In the next few days, Congress will be asked to vote on an additional $87 billion appropriation to fund the war in Iraq. This money follows a $78 billion special appropriation in April and a defense budget that already tops $368 billion.
Those rising numbers are not only daunting, but they represent with this second installment for the Iraq invasion a process that may never end. I've reached that conclusion because this is another blank check that provides no answers to the questions that it begs -- questions about a timetable for Iraqi independence and an exit strategy for American troops. Before appropriating another taxpayer dollar, we must have both.
One year ago, Congress voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq. On that day, 133 men and women said no. And 72 of us not only rejected the president's plan but offered our own: a plan to address the challenge of Iraq through the United Nations rather than unilateralism and through diplomacy rather than war. In an amendment that I offered to transform the use of force authorization, we asked the president to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time to determine whether Iraq actually had weapons of mass destruction, to pursue diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. In short, we offered an alternative to pouring billions of dollars into Iraq and sacrificing hundreds of American lives.
A year later, the American people are still owed a clear explanation of why this nation went to war. So far, we have not received a credible justification for the war, even though more than 300 Americans have died and more than 1,200 soldiers have been wounded. The numbers of Iraqi dead and injured are literally countless, because the military does not attempt to collect this information.
President Bush and his advisers told the American public, Congress and the international community time and time again that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Now grave questions have arisen regarding the interpretation of intelligence information presented by the administration.
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The American people deserve answers. That is why I will be introducing a resolution stating that Congress should not adjourn until it establishes either a select committee or an independent commission to investigate the origins of this war. And congressional Republicans should respond to Americans' calls for real answers by refusing to adjourn until such an independent body is created.
Just as we need to verify the process by which we got into this war, we must also develop a transition strategy to exit from it. We need to recognize that we will not gain substantial international assistance as long as we are maintaining a virtually unilateral occupation. The United Nations must have real political and economic authority if it is to be a real force for change in Iraq.
We must also have a concrete timetable for a transition strategy. This timetable isn't just for American spouses and children to know when they'll be receiving their loved ones back. We also need that timetable so that the Iraqi people have a clear vision of their own future. Our goal has to be to get the government and the resources of Iraq back into the hands of Iraqis. Iraq has a huge unemployment problem and a large talent pool of skilled workers, and it will be cheaper and better to direct reconstruction efforts through Iraqi-run initiatives. The ultimate economic destiny of the Iraqis, who have the second largest known oil reserves in the world, lies in their hands. The U.S. government must pay for the damage caused by our bombs, but the American people are not responsible for the long-term economic development of Iraq. We must leave an Iraq that is stable and secure, but we must leave.
Letting Iraqis take care of themselves also means that we can take care of unmet needs at home. We have schools that need to be reconstructed, health- care programs that need to be expanded, housing that needs to be built and jobs to be created. We also have deep obligations internationally: With 42 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, the Bush administration has come up with only $2 billion of the $3 billion we promised to fight a disease that killed 3 million people in the last year.
This misguided foreign policy is exacting real costs on the American people. We need to know how we got into this quagmire, and we desperately need to know how to get out. For all of these reasons, I oppose this $87 billion appropriation. Congress must not blindly sign another check that is simply the latest, but not the last, installment on the president's doctrine of pre- emption.