Our troops have served with extraordinary bravery, skill and resolve. Their service humbles all of us. When I speak to them… when I look into the eyes of their families, I know this: we owe them the truth about what we have asked them to do… and what is still to be done.
In June, the President declared, “The Iraqi people have their country back.” Just last week, he told us: “This country is headed toward democracy… Freedom is on the march.”
But the administration’s own official intelligence estimate, given to the President last July, tells a very different story.
According to press reports, the intelligence estimate totally contradicts what the President is saying to the American people.
So do the facts on the ground.
Security is deteriorating, for us and for the Iraqis.
42 Americans died in Iraq in June -- the month before the handover. But 54 died in July…66 in August… and already 54 halfway through September.
And more than 1,100 Americans were wounded in August – more than in any other month since the invasion.
We are fighting a growing insurgency in an ever widening war-zone. In March, insurgents attacked our forces 700 times. In August, they attacked 2,700 times – a 400% increase.
Falluja…Ramadi… Samarra … even parts of Baghdad – are now “no go zones”… breeding grounds for terrorists who are free to plot and launch attacks against our soldiers. The radical Shi’a cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, who’s accused of complicity in the murder of Americans, holds more sway in the suburbs of Baghdad.
Violence against Iraqis… from bombings to kidnappings to intimidation … is on the rise.
Basic living conditions are also deteriorating.
Residents of Baghdad are suffering electricity blackouts lasting up to 14 hours a day.
Raw sewage fills the streets, rising above the hubcaps of our Humvees. Children wade through garbage on their way to school.
Unemployment is over 50 percent. Insurgents are able to find plenty of people willing to take $150 for tossing grenades at passing U.S. convoys.
Yes, there has been some progress, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our soldiers and civilians in Iraq. Schools, shops and hospitals have been opened. In parts of Iraq, normalcy actually prevails.
But most Iraqis have lost faith in our ability to deliver meaningful improvements to their lives. So they’re sitting on the fence… instead of siding with us against the insurgents.
That is the truth. The truth that the Commander in Chief owes to our troops and the American people.
The President now admits to “miscalculations” in Iraq.
That is one of the greatest understatements in recent American history. His were not the equivalent of accounting errors. They were colossal failures of judgment – and judgment is what we look for in a president.
This is all the more stunning because we’re not talking about 20/20 hindsight. Before the war, before he chose to go to war, bi-partisan Congressional hearings… major outside studies… and even some in the administration itself… predicted virtually every problem we now face in Iraq.
This President was in denial. He hitched his wagon to the ideologues who surround him, filtering out those who disagreed, including leaders of his own party and the uniformed military. The result is a long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences.
The administration told us we’d be greeted as liberators. They were wrong.
They told us not to worry about looting or the sorry state of Iraq’s infrastructure. They were wrong.
They told us we had enough troops to provide security and stability, defeat the insurgents, guard the borders and secure the arms depots. They were wrong.
They told us we could rely on exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to build political legitimacy. They were wrong.
They told us we would quickly restore an Iraqi civil service to run the country and a police force and army to secure it. They were wrong.
In Iraq, this administration has consistently over-promised and under-performed. This policy has been plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence. And the President has held no one accountable, including himself.
In fact, the only officials who lost their jobs over Iraq were the ones who told the truth.
The President’s policy in Iraq precipitated the very problem he said he was trying to prevent. Secretary of State Powell admits that Iraq was not a magnet for international terrorists before the war. Now it is, and they are operating against our troops. Iraq is becoming a sanctuary for a new generation of terrorists who someday could hit the United States.
We know that while Iraq was a source of friction, it was not previously a source of serious disagreement with our allies in Europe and countries in the Muslim world.
The President’s policy in Iraq divided our oldest alliance and sent our standing in the Muslim world into free fall. Three years after 9/11, even in many moderate Muslim countries like Jordan, Morocco and Turkey, Osama bin Laden is more popular than the United States of America.
Let me put it plainly: The President’s policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it.
Two years ago, Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. This President… any President… would have needed the threat of force to act effectively. This President misused that authority.
The power entrusted to the President gave him a strong hand to play in the international community. The idea was simple. We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And we would convince the world to speak with one voice to Saddam: disarm or be disarmed.
A month before the war, President Bush told the nation: “If we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We will plan carefully. We will act with the full power of the United States military. We will act with allies at our side and we will prevail.” He said that military action wasn’t “unavoidable.”
Instead, the President rushed to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work. He went without a broad and deep coalition of allies. He acted without making sure our troops had enough body armor. And he plunged ahead without understanding or preparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which I would have done.
Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is no – because a Commander-in-Chief’s first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe.
Now the president, in looking for a new reason, tries to hang his hat on the “capability” to acquire weapons. But that was not the reason given to the nation; it was not the reason Congress voted on; it’s not a reason, it’s an excuse. Thirty-five to forty countries have greater capability to build a nuclear bomb than Iraq did in 2003. Is President Bush saying we should invade them?
I would have concentrated our power and resources on defeating global terrorism and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. I would have tightened the noose and continued to pressure and isolate Saddam Hussein – who was weak and getting weaker -- so that he would pose no threat to the region or America.
The President’s insistence that he would do the same thing all over again in Iraq is a clear warning for the future. And it makes the choice in this election clear: more of the same with President Bush or a new direction that makes our troops and America safer. It is time, at long last, to ask the questions and insist on the answers from the Commander-in-Chief about his serious misjudgments and what they tell us about his administration and the President himself. If George W. Bush is re-elected, he will cling to the same failed policies in Iraq -- and he will repeat, somewhere else, the same reckless mistakes that have made America less secure than we can or should be.
In Iraq, we have a mess on our hands. But we cannot throw up our hands. We cannot afford to see Iraq become a permanent source of terror that will endanger America’s security for years to come.
All across this country people ask me what we should do now. Every step of the way, from the time I first spoke about this in the Senate, I have set out specific recommendations about how we should and should not proceed. But over and over, when this administration has been presented with a reasonable alternative, they have rejected it and gone their own way. This is stubborn incompetence.
Five months ago, in Fulton, Missouri, I said that the President was close to his last chance to get it right. Every day, this President makes it more difficult to deal with Iraq – harder than it was five months ago, harder than it was a year ago. It is time to recognize what is – and what is not – happening in Iraq today. And we must act with urgency.
Just this weekend, a leading Republican, Chuck Hagel, said we’re “in deep trouble in Iraq … it doesn’t add up … to a pretty picture [and] … we’re going to have to look at a recalibration of our policy.” Republican leaders like Dick Lugar and John McCain have offered similar assessments.
We need to turn the page and make a fresh start in Iraq.
First, the President has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don’t have to go it alone. It is late; the President must respond by moving this week to gain and regain international support.
Last spring, after too many months of resistance and delay, the President finally went back to the U.N. which passed Resolution 1546. It was the right thing to do – but it was late.
That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops… trainers for Iraq’s security forces… a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission… more financial assistance… and real debt relief.
Three months later, not a single country has answered that call. And the president acts as if it doesn’t matter.
And of the $13 billion previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered.
The President should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles, in training Iraqi security personnel and securing Iraq’s borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.
This will be difficult. I and others have repeatedly recommended this from the very beginning. Delay has made only made it harder. After insulting allies and shredding alliances, this President may not have the trust and confidence to bring others to our side in Iraq. But we cannot hope to succeed unless we rebuild and lead strong alliances so that other nations share the burden with us. That is the only way to succeed.
Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces.
Last February, Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. Two weeks ago, he admitted that claim was exaggerated by more than 50 percent. Iraq, he said, now has 95,000 trained security forces.
But guess what? Neither number bears any relationship to the truth. For example, just 5,000 Iraqi soldiers have been fully trained, by the administration’s own minimal standards. And of the 35,000 police now in uniform, not one has completed a 24-week field-training program. Is it any wonder that Iraqi security forces can’t stop the insurgency or provide basic law and order?
The President should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq. He should strengthen the vetting of recruits, double classroom training time, and require follow-on field training. He should recruit thousands of qualified trainers from our allies, especially those who have no troops in Iraq. He should press our NATO allies to open training centers in their countries. And he should stop misleading the American people with phony, inflated numbers.
Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.
Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq. It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority … 17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical … 17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.
One year ago, the administration asked for and received $18 billion to help the Iraqis and relieve the conditions that contribute to the insurgency. Today, less than a $1 billion of those funds have actually been spent. I said at the time that we had to rethink our policies and set standards of accountability. Now we’re paying the price.
Now, the President should look at the whole reconstruction package…draw up a list of high visibility, quick impact projects… and cut through the red tape. He should use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton. He should stop paying companies under investigation for fraud or corruption. And he should fire the civilians in the Pentagon responsible for mismanaging the reconstruction effort.
Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year.
Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly to write a Constitution that yields a viable power sharing arrangement.
Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the President agreed six months ago that the U.N. must play a central role. Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt. Because the security situation is so bad… and because not a single country has offered troops to protect the U.N. elections mission… the U.N. has less than 25 percent of the staff it needs in Iraq to get the job done.
The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a U.N. protection force. This won’t be easy. But even countries that refused to put boots on the ground in Iraq should still help protect the U.N. We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened. Otherwise, U.S forces would end up bearing those burdens alone.
If the President would move in this direction … if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces … train the Iraqis to provide their own security …develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people … and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year … we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.
This is what has to be done. This is what I would do as President today. But we cannot afford to wait until January. President Bush owes it to the American people to tell the truth and put Iraq on the right track. Even more, he owes it to our troops and their families, whose sacrifice is a testament to the best of America.
The principles that should guide American policy in Iraq now and in the future are clear: We must make Iraq the world’s responsibility, because the world has a stake in the outcome and others should share the burden. We must effectively train Iraqis, because they should be responsible for their own security. We must move forward with reconstruction, because that’s essential to stop the spread of terror. And we must help Iraqis achieve a viable government, because it’s up to them to run their own country. That’s the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.
On May 1 of last year, President Bush stood in front of a now infamous banner that read “Mission Accomplished.” He declared to the American people: “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” In fact, the worst part of the war was just beginning, with the greatest number of American casualties still to come. The president misled, miscalculated, and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking and he has made the achievement of our objective – a stable Iraq, secure within its borders, with a representative government, harder to achieve.
In Iraq, this administration’s record is filled with bad predictions, inaccurate cost estimates, deceptive statements and errors of judgment of historic proportions.
At every critical juncture in Iraq, and in the war on terrorism, the President has made the wrong choice. I have a plan to make America stronger.
The President often says that in a post 9-11 world, we can’t hesitate to act. I agree. But we should not act just for the sake of acting. I believe we have to act wisely and responsibly.
George Bush has no strategy for Iraq. I do.
George Bush has not told the truth to the American people about why we went to war and how the war is going. I have and I will continue to do so.
I believe the invasion of Iraq has made us less secure and weaker in the war against terrorism. I have a plan to fight a smarter, more effective war on terror – and make us safer.
Today, because of George Bush’s policy in Iraq, the world is a more dangerous place for America and Americans.
If you share my conviction that we can not go on as we are …that we can make America stronger and safer than it is… then November 2 is your chance to speak... and to be heard. It is not a question of staying the course, but of changing the course.
I’m convinced that with the right leadership, we can create a fresh start and move more effectively to accomplish our goals. Our troops have served with extraordinary courage and commitment. For their sake, and America’s sake, we must get this right. We must do everything in our power to complete the mission and make America stronger at home and respected again in the world.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.