator Casey's Floor Speech on Iraq

Mr. President, I stand today in strong support of HR 1591, the Congressional supplemental bill. In casting our votes on this important measure, all of us are asking a fundamental question: do we support a change in course in Iraq or do we want more of the same? This supplemental bill delivers over $100 billion in necessary funding, an increase of $4 billion over the President's request, for our military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, fully meeting the President's request. More important, the bill establishes a change in course for our policy in Iraq by transitioning the mission of American troops away from involvement in a growing civil war to a more targeted mission - one focused on counter-terrorism, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and force protection for American troops. The supplemental bill on the floor today offers a path away from the current quagmire in Iraq - a state of bloodshed and chaos which is straining the U.S. Army, diverting our attention from a resurgent Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and sacrificing too many of our finest men and women.

We must never forget the enormous personal sacrifices that our troops are asked to make every day. As of today, 162 Pennsylvanians, and more than 3300 Americans as a whole, have given their lives in Iraq, with tens of thousands more suffering lifelong injuries, including amputations, severe burns, and traumatic brain injuries. On Monday, nine members of the 82nd Airborne Division gave their lives when a suicide bomber infiltrated their outpost in Diyala province - the deadliest single attack on U.S. forces in Iraq since December 2005. We pray for our fallen warriors, today and always, and we pray for ourselves that we may be worthy of their valor.

Our troops have done all they can: they have deposed Saddam and they have fought insurgents and foreign terrorists. They have spent the last four years partnering with their Iraqi counterparts in a courageous effort to establish the foundation for a democracy and a free society. They have been asked to mediate disputes and protect innocent civilians as targets in the crossfire of civil war.

So our troops have done their part. Now it is time for the Congress and the White House to do our part. As retired military generals, experienced diplomats, and scholars with intimate knowledge of Iraq have declared, and as the bipartisan Iraq Study Group concluded just last winter, any success in Iraq requires a political and diplomatic solution and cannot be achieved through military might alone. Just ask General Petraeus, who upon assuming his new command in March, declared: "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq. ... A political resolution of various differences ... will determine, in the long run, the success of this effort."

General Barry McCaffrey recently returned from his latest trip to Iraq. One of our most widely respected former military officers, General McCaffrey fought in Vietnam with distinction, commanded a division in the Gulf War, and led U.S. operations in Latin America. He submitted a formal report on his trip, which is very sober reading. One line stands out for me: "no Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO, nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, not Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi, without heavily armed protection."

This supplemental bill provides the Congress and the White House a chance to do their part to ensure success in our mission in Iraq. It brings an end to the "stay the course" mentality that has defined our approach for the past four years. First, the supplemental revises our mission in Iraq away from policing a civil war towards training and equipping Iraqi security forces, protecting U.S. forces, and conducting targeted counter-terror operations. Second, it initiates a phased redeployment of our troops no later than October 1st of this year, with a goal of removing all combat troops by April 1st of next year. These steps were called for in the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and represent the will of the American people. I am pleased that the Congress is following suit.

Third, the supplemental at last holds the Iraqi government accountable by setting measurable and achievable benchmarks on the Iraqi government for ending sectarian conflict, political reconciliation, and improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis. If the Iraqi government refuses to meet these benchmarks, they will put at risk future U.S. assistance and the continued presence of U.S. troops. We have repeatedly seen past benchmarks established by the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government come and go without progress and without consequence. Just this week, a revealing article in USA Today highlighted the growing lack of confidence among Iraqi parliamentarians in the al Maliki government, with one legislator quoted as saying, "This government hasn't delivered and is not capable of doing the job." This bill once and for all establishes a series of accountable benchmarks.

Finally, the supplemental recognizes the toll this war has taken on our uniformed military, especially the Army and Marine Corps. It establishes a set of troop readiness standards that establish minimum intervals between deployments for troops and limit the duration of those deployments. The legislation includes a Presidential waiver authority, but it would require the President to certify that the continued strain on our military forces is in our national interest. These provisions will force the President to think long and hard on the impact of the Iraq war on the readiness of our military to handle other pressing challenges - including the need to fight and kill Al Qaeda terrorists wherever we find them.

The Congressional debate that has helped produce this supplemental bill has been attacked by the President and his supporters. However, our Secretary of Defense last week described our debate as helpful in "communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment." Two of my distinguished colleagues, on a recent visit to Baghdad, explicitly informed Iraqi leaders that growing Congressional pressure on the need for a phased redeployment signified that it was time for the Iraqi government to get serious and start taking the hard steps needed for political reconciliation, including a fair distribution of oil revenues. Without the steps this Congress has taken, without the pressure it has applied, the Maliki regime would continue to be receiving an open-ended blank check from the White House, with our soldiers paying the ultimate price.

The President has regrettably chosen to distort and malign our intentions in sending him the bill that is before us today. I want to take a few minutes to briefly address those charges and demonstrate why it is the President, not this Congress, who has cynically held hostage the funding and well-being of our troops.

First, the President has repeatedly charged that our military forces need this supplemental funding immediately - and any delay to pass a supplemental to his exact specifications will harm their readiness. A number of my colleagues have already cited an authoritative report from the Congressional Research Service that demonstrates that the needed funding is available to the U.S. Army through mid-to-late July without jeopardizing the war effort. However, there is a much larger cynicism at play here. There would be no need for a supplemental bill at all if this President had submitted an honest regular budget request for this fiscal year. Four years into this war, this Administration should be able to tell the American people how much the war in Iraq costs. Yet the Administration has refused to incorporate wartime costs into its regular budget request, instead seeking to finance our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through a series of supplemental bills.

Of course, the President does not want to do that, because regular appropriations requests are subject to far greater public and congressional scrutiny. Financing the Iraq war through supplemental bills also allows the President to better hide the impact of the war on our federal budget. It is not surprising that a President who has run up the largest deficits in modern history would want to hide that fact. Doing so on the backs of our troops is outrageous.

So the President is plain wrong when he attacks the Congress on supplemental funding for our troops in Iraq. The reality is that we have exceeded the President's request and on a timeline that is quicker than that of the previous Congress controlled by the President's party. If the President chooses to veto this bill, it is he who is prolonging this process and denying necessary funds to our young men and women in uniform. And if the President had been honest with the Congress and the American people on the true costs of this war from the very beginning, we would not have needed this supplemental bill at all.

The second claim that the President has made over and over in recent weeks is that this supplemental bill is larded up with pork barrel spending that is unrelated to our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, once again, the President is distorting both his own actions and those of the Congress for crude political gain.

We should not forget that the President's original request for supplemental funding also included funds not related to the war effort in Iraq or Afghanistan. The President's request included money for debt relief for Kosovo, cultural exchanges, and assistance to refugees in Burundi. The President keeps calling for a clean bill, yet his own request to the Congress included extra items with no connection to Iraq or Afghanistan.

In light of the President's request, the Congress, acting as an independent and equal branch of government, engaged in its own deliberations and determined other emergency priorities that required funding through the supplemental bill. This President seems to think that the Congress exists merely to follow his orders and that it should not exercise any independent judgment at all. That may have been the case with our predecessors, but not this Congress - and not this Senator. We were elected by the people of our states and we report to them, not the President and not the Vice President.

So the Congress acted to ensure additional funds for a number of key priorities. The President has broadly tarred these projects as "egregious pork barrel". Does the President believe that label applies to $1.2 billion in funds for accelerated production of mine-resistant vehicles so that our soldiers have a better chance of surviving IED attacks? Does he believe that label applies to $2.1 billion to provide better health care for our veterans who have been injured on the battlefield? On an issue that is dear to my heart, does he believe that $650 million to help address a children's health insurance shortfall in fourteen states is frivolous spending? I can also talk about needed funding for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and our farmers who are suffering from natural disasters. All of these funding priorities are absolutely essential to the security and well-being of the American people and I am pleased that this Congress has chosen to include them in this bill.

Mr. President, this supplemental bill agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators is a responsible effort that guarantees the funds our troops need, provides necessary funding to other critical emergency priorities, and sets a badly needed change in course for our policy in Iraq.

Our policy in Iraq is not working and it must change if we are to salvage our mission there and seek to leave behind a functioning government in Baghdad that can defend its national borders and contain internal violence. American forces cannot remain indefinitely in Iraq. It is time to recognize the reality of Iraq as it is today, get our mission right, and allow our troops to begin coming home with the honor they deserve.

I yield the floor, Mr. President.