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Lieberman Floor Statement on Defense Authorization Bill Print E-mail
July 10, 2007

WASHINGTON - Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) today delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

"Mr. President, I rise to speak about the pending business before the Senate, which is the Department of Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2008. This is a bill that the Senate Armed Services Committee has worked long and hard on over a period of several months. I am privileged to be a member of the committee, now doubly privileged to be chair of the Air Land Subcommittee. I am proud of the work of the committee. This is a bill that does the best we possibly can to support and expand our forces during a time of war.

Unfortunately, most of the time that will be spent by this chamber on this bill will not be about its solid substance, but on a series of amendments that will be offered to alter our course or force our withdrawal from Iraq.

In my considered opinion, respectfully, this is a mistake. These amendments regarding Iraq, I believe, are untimely, they are unwise, and they are unfair. They are untimely in the sense that they are premature and should await September when, as ordained by this Congress itself on the Supplemental Appropriations Bill, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will come back to report to us fully. They are unwise, if ever adopted, because they would essentially represent a retreat from Iraq, a defeat for the United States and the forces of a new Iraq, a free Iraq, and a tremendous victory for Iran and Al Qaeda, who are our two most significant enemies in the world today.

And, introducing these amendments at this time, in my opinion, is unfair—unfair most of all to the 160,000 Americans in uniform over there, brave men and women who in my opinion are the new greatest generation, and who are putting their lives on the line every day. They have made tremendous progress already in the so-called surge counteroffensive, and to snipe at them from here is, in my opinion, unfair. And that's why I will oppose all of the amendments that I have heard about thus far, and why I want to discuss them today. I suppose that, in terms of timeliness, if one felt that the surge counteroffensive, which began in February and has just been fully staffed a couple of weeks ago, had absolutely failed, then one might say, okay, we won't wait until September as we'd promised we'd do. We'll try to force a change in policy and retreat right now. But the facts that I will discuss will show that the surge is showing some success—in some ways, some remarkable success, and doesn't justify these amendments of retreat being introduced at this time.

Mr. President, six months ago, this chamber voted unanimously to confirm General David Petraeus as commander of our forces in Iraq. The fact is, previously the administration had followed a strategy in Iraq that simply was not working. It was a strategy focused on keeping the U.S. force presence as small as possible, regardless of conditions on the ground, and of pushing Iraqi forces into the lead as quickly as possibly, regardless of their capabilities.

General Petraeus was part of a process along with others that presented a dramatically different strategy to the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief. He accepted that dramatically different strategy, which was to apply classic principles of counterinsurgency that have been successful elsewhere. So that instead of our main goal being to get out of Iraq, our main goal became to protect the civilian population that the terrorists were persistently attacking, bringing chaos throughout the country, including particularly in the capital city of Baghdad, making it impossible for a new Iraqi government to take shape.

As a result, over the past five months, many problems, many crises, many challenges in Iraq that had long been described as hopeless have begun to improve. In Baghdad, the sectarian violence that had paralyzed the city for more than a year began to drop dramatically. In Anbar province, which the chief of Marine Corps intelligence in Iraq described just nine months ago as "lost," our surge forces have moved in effectively. Working together with Sunni tribal leaders, we have got Al Qaeda on the run from Anbar province, the province that they intended to make the capital of the new Islamist extremist republic of Iraq.

As John Burns of the New York Times recently put it, the capital city of Anbar, Ramadi, has "gone from being the most dangerous place in Iraq, to being one of the least dangerous places."

Despite these gains in Baghdad and Anbar, critics of the new strategy nonetheless insisted that it was not working, pointing to the fact that while Al Qaeda was on the run from some places, it was causing devastation in other parts of Iraq; in Diyala province for instance. But what happened? Petraeus, now with the additional personnel brought under his command by the surge counteroffensive, has been able to leave troops in Anbar, fortified by Iraqi security forces and the Sunni tribal forces, and add new forces to Diyala. And now they have Al Qaeda on the run there.

Our forces in the field are, of course, still facing daunting challenges and a brutal, inhumane foe, enemies who are prepared to blow themselves up to make a point, to kill others, hating us and others more than they love their own lives. But the plain truth is, the Iraq, in this month, July 2007 is a very different and better place than Iraq in January or February 2007—and it because of the so-called surge counteroffensive strategy. Those who refuse to recognize that change and nonetheless go forward with the same policies of defeat and withdrawal that they've been talking about for months have, I would say respectfully, have closed their eyes to the reality of what is actually happening on the ground in Iraq.

General Petraeus has persistently appealed to us to have some patience, to not rush to judgment about the success or failure of the new surge strategy - and it's only right that we do so.

But instead of respecting those pleas, withholding our judgment, remaining true to what we ourselves put into the Supplemental Appropriations Bill - which was a requirement for an interim report this week, and a full report about the benchmarks, and in person by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September - instead of waiting for that to happen, I regret that some of my colleagues have decided to go ahead and submit these amendments which to me represent the continuation of legislative trench warfare against our presence in Iraq, no matter what the facts on the ground there are. Rather than giving General Petraeus and his troops a fair chance to succeed - and it's not just for them, it is for us - I regret that the efforts will be made here to undermine our strategy - which is now a successful strategy in Iraq - to dictate when, where, and against whom our soldiers can fight, and when we should get out.

I suppose this would be justified if somebody concluded that the war was lost in Iraq. But the war is not lost in Iraq. In fact, now American forces are winning - the enemy is on the run, but here in Congress, in Washington, some members seem to be on the run - chased, I fear, by public opinion polls.

I know the American people are frustrated, I understand that. I know what they see every night on TV, the suicide bombs. I know how much they want their loved ones to come home; no one wants that more than we do here. But the consequences of doing that would be a disaster for Iraq, the Middle East, and for us, because the victors would be Iran and Al Qaeda - our two most dangerous enemies in the world today. And trust me, they would follow us back here to this country.

One might pursue a policy of changing course, directing a retreat, a withdrawal, accepting defeat, if one thought that the war is lost. The war is not lost.

In fact, I will say to my colleagues today that this war in Iraq will never be lost by our military on the ground in Iraq. The war in Iraq can only be lost with a loss of political will here at home, and perhaps with a loss of political will in Iraq - but that story is not finished yet.

Perhaps there are some that the war is not lost, but it's not worth winning - I think you've got to think of the consequences of defeat. The consequences of defeat are a victory for Iran and Al Qaeda, chaos in Iraq, slaughter that will probably begin to look like genocide, instability in the region, and the danger that we will be forced to send our troops back into the region in greater numbers to fight a more difficult war.

The amendments on this Department of Defense Bill, I think, are mistaken. And what are the alternatives that my colleagues are going to propose on these amendments? Some propose a total withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as quickly as possible. Its sponsors argue that we can continue to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and defend our other key interests in the Middle East by operating from bases elsewhere there.

With all due respect, this is fantasy.

As my friend Senator Lugar pointed out a short while ago, a complete American withdrawal from Iraq is likely to have devastating consequences for American national security. Everyone knows that Senator Lugar is a skeptic about the current strategy and events in Iraq, and yet, in his words, a complete withdrawal from Iraq would "compound the risks of a wider regional conflict... It would be a severe blow to U.S. credibility that would make nations in the region far less likely to cooperate with us... It would expose Iraqis who have worked with us to retribution... and would also be a signal that the United States was abandoning efforts to prevent Iraqi territory from being used as a terrorist base." So spoke the distinguished Senator from Indiana, Senator Lugar.

Another amendment would keep some forces in Iraq, pull most forces out by next April 1st - their numbers should be dramatically reduced, and their mission radically redefined. Some argue that American soldiers should withdraw from Iraq's cities and instead focus on the training of Iraqi forces, targeting counterterrorism, and protecting the remaining American troops there.

Let me say, Mr. President, that that's a vision I would embrace for the future - not as a substitute for the surge counteroffensive strategy we're following now, but as a consequence of a successful implementation of that strategy. For if we in this chamber of Congress mandate the withdrawal of our troops down to a core group with a new mission before the Iraqi security forces are ready to provide security, we're going back to the exact strategy some describe as the Rumsfeld strategy - which didn't work, which was condemned by most people in both parties over a period of years.

I repeat my confidence that the number of American troops will be reduced, but it will be reduced best when it is reduced as the result of a successful implementation of the surge strategy as carried out heroically by American forces.

Mr. President, I conclude with these words: Our responsibilities in this chamber ultimately do not allow us to be guided by our frustrations, or even by public opinion polls, when we respectfully believe that those public opinion polls do not reflect what is best for our nation.

We were elected to lead. We were elected to see beyond the next election, to do what is best for the next generation of Americans. We were elected to defend our beloved country, its security, and its values - all that is on the line in Iraq today.

So I appeal to my colleagues, let's not undercut our troops and legislate a defeat in Iraq where none is occurring now, where hope is strong, where the momentum is in fact on our side. And if you question that, at least show the fairness and respect for General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, and all the people working for us there to wait until September, which is what we said we would do, until we take a serious look at these amendments. If we go down the path that the amendments entice us toward, what awaits us is an emboldened Iran, a strengthened Al Qaeda, a failed Iraq that will become not just a killing field, but will destabilize the entire Middle East, and also, I fear, imperil our security here at home.

I thank the chair and I yield the floor."
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