The Warnings are There, Will the President Listen?

Today, as Americans analyze the election results from my home state, I'd like to share with you the concerns I've been hearing from Wisconsinites at my town hall meetings. Again and again, I hear the same, often anguished question: When will we get our brave troops out of Iraq? The war is a top concern for Wisconsinites, and so many Americans around the country. Since the beginning of this disastrous war, people have asked me repeatedly why we are in Iraq, instead of going after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It's clear to many Americans that this war has warped our national security priorities. And top U.S. military commanders have started to acknowledge the same thing, indirectly, as they identify the serious threat to our security in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the strain that the war in Iraq is putting on our military force.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned that an attack on the U.S. will most likely come from al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan. This solemn warning, from the senior ranking member of the Armed Forces, demands that we focus our energy and resources on eliminating this threat to our country. The resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a grave threat to our national security, yet our military is stretched so thin because of Iraq that we don't have enough resources to address it. As U.S. military General George Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said, "The Army today is out of balance," and "We're deploying at unsustainable rates."

Despite these warnings, last week, Defense Secretary Gates said he thinks it "makes sense" to pause the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq. Even faced with this dangerous threat, and this devastating burden on our military, the administration is still considering keeping at least 130,000 troops in Iraq -- a level which is unsustainable and undermines our ability to respond to contingencies elsewhere and defend our own country.

The administration can't seem to get its national security priorities straight, even with the increasing threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. But Congress is to blame, too -- we've been sitting by and watching as the administration bungles our national security strategy. The administration has had blinders on for too long, focusing on Iraq at the expense of our overall security. We have to force them to take the blinders off and come up with a new strategy, one that focuses on going after the threats we face, not staying mired in the mistakes they've made.

I'm working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make the administration change course. We have introduced two new bills to draw down our troops in Iraq and force the administration to focus on the threat of al Qaeda and its affiliates. The first bill requires the President to safely redeploy U.S. combat troops from Iraq with very narrow exceptions for counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda, force protection, and limited training of Iraqis. The second bill requires the administration to report to Congress on its global strategy for defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates. The report has to tell us where the threats are, and how we are going to make sure we have the right resources in the right places to address them. These bills are expected to get a vote next week, when the Senate returns from a week-long recess. I hope all Senators who oppose the President's Iraq policy are present for these important votes.

Admiral Mullen got a lot of attention in December when he said "in Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must." That one sentence summed up the misplaced priorities of an administration that profoundly lost its way in the fight against al Qaeda. While Iraq may no longer be on the front page, I know it's at the forefront of many Americans' concerns and will continue to be in November. Congress needs to end the president's failed strategy in Iraq, so that we can focus on improving our homeland security and denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. This administration has got our security strategy dangerously wrong, and it's time for Congress, finally, to force them to get it right.