At this time, in the U.S. Senate, we're confronted with two simple questions: Does the Senate agree with President Bush's plan to escalate our military involvement in Iraq by deploying 21,000 more troops? And, second, will the Senate vote tomorrow to allow debate to go forward? Just those two questions, Mr. President. There will be further debates about our policy in Iraq in the weeks and months ahead, but for the next few days, it's those two questions.
As I've stated before, I oppose this escalation, but I support debating it. The grave question of war must always be the subject of vigorous debate, especially in the U.S. Senate. As a Senator from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a state that has lost 150 young men and women in combat, I have a solemn obligation to speak about this escalation. Many of these brave Americans from Pennsylvania come from small towns like Rockport, Connellsville and Beaver Falls and from cities like Bethlehem, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I have an obligation to speak out against those policies that only increase the likelihood that even more of Pennsylvania's sons and daughters will die or be grievously wounded on behalf of a flawed strategy.
I had hoped we could have moved forward with a debate on Iraq two weeks ago. The American people don't understand why the Senate isn't debating this war when all of America expects us to do so. Perhaps a rare Saturday vote will help this body realize the importance that this debate moves forward. We owe it to the troops, their families and to those who've loved and lost someone dear to them in this war to debate our Iraq policy and to clearly express our opposition to the President's escalation.
The American people have clearly voiced their strong desire for their elected representatives to address this issue. The elections last November turned, in large part, on the failure of the previous Congress to engage in adequate oversight of the Administration and ask the tough questions when it came to execution of the war. Debating is essential to good oversight. Recent polls conducted by the respected Gallup organization reveal that Americans consider the war as one of the two most important problems facing our nation. Finally, an overwhelming 63 percent of respondents in a recent national poll expressed concern that the Senate has been unsuccessful to date in attempts to hold a debate on the Iraq war. We have an obligation to act and that begins with a full debate.
S. 574 is short but eloquent. It respects and honors our troops who are serving or have served with distinction in Iraq and it communicates our disapproval of the President's escalation of the war. It mandates additional reporting requirements so that there is transparency with regard to military, political, and diplomatic operations in Iraq. This resolution deserves our support because it sends the right message to the President to change course in Iraq.
In the first five weeks of this new Congress, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I've listened carefully to more than twenty five witnesses over the course of a dozen hearings. Some 50 hours of testimony from Generals and other military experts, diplomats and foreign policy experts and the Co-Chairs of the Iraq Study Group. I've asked tough questions and listened to statements and questions from my colleagues, some who have decades of experience in foreign affairs and military operations. After all these hearings, I'm even more certain that this escalation is the wrong strategy.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in January on Iraq's prospects for near-term stability paints a dire picture. The unclassified version describes growing sectarian-based polarization, ineffective security forces with questionable loyalties, and an all but certain rise in communal violence in coming months. The NIE clarifies that Iraq's violence today is primarily driven by "the self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics." Reading the Key Judgments, I can only conclude that political reconciliation between the respective leaders of Iraq's communal populations is the best way to reduce the violence there and begin to create a stable state that is not a threat to its neighbors. Escalating the military conflict by inserting additional U.S. troops into Iraq is not the answer.
As Chairman Biden remarked during the Foreign Relations Committee's deliberations on a related resolution, this effort is not inspired by a desire to embarrass or isolate the President. Rather, it is an attempt to demonstrate to the President that his approach is flawed and will not result in the outcome he seeks. The President is still searching for a military solution when in fact it is time for a political solution led by the Iraqis themselves. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself declared only last November, "The crisis is political, and the ones who can stop the cycle of aggravation and bloodletting of innocents are the politicians." The answer, Mr. President, is a sustained and vigorous diplomatic engagement that helps produce a national reconciliation in Iraq.
The President and his senior officials have failed to make the case that the so-called New Way Forward in Iraq is in fact new or promises the significant changes needed to achieve real victory. Instead, the President's escalation strategy risks repeating mistakes already made, inserts more American troops into the crossfire of a growing sectarian conflict, and ignores the urgent need to reorient the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq towards those objectives that offer our best chance to leave behind a secure and stable Iraq.
Mr. President, I believe it is essential to note that the President's policy is, more or less, "stay the course." The United States today has approximately 137,000 forces in Iraq. Sending an additional 21,500 troops will not fundamentally change the current dynamic in Iraq. The United States today has approximately 137,000 forces in Iraq. Sending an additional 21,500 troops will not fundamentally change the current dynamic in Iraq.
Mr. President, the reality is that more American troops are not the answer in Iraq. General Abazid, the outgoing U.S. Central Command Commander, testified in November that the unanimous opinion of his top subordinates was that more American troops would only perpetuate the dependence of Iraqi troops and would not offer a positive solution. No matter how many troops we send, they cannot provide lasting security on the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Only fully-equipped, trained, and dedicated Iraqi military and police forces - those who do not pick and choose sides among sectarian groups-- can provide the type of permanent security that will enable Iraqi political and civil life to emerge and the nation to embark on a path to reconciliation. Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, noted in recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the money, time, and attention we are devoting to escalating the level of U.S. forces in Iraq must not detract from what should be a primary mission for the United States: training Iraqi security forces to enhance their capability to take the lead and allow U.S. forces to redeploy out of that country.
Instead, by adopting the President's strategy, I fear that we are sending into Iraq 21,500 additional troops without a more focused mission and lacking a solid plan to accomplish it. I fear that we are still investing too much trust in the Maliki government, a regime that has failed to demonstrate that it is acting on behalf of the whole Iraqi people and not just one sectarian group. I fear that American forces will continue to serve as a bulls-eye target for those resentful of a prolonged U.S. occupation in Iraq. In short, I fear that we are sending more American men and women into Iraq without a new blueprint for victory and without the essential political, diplomatic, and international groundwork required to succeed.
The President has based his troop escalation on the hope that this time the Maliki regime will carry through on its commitments and deliver the required Iraqi forces to help U.S. forces secure neighborhoods throughout Baghdad, and more importantly, then remain to allow reconstruction to proceed and normal life to return. Yet the record is not encouraging. In Operation Together Forward, Prime Minister Maliki had pledged six battalions, but only two were sent. Some of those Iraqi units suffered subsequent serious attrition rates. Many of those forces have been infiltrated by the very sectarian militias they are now being asked to disarm. We are already seeing troubling signs in the initial stages of this latest escalation. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and many other newspapers have published articles on the lack of seriousness exhibited by Iraqi troops, their lack of readiness, and the feelings of helplessness they inspire in American troops.
The fact of the matter remains that it is very difficult to rely on Iraqi forces when you ask them to deploy outside their normal areas of operation and their ethnic strongholds. And so I retain my doubts when the President insists that this time is different, that Mr. Maliki now means it when he says Iraqi forces will truly crack down on all troublemakers, whether they are Shia or Sunni. The Government of Iraq has promised repeatedly to assume a greater share of security responsibilities, disband militias, consider Constitutional amendments and enact laws to reconcile sectarian differences, and improve the quality of essential services for the Iraqi people; yet, despite those promises, little has been achieved. Moreover, I am skeptical of this escalation of U.S. troops because we have seen this strategy tried before over the past year. Operation Together Forward in 2006 represented a previous U.S. escalation. 12,000 additional U.S. troops were introduced into the Baghdad city limits, only to see U.S. and Iraq casualties spike considerably without any sustained reduction in sectarian violence. We have seen similar efforts to "flood the zone" with additional U.S. troops in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, only resulting in limited and temporary gains in security. If more troops have not worked in the recent past, why should we have any reason to believe that it will work this time?
I, and other Members, are concerned about the dual chain of command concept that is being introduced as part of this escalation. Lt. General Abud Qanbar has been appointed by Prime Minister Maliki as the Iraqi military commander for the capital; at the same time, there will be a parallel U.S. command headed by Major General Joseph Fil Jr. Both commanders will have ultimate control of their own national troops, but this "partnered" command could create serious complications if there are disputes between U.S. and Iraqi forces over specific operations. A unified chain of command is one of the hallmark principles that have long governed deployment of U.S. forces abroad.
Finally, Mr. President, I oppose the escalation strategy because I fear that it will only exacerbate the long-standing strains on our nation's military. Seven years ago, President Bush declared that his predecessor was leaving office with a "military in decline". He alleged that the previous Administration had not adequately funded our armed forces while simultaneously deploying those forces in excessive engagements around the world. It is one of the tragic ironies that this President is himself stretching our military to a genuine breaking point as he pursues a misguided strategy in Iraq.
The Washington Post recently published an important article documenting the impacts of this proposed troop escalation. According to the Post, the Army and Marine Corps already lack thousands of the necessary vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces. Diverting the 21,500 troops from other essential missions around the world will only further deteriorate the readiness of our overall ground forces, making it more difficult to respond quickly and decisively in the event of other military contingencies and raise the likelihood of greater U.S. casualties.
Mr. President, our nation's military is facing a genuine crisis. The war in Iraq has exacted a heavy toll, in casualties first and foremost, but also in terms of the combat equipment that under girds our fighting men and women. Our National Guard and Reserve troops in particular are paying a heavy price. Army data shows that Army National Guard units today only have, on average, 40 percent of their required equipment. National Guard combat brigades are being involuntarily mobilized and reservists are being sent back to the combat theater on a repeated basis.
My fellow Member of Congress from Pennsylvania, Representative John Murtha, a decorated Marine, painted a distressing picture of our military's readiness during recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As he noted, "At the beginning of the Iraq war, 80 percent of ALL Army units and almost 100 percent of active combat units were rated at the highest state of readiness. Today, virtually all of our active-duty combat units at home and ALL of our guard units are at the lowest state of readiness, primarily due to equipment shortages resulting from repeated and extended deployments to Iraq." He then went on to cite recent House testimony from a senior Pentagon official that our country is threatened because we lack readiness at home.
I welcome the President's intention to expand our military, permanently elevating the Army's and Marine Corp's active-duty ranks over the next five years, but that is only a long-term solution. Our current forces are badly overextended, and an escalation strategy in Iraq will only worsen that condition. Our nation faces growing challenges around the world and we must ensure that our military forces receive adequate training, are fully equipped, and retain the necessary flexibility to quickly respond to contingencies wherever they may arise. Pouring more troops into Iraq does not make those requirements any easier to meet.
Just listen to what the bipartisan Iraq Study Group had to say on this matter:
"America's military capacity is stretched thin; we do not have the troops or equipment to make a substantial, sustained increase in our troop presence. Increased deployments to Iraq would also necessarily hamper our ability to provide adequate resources for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond to crises around the world."
For all of these reasons, Mr. President, I am proud to stand in support of this bipartisan effort to send a message to the President that a troop escalation in Iraq is the wrong choice for our nation. Instead, our Iraq strategy should emphasize a new direction: Encouraging Iraqi leaders to make political compromises that will foster reconciliation and strengthen the unity government, laying the groundwork for an improved security situation; redeploying our military forces in Iraq so that they can focus on maintaining that nation's territorial integrity, deny Al Qaeda and other terrorists a safe haven, conduct counterterrorism operations, promote regional stability, and, most importantly, train and equip Iraqi forces to take the lead in security and combat operations. The President's escalation strategy of throwing more U.S. troops into Iraq's burgeoning civil war undercuts and detracts from each of these objectives: a campaign of escalation is incompatible with securing a new and better direction in Iraq. For those who argue that supporting this resolution only offers criticism, but does not offer any specific alternatives, I urge you to listen to what I have just outlined.
The opponents of this resolution have argued that we are emboldening the enemy, that we are sending mixed messages, and that we are demoralizing our troops in the field. Mr. President, I respectfully and strongly disagree with those sentiments. We honor our troops and the sacrifices they make on a daily basis only if we commit to closely examine our national policies which they are asked to carry out. If we disagree with the broad strategic direction in which the President is taking our nation, it is our duty to speak out. To remain silent, to remain passive in the face of an approach that we believe is misguided and not in our national interest is an abdication of the responsibilities of our offices.
Mr. President, our military forces and their loved ones have paid a heavy price for its mission in Iraq. As I noted at the beginning of this statement, at least 150 Pennsylvanians have given their lives, with hundreds more suffering from serious and life-long injuries. Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis of Knox, PA was one of those killed in action at the age of 19 years old. He died of injuries on December 4, 2006 after a grenade was thrown into his vehicle in Baghdad. Private McGinnis has been nominated by his commanders for the Medal of Honor. He was manning the gunner's hatch when a grenade was thrown into his Humvee. He could have jumped out and saved his life, but instead he threw his body on the grenade to save the lives of his crew members. We must always remember that this debate we must have is not just an abstract discussion over policy, but will have very real implications for our men and women in the armed forces. We cannot forget the life of Private McGinnis or any of the more than 3000 Americans who have died during this conflict. Our troops are deserving of the support of all Americans and the American people will always honor their sacrifices and honor their families.
Mr. President, a troop increase will only endanger more young Americans in Iraq without any clear hope of success. For that reason, I support an honest debate on the merits of the President's plan and an opportunity for the Senate to declare its views. I will vote to allow this important debate to proceed and I will vote in favor of S. 574.