Published on Thursday, October 16, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
On the Administration's Failure to Provide a Realistic, Specific Plan to Bring Stability to Iraq
by US Senator Ted Kennedy
Senate Floor Remarks
October 16, 2003
Nearly six months have elapsed since President Bush flew out to the aircraft carrier and declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. Today, we all know all too well that the war is not over; the war goes on; the mission is not accomplished. An unnecessary war, based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence, has not brought an end to danger. Instead, it has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week.
We all agree that Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant, and his brutal regime was an affront to basic human decency. But Iraq was not a breeding ground for terrorism. Our invasion has made it one.
The trumped up reasons for going to war have collapsed. All the Administration's rationalizations as we prepared to go to war now stand revealed as "double-talk." The American people were told Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. He was not. We were told he had stockpiles of other weapons of mass destruction. He did not. We were told he was involved in 9/11. He was not. We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from Al Qaeda. It was not. We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They are not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told the war would make America safer. It has not.
Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.
And now, despite the increasingly restless Iraqi population, despite the continuing talk of sabotage, despite the foreign terrorists crossing thousands of miles of border to attack U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq, the Administration still refuses to face the truth or tell the truth. Instead the White House responds by covering up its failures and trying to sell its rosy version of events by repeating it with maximum frequency and volume, and minimum regard for realities on the ground.
No P.R. campaign by the increasingly desperate White House can redress the painful of loss of a young American soldier almost every day. Instead of greater stability and order, the forces arrayed against us are steadily increasing the intensity and sophistication of their assaults on our troops. Bombs that were once set off by trip wires are now being set off by remote control. The threat of shoulder fired missiles makes it unsafe for civilian planes to land at Baghdad Airport.
No foreign policy in our free society can succeed for long unless it is supported by our people. Our men and women in uniform fought bravely and brilliantly, but the President's war has been revealed as mindless, needless, senseless, and reckless. The American people know all this. Our allies know it. Our soldiers know it.
We should never have gone to war in Iraq when we did, in the way we did, for the false reasons we were given. But now that we are there, two imperatives are absolutely clear: America cannot withdraw now, leaving Iraq to chaos or civil war, becoming a danger to us far greater than it did before. The misguided policy of the past is no excuse for a misguided policy for the future.
We need a realistic and specific plan to bring stability to Iraq, to bring genuine self-government to Iraq, to bring our soldiers home with dignity and honor.
Until the Administration genuinely changes course, I cannot in good conscience vote to fund a failed policy that endangers our troops in the field and our strategic objectives in the world instead of protecting them. The greatest mistake we can make in Congress as the people's elected representatives is to support and finance a go-it-alone, do-it-because-I-say-so policy that leaves young Americans increasingly at risk in Iraq.
So when the roll is called on this $87 billion legislation, which provides no effective conditions for genuine international participation and a clear change in policy in Iraq, I intend to vote no. A no vote is not a vote against supporting our troops. It is a vote to send the Administration back to the drawing board. It is a vote for a new policy – a policy worthy of the sacrifice our soldiers are making, a policy that restores America as a respected member of the family of nations, a policy that will make it easier, not far more difficult, to win the war against terrorism.
The amount of money is huge.
It is 87 times what the federal government spends annually on after-school programs.
It is 7 times what President Bush proposed to spend on education for low-income schools in 2004.
It is 9 times what the federal government spends on special education each year.
It is 8 times what the government spends to help middle and low-income students go to college.
It is 15 times what the government spends on cancer research.
It is 27 times what the government spends on substance abuse and mental health treatment.
It is 58 times what the government spends on community health centers.
If our Iraq policy is to be successful, it must take into account what history teaches us about the use of military power to solve politically-inspired violence. A new policy must provide the security that is essential for any nation-building effort. A new policy must genuinely internationalize the reconstruction of Iraq and end our occupation. And a successful new policy must give ownership to Iraqis for their political future.
Surely, in this day and age, at the beginning of the 21st century, we do not have to re-learn the lesson that every colonial power in history has learned. We do not want to be – we cannot afford to be – either in terms of character or in terms of cost – an occupier of other lands. We must not become the next failed empire in the world.
The Administration seeks to write a new history that defies the lessons of history. The most basic of those lessons is that we cannot rely primarily on military means as a solution to politically-inspired violence. In those circumstances, the tide of history rises squarely against military occupation.
The British learned that lesson in Northern Ireland. The French learned it in Algeria. The Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are re-learning it every day in Chechnya. America learned it in Vietnam, and we must not re-learn it in Iraq.
Our men and women in uniform are the finest in world, and all Americans admire and honor their ability and their courage. In Iraq, they are now being forced to do an extraordinary job they were never trained for, and they are doing it under extreme and unpredictable circumstances.
Even with the best forces in the history of the world, our military cannot succeed if the mission is not achievable, if they are viewed as occupiers, and if we do not have a clearly defined and realistic strategy.
In recent weeks, in Massachusetts, at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and at Walter Reed Hospital, I have met with American troops who fought in Iraq. I am profoundly moved by the price they pay to serve our country, and profoundly impressed by their professionalism and commitment. They are willing to endure great hardship and great danger in Iraq to complete their mission. But they want to know when their mission will be complete, and when they will be able to come home.
They are resourceful and strong. But more and more they are frustrated -- especially by the faceless nature of the threat. Individuals intent on killing Americans are firing from behind the cover of crowds, to provoke our soldiers into firing back on civilians. Many of our troops say they were never trained to be police officers or to fight a guerilla war.
They want to help the Iraqi people. But the increasing casualties make them feel unsafe. They want to respond militarily to attacks. But they often don't know who the attacker is.
They tell me that at first, their convoys were welcomed. But after time, children began to throw rocks at them, and then came the bullets. They tell me that far too many in Iraq believe we are there to take their oil, and that we will stay forever.
They have no clear sense about their post-war mission. Some see it as winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Some believe it is security. Some feel it is to obtain intelligence about opposition forces and weapons caches. Others think it is to prevent sabotage of the oil pipelines and other vital infrastructure. Still others say it is to build sidewalks and soccer fields and schools and hospitals, and other local facilities. Not one of the soldiers told me their mission was to achieve Iraq's transition to democracy.
We read today in the Washington Post about a survey of our troops. Their morale is low. They believe their mission lacks clear definition. They are getting worn down.
The ongoing occupation of Iraq has imposed a heavy burden on our forces and created a crisis for the military. It is now stretched precariously thin. We do not have enough active duty soldiers to sustain their presence in Iraq and also meet security needs in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.
The crisis is coming to a head now. Two of our divisions are scheduled to return from Iraq in the spring. If the Administration is unsuccessful in recruiting forces from other nations, it will have to send in at least another division of American troops -- and we don't have enough active duty forces to do the job. That means even more call-ups from the National Guard and Reserves. In fact, if international troops aren't coming, the Administration must notify reservists by the end of this very month to guarantee that they'll be available by spring.
Already, close to half our troops in Iraq are members of the Guard or Reserves. 13,000 have been on active duty for at least a year. Others have recently returned home from deployments, only to turn around and head overseas for another tour.
One reservist I recently spoke to had only 17 days off between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The average reservist now spends thirteen times longer on active duty today than during the 1990s. Many cannot go home when their scheduled time is finished, and are repeatedly sent instead on new deployments overseas.
In Iraq, our reservists are being pressed into duty as the first line of defense. They need 120 to 150 days to train before being sent to Iraq. The Army needs to let them know now to begin this crucial training.
It typically takes eight years under the current peacetime system for a reserve combat unit to reach the level of readiness of an active unit. But we don't have eight years. They're needed in Iraq this spring.
Even worse, reservists are being sent into combat with inferior equipment. They have told me they had to rely on Vietnam-era night vision goggles that obscure more than they reveal, even though the latest technology is used by the regular military. They told me they had to use outdated and less-effective flak jackets, not the latest models with bulletproof ceramic inserts. They told me they had to wait three months for other current gear. Many units did not have armored Humvees. Instead, they had to hang flak jackets in the windows to protect themselves from attack.
I visited some of our wounded soldiers last week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. More than 1800 American servicemen and women have been wounded in this war, and an average of seven new patients arrive at Walter Reed from Iraq each day. Many were ambushed driving along a road. Many lost limbs because their Humvees did not have the armor to protect them from the blast of a rocket-propelled grenade or a booby trap in the road.
Their families feel the strain of their deployment both emotionally and financially. Many members of the Guard or Reserve give up higher civilian salaries when they go on active duty. Even though the law prohibits discrimination against reservists, increasingly, they are unwilling to tell possible employers about their military obligation, for fear they will not be hired or kept on the job. It's a sad day for patriotism when service to our nation is a negative factor in civilian employment.
Far more American soldiers and Marines have been killed since the end of major combat operations in May than during the three-week war itself. These are not just statistics. Each name on the list has many who mourn, whether parents, spouses, children, brothers or sisters.
We cannot go on this way. We should have known that military victory would be quick, and that winning the peace would be the challenge.
I support our troops. It is the Administration's policy that has failed them. Their perceptions demonstrate the wider failure of our policy and the need for the Administration to move in a decisively different direction.
The Administration ignores the lesson of history that nation building cannot succeed in a cauldron of insecurity. Iraq is America's sixth major nation-building challenge in the past ten years – Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.
Security was indispensable to nation-building in each case. But in Iraq, we seem incapable of meeting the basic security needs of our own armed forces, let alone the Iraqi people.
When America intervened in Haiti in 1994, large numbers of international armed police were brought in to support our military and achieve a greater measure of safety for the Haitian people. The first task was to establish security in a country that did not even have a civilian police force. We responded by recruiting a large multinational police force from 20 different countries.
When America intervened in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1998 we understood that security for local citizens was essential for resuming economic growth and reaching our nation-building goals. In Kosovo, our allies offered highly trained police, including some heavily armed, which were critical to minimizing violence after the conflict ended and enabling reconstruction and political progress to be made.
In Kosovo, our soldiers were given training in controlling crowds, establishing security cordons, and searching vehicles. But when I visited the soldiers of the Third Infantry Division last week, they told me they did not receive such training, even though it would have served them well in the cities of Iraq.
The Pentagon assumed we would be able to draw on thousands of Saddam's police officers to provide security -- but in the critical early weeks that followed the war, they were nowhere to be found, and too many of them were thugs and torturers.
Six months later, there is still confusion. At the end of August, the former New York City Police Commissioner in charge of police training program in Iraq announced that he had reached an agreement to train 28,000 Iraqi police in a camp in Hungary. Within a week, the Prime Minister of Hungary announced that he knew of no such agreement. He said that Hungary had no appropriate training facility, and that someone should inform his government of what was going on. Now, we hear that the Administration has organized a training camp in Jordan.
The Pentagon also assumed that the bulk of the Iraqi armed forces could be used to supplement our forces. But soon after the war began, the Iraqi Army melted away. Its members went home, and the Army was formally disbanded by our government before they were screened and before they were disarmed. We lost the decent ones who could have helped provide security, and we let Hussein's true believers get away with their weapons.
Countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, Argentina, the European Union, or Spain could provide well-trained police to prevent saboteurs from undermining the extensive reconstruction effort and to advance our broader nation-building objectives. But so far, we have been unable to persuade additional nations to share the burden and the cost.
The Bush Administration's continuing arrogance in Iraq has forced the best-trained military in the world to act as police officers in a shooting gallery, to carry out police functions for which they are ill-prepared and ill-equipped. For Iraq now and for future crises elsewhere, we need to build support in the international community for a reserve police identified and trained for post-conflict deployments.
It is shocking that the White House is only now beginning to coordinate which agency should be responsible for various tasks. This should not have waited six months. It should have been standard operating procedure from the outset to outline an integrated strategy that meets our military needs, the needs for local policing and reconstruction, and the need for progress in achieving a free and legitimate Iraqi government. They go hand-in-hand. But none can succeed unless basic security is guaranteed.
The Administration's policy of rushing to put large multibillion-dollar contracts in the hands of American firms ignores not only the lesson of history but also the lesson of human nature -- the Iraqi people need to be the real partners in the reconstruction effort.
The Administration is wrongly working from the top down, rather than the bottom up, to rebuild Iraq. A new Iraq will emerge neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, province by province. How can any Republican President of the United States disagree that government must be of the people, by the people, and for the people?
We need closer alignment between military units working on reconstruction and the civilians working at the Coalition Provisional Authority. Our soldiers in the field are surveying the damage and identifying priorities for repair. They need local counterparts. We cannot solve every problem from Saddam's palace in Baghdad.
Why not scale back the lavish resources being provided to U.S. contractors and consultants and provide larger sums directly to the Iraqi people? We could do so in many cases by developing ties between local councils and the Iraqi Governing Council. We could work more with local non-governmental organizations and local businesses. In all cases, we need to insist on transparency in the process, so we know where the funding is going.
It's the Iraqi people's country. They have the greatest stake in the success of the reconstruction, and involving them now will enhance the prospects for success.
In some areas of Iraq, we already have been able to achieve impressive results with small amounts of money. In one case, we funded the building of a cement factory for less than $100,000, when the bid by an American contractor for the same project was in the millions. Why not do more of this with schools, medical clinics, roads and countless other projects?
Iraq has many of the best-trained petroleum engineers in the world. Why not give them -- rather than American companies -- a larger role in rebuilding the industry? Why not create jobs for Iraqis and give them ownership of their reconstruction?
If we insist on saying Halliburton rules, because to the victor belong the spoils, we won't be the victor for very long.
The Administration's policy in Iraq ignores the indisputable lesson of history that building democracy is complex and difficult.
When the British accepted responsibility for the new nation of Iraq after the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, they encountered enormous difficulties in creating a stable government across Sunni, Shia, Kurd and other ethnic and religious groups. Many Kurds wanted their own state – and still do. Tensions have existed between Sunni and Shia for 13 centuries. Iraq had no history of unity.
In the words of one tribal chieftain, "History did not die; the tribes and notables who emerged in 1920 and created our modern state in 1921 are here to stay with all the others who came into being thereafter."
Instead of learning from this painful history, we condemned ourselves to repeat it. Instead of anticipating the obviously similar and predictable divisions and demands when Saddam's regime fell, the Bush Administration believed that a few favored Iraqi exile leaders, many of them in exile for years, could return to Iraq, rally the population and lead the new government. That was another failure. The Iraqi people rejected them from the start and resisted their domination.
The Administration believed that once a few hundred top advisers to Saddam were removed from power, large numbers of local officials would remain to run the government. Instead the collapse of government in Baghdad rippled across the country.
If history is any guide, America will not be able to impose our vision of democracy on the Iraqi people on our current terms and our timetable. Our overarching interest is the development of a government that has legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, so that the longer process of building durable democratic institutions can proceed effectively in the years to come. This process will not be finished swiftly, or easily, and it will not take place according to our will.
Iraq is a society where, for the full 30 years of Saddam's rule, politics ruled from the top. It will take time for the Iraqi people to adjust to the new decentralization of power and to understand how the multiple levels of a working democratic government can function effectively.
The Administration clings to the hope that the Iraqi Governing Council -- 25 people, many of whom have never worked together before -- can adopt a constitution in time to hold successful elections next year.
On July 23, Ambassador Bremer said that it "should be possible" to have elections next year.
On September 26, Secretary of State Powell gave the Iraqis six months to write a constitution.
In Bosnia, the United States pressed for national elections the first year, before viable local democratic political institutions were developed, and it made the development of democracy more difficult. Based on the historical precedents, a recent RAND publication suggests holding national elections roughly two years after reconstruction begins. The International Crisis Group also reached the conclusion that it could take two years before national elections should be held.
The lesson is clear. We cannot rush. It is not surprising that our insistence on such speed is alienating the many Iraqis who know the process needs more time. The date of their national election should not be determined by the date of ours.
Imposing our will and our timetable on the Iraqi people will undermine our all-important long-term goal of achieving a legitimate Iraqi government committed to remaining on the path to democracy. Already, the Interim Governing Council lacks credibility in the eyes of many Iraqis. On paper, it has broad power, but that fools no one. It is controlled by the United States, and it lacks sufficient power to meet the Iraqi people's needs.
The Administration needs to give greater priority to restoring sovereignty and help lay the groundwork for approving a constitution and holding national elections. In Afghanistan, we obtained the support of the international community for an interim government that was not under American occupation. That process can still work in Iraq, although it would have clearly worked better from the start. As we did in Afghanistan, we need a process to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis, who in turn, can ask the US and UN for assistance.
If the United States is seen as controlling the new government in Baghdad, it will fail -- if not now, then later; if not while our forces are still there, then as soon as they are gone. Those who work with such a government are easily dismissed by the Iraqi people as American puppets. We must take the time necessary to give Iraqis the ownership of their government, if we expect it to have any credibility and staying power.
Whether the Bush Administration likes it or not, they need a central role for the United Nations to help accomplish this goal. Before becoming National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice seemed to understand this.
In a January 2000 article in Foreign Affairs, she wrote: "U.S. interests are served by having strong alliances and can be promoted within the U.N. and other multilateral organizations...".
She wrote: "The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee, and it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society."
Condi Rice's words indict the Administration's own policy now. It is essential to involve the international community as an active and equal partner in the political transition of Iraq.
We need to give the UN a central role. The Administration's decision to go back to the United Nations is a first step, but it's meaningful only if the Administration is genuinely changing its policy. The real test will be whether the Administration is now willing to make the compromises necessary to persuade other countries to contribute troops to relieve our soldiers and to bring stability to Iraq. The jury is still out on whether the UN resolution will mark a real shift by the Administration.
We know from experience of the past decade in this post-Cold War world, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in other devastated lands, that we can enlist the international community in a major way. We can share responsibility and authority, draw on the strengths and the diversity of the United Nations, achieve security and reconstruction, and an end to the occupation. For many months, the Administration has been wrong to try to bypass the United Nations by enticing a few receptive nations to join us if the price is right.
No one doubts that the United States should remain in charge of the military operation. But internationalizing the reconstruction is not a luxury; it is an imperative. Sharing authority with the United Nations to manage the transition to democracy will give the process legitimacy and gradually dispel the current stigma of occupation -- especially if it is accompanied by the creation of a more fully representative interim governing council to deal with day-to-day administrative responsibilities.
As soon as possible, we need to redouble the effort to bring in forces with regional faces-- especially Muslim faces. Nations such as Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt could immediately transform this mission with both their diversity and their expertise. The United Arab Emirates contributed effectively to the effort in Kosovo. Morocco and Albania have worked with us in Bosnia. That strategy can work for us in Iraq now as well.
In their joint memoir, "A World Transformed," President George H.W. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, reflected on their own experiences with Iraq and the Gulf War in 1991. They had been criticized in some quarters for halting that war after their dramatic victory in Kuwait, instead of going on to Baghdad to depose Saddam Hussein.
Here is what they wrote: "Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible...We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see...Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome."
They were right.
It is time for this Administration to admit that it was wrong, and turn in a new direction. We need a genuine plan that acknowledges the realities on the ground. We need a plan that gives real authority to the United Nations, so that other nations truly will share the burden. We need to actively engage the Iraqi people in governing and rebuilding their country. Our soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq deserve no less.
Here at home, all Americans are being asked to bear the burden too – and they deserve more than a phony summons to support our troops by pursuing policies that will only condemn them to greater and greater danger. Yes, we must stay the course -- but not the wrong course.