It Is Long Past Time to Change Course

I wanted to share with you my speech from the Senate floor today:

"That we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

It was Theodore Roosevelt who said this quote in 1918. It is an appropriate quote for the Senate to hear before we vote.

Today, we will vote on a way forward in Iraq, and I've come to the floor to speak in support of the Levin/Reed amendment. I believe it is long past time to change course in Iraq and start to end the President's open-ended commitment.

It is time for sound policy, not more tired slogans designed to distort the facts and divide the American people. It is time for a strategy that honors the brave service of our troops.

A majority of Americans recognize that we need a new strategy in Iraq, and I am hopeful a bipartisan majority of this body will agree.

Almost four years ago, we stood in this chamber debating whether to give the President the authority to go to war with Iraq. Much has happened in Iraq since that fateful day at great price to our troops, our taxpayers and our security.

The Iraq war will soon become the longest conflict in this nation's history - longer than World War II, a war in which we fought across Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

My own state of Nevada has paid an enormous price. We've lost 39 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them in Iraq.

Thousands of other Nevadans have sacrificed as well. Last year, 70 percent of the Nevada National Guard was deployed.

These Nevadans deserve to know their sacrifices will be honored. They deserve to know their government has a plan for success in Iraq that honors our troops and completes the mission.

Just as important, they deserve an honest debate. Not political slogans, and not a President and a Republican Congress content with no plan and no end in sight.

Today, the real choice facing this body is a choice between doing nothing--the so-called "stay the course" option the President and his supporters advocate--or changing the course and providing our troops and the Iraqi people a way forward.

After four long years, more than 2,500 American lives, thousands grievously wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, and threats ignored around the globe, Congress needs to choose a new direction.

We need to signal to the Iraqi government that our patience and our presence in Iraq are not unlimited.

We need to say to President Bush you need a plan for Iraqis to take responsibility for their own security and government, so that the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq can begin by year's end.

Former Republican Senator Robert Taft said:

"Criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."

Senator Taft was talking about World War II, but his words still ring true. There is nothing careless about pointing to the President's mistakes and missteps in Iraq. In fact, we must. His misjudgments have made America less safe.

From the outset, Administration blunders increased the costs and risks of confronting Saddam Hussein and securing Iraq. The Administration built its case for war on faulty and cherry-picked intelligence. Smoking guns would become mushroom clouds....Al Qaeda and Saddam had a dangerous alliance...nuclear weapons materials were flowing into Iraq from Africa...we could invade Iraq without diverting resources from the ongoing war on terror...the Iraq war would be over quickly and the costs would be covered by the proceeds from Iraqi oil sales. All these assertions, of course, turned out to be false.

By the start of 2003, U.S. troops and intelligence assets had already been diverted from the hunt for Osama bin Laden in order to prepare for an attack on Iraq.

The President's war plan turned out to be as deficient as the pre-war intelligence.

He rejected the Powell Doctrine's key tenets (1) that military force should be used as a last resort, (2) that force, when used, should be overwhelming, and (3) that there must be a clear exit strategy from the conflict.

And he rejected the advice of his senior military commanders who called for four to five hundred thousand troops - a recommendation that was based on years of hard learned and costly lessons. As a result, after the Iraqi government fell, there were not enough forces to pacify the country, to control the looting, to guard the ammo dumps, to secure the borders, and to restore order. The seeds for the insurgency and the sectarian warfare that would soon plague Iraq had been sown.

But this didn't stop the President from donning a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier to declare "mission accomplished" in May of 2003.

Meanwhile, his viceroy in Baghdad continued to execute a series of disastrous decisions, including disbanding the Iraqi Army, purging the government of all Baath party officials, and delaying the training of Iraqi security forces. These early missteps had far reaching consequences that our troops must live with. Three and half years after the start of the war, there is still not a single Iraqi Army battalion that can operate independently - not one.

On the reconstruction front, things are not any better. A President who campaigned on the pledge not to do nation building unfortunately stuck to his pledge. From the start, the rebuilding effort was plagued by massive corruption and contracting abuses. The American taxpayer and the Iraqi people paid the price.

Power, water and oil production all soon slipped below pre-war levels. Today, oil production is still 400,000 barrels per day below pre-war levels. And available electricity in Baghdad has dropped from 16 hours per day prior to the war, to its current average of 4 hours per day.

These Bush Administration missteps have reduced Iraqi support for our presence and fueled anti-American sentiments and insurgent activity. As a result, the mission of our troops has become more difficult and dangerous.

At the same time the President was sending in too few troops for the mission in Iraq, he failed to provide those he did send with the armor and equipment they needed to do the job. Military families, already stretched and burdened from multiple deployments, were forced to buy armor and ship it to their loved ones serving in Iraq.

Combat units had to jury-rig vehicles with scrap metal in order to get some extra degree of protection from improvised explosive devices. And understandably so. A study by the Marine Corps last year found that 80 percent of upper body fatalities could have been prevented with proper armor. The greatest military in the world should not have to depend on scrap metal from Iraqi junk yards.

Meanwhile, the security problems in Iraq grow more dangerous each day. In April and May of this year alone, over 160 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. Weekly insurgent attacks are as high as they have ever been. At least five troops were killed in Iraq yesterday. The country has become what it was not before the war: a training ground and launching pad for acts of international terror.

The killing of terrorist Zarqawi was a step forward But as we've seen the killings haven't ended. Sectarian violence is on the rise because the Iraqi government has failed to make the political compromises necessary to create a stable government that can provide for the security of its people.

I recall vividly when the Senate paused for a moment of silence when we reached the grim milestone of 2,000 U.S. deaths. And just last week, on a date that arrived far too quickly, we paused again to honor the now 2,500 who have given their lives. This body has an obligation to our troops and their families to do everything we can to delay indefinitely the next milestone.

2,500 is not "just a number" as the President's spokesman said. These are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives. They are Private First Class Thomas Tucker and Private First Class Kristian Menchaca, whose mutilated bodies were found in Iraq this week.

We owe it to these troops, and all of our forces serving in Iraq, to develop a sound policy. We hear a lot of rhetoric about "supporting the troops". But the best way we can support them is with a smart strategy, not with more rhetoric or slogans. That's why the Levin/Reed amendment is so important.

The Levin/Reed amendment recognizes that it is time to transform the U.S. mission in Iraq and to begin the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces this year. It builds upon the bipartisan Senate amendment we passed overwhelmingly last year calling for "2006 to be a year of significant transition in Iraq." With the mid-point of 2006 upon us, that transition must begin.

The open-ended commitment advocated by the President and the majority is not the way to get the Iraqis to assume responsibility for governing and securing their country.

The Levin/Reed amendment recognizes that there are only political solutions remaining in Iraq--not military ones.

The amendment rightfully focuses on the need to reconcile the sectarian differences, to regionalize the U.S. strategy and to revitalize reconstruction efforts.

Passage of this amendment would chart a new course - one that is well balanced between military, political, regional and international solutions.

An open ended commitment is not sustainable.

The war is now costing the American people upwards of $10 billion per month. The military has been stretched thin, with every available combat unit in the Army and Marine Corps serving multiple tours in Iraq.

This war is not a matter for "future Presidents" as President Bush said. It is his war, and the time to act is now. For as we are bogged down in Iraq, the threats to our freedom around the world only grow.

An open-ended commitment in Iraq hurts our ability to address other national security challenges around the world. While beginning the phased redeployment this year will allow many of our troops to come home, it will also permit the President to redeploy forces so they can deal with other crises, such as in Afghanistan, where the resurgent Taliban threat must be eliminated, and Osama bin Laden must be finally captured or killed.

Mr. President, I watched the floor debate yesterday.

The Majority - - instead of offering their own vision for the future in Iraq or even speaking to the merits of the Levin-Reed amendment - - chose to resort to a familiar play straight from Karl Rove's book of partisan political tricks.

They have engaged in cheap political attacks, saying Democrats want to "surrender" and "cut and run." Not only are these attacks are baseless. They won't help Iraqis or our troops--troops who right now are lugging 70 pound packs in 100 degree heat, while trying to avoid roadside bombs and snipers.

The Republicans in the Senate stand alone in insisting on "no plan and no end." It isn't a position shared by the American people. And it isn't even a position shared by our military leaders. On today's morning news, it is reported that General Casey - Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq - has stated thousands of troops maybe redeployed by year's end.

To my Republican Colleagues, is General Casey surrendering?

Is General Casey cutting and running?

Is General Casey admitting defeat?

I think not.

Over at the White House, we see similar partisan games. The administration continues to mislead the American people.

The Vice President continues to insist the insurgency is in its "last throes," despite the headlines we read every day. The President continues to insist that we'll "stand down, when Iraqis stand up," but that has yet to occur.

It's time to change course from the slogans, the attacks, and the continual misleading.

Demanding a change of course is not irresponsible, it's not unpatriotic, it is the right thing to do. As Edward R. Murrow once said:

"We must no confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

Mr. President, for all those troops that are serving on their third and fourth tours in Iraq;

For all those Iraqis who want to see an end to the civil war plaguing their nation;

For all those people who want Iraq to succeed in delivering a free and democratic way of life of its people;

For all those who believe we need to refocus on the larger global war on terror;

We must vote for a change in policy and change in direction. We must reject stay the course. We must vote for the Levin and Reed amendment.