Senate Floor Speech on the Levin-Reed Amendment, S.A. 3876

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mr. LEVIN. Mr. President, our amendment expresses the sense of the Congress that we should have a goal for the removal of most of our forces in a reasonable time mainly as a way of telling the Iraqi leaders they must accept responsibility for their own future. Our amendment expresses the sense of the Congress. It is not legally binding, but it puts us on record, and it sends a message. It says it is the sense of the Congress that:

The United States Armed Forces in Iraq should transition to the more limited set of missions laid out by President Bush in his September 13, 2007, address to the Nation - counter terrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces. And we add - in addition to the necessary mission of force protection, with the goal of completing that transition by the end of 2008.

The primary aim of this amendment is to keep the pressure on the Iraqi politicians to do what only they can do: Work out compromises, as they promised to do long ago--to compromise the differences which divide them so as to ensure the currently relatively calm situation in many parts of Iraq, including Baghdad, remains calm. Our sense of Congress language is aimed at pressuring the Iraqi politicians to seize the window of opportunity, as General Odierno put it, to avoid a return to the violence that characterized the pre-surge period.

The New York Times, in a story on December 5, quoted Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Chalabi as saying about the present situation in Iraq: It is more a cease-fire than a peace. Well, we need to make it clear to those Iraqi political leaders that a cease-fire is not good enough. They must take the steps to turn that cease-fire into a real peace.

From all accounts, the surge has already produced some military progress. The problem is that while the surge has, up to this point, achieved some military progress, it has not accomplished its primary purpose, as announced by President Bush last January. President Bush said the surge's purpose was to give the Iraqi Government "the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas" and that "reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible."

The President also said, America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks that it has announced. Well, the administration has not done what it said it would do--hold the Iraqi Government to the benchmarks that it, the Iraqi Government, has announced. Those legislative benchmarks include approving a hydrocarbon law, approving a debaathification law, completing the work of a constitutional review committee, and holding provincial elections. Those commitments, made 1 1/2 years ago, which were to have been completed by January of 2007, have not yet been kept by the Iraqi political leaders despite the breathing space the surge has provided.

Despite the breathing space the brave men and women wearing our uniform have provided the Iraqi leaders, despite the breathing room and the breathing space which young men and women putting their lives in harm's way on behalf of this Nation to give the Iraqis an opportunity to create a nation, they have not used that breathing space. And as a matter of fact, the Iraqi leaders appear to be farther apart today than they were at the start of the surge.

The Iraqi political leadership's response to the breathing space provided by the surge has been stunning inaction. The Iraqi Parliament has suspended its session until the New Year, thus ensuring that not 1--not 1--of the 18 legislative benchmarks that they committed to meet will be met this year. The President's statement that he will hold the Iraqi Government to the benchmarks it has announced is hollow rhetoric.

To date, there have been no consequences for Iraqis' failures to meet those benchmarks. Whether the Iraqi political leaders decide to take advantage of this window of opportunity is, of course, their decision. The United States cannot make that decision for them. They are a sovereign country and have to decide what is best for themselves. But whether the United States keeps an open-ended commitment or establishes a goal for redeployment of most of our forces is our decision. That is not the Iraqis' decision. They can decide whether to live up to the commitments they made to themselves and to us--solemn commitments, as far as I am concerned, because it involves the lives of American troops. Those solemn commitments have not been kept. We cannot force them to keep them, but we can decide whether we are going to maintain an open-ended commitment of our troops. Mr. President, how much time do we have?

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brown). The Senator from Michigan has 24 minutes.

Mr. LEVIN. I yield myself 3 additional minutes.

According to our own State Department, the key threat to our effort in Iraq is the failure of the Iraqi political leaders to reach a political settlement. Listen to what the State Department said in its own weekly status report of November 21, 2007. This is our State Department:

Senior military commanders [U.S. commanders] now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

Let me read that once again. This is our State Department saying what is the key threat to our forces in Iraq. What they are saying is that it is not the Iranian-backed militias, it is not the Sunni insurgents, it is not the al-Qaida terrorists; the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, according to our State Department, is "the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government." We have to break that intransigence. How can Congress do it? How do we put pressure on the Iraqi political leaders? At a minimum, by at least expressing our view that U.S. forces in Iraq should transition to a more supporting and a less direct role, with a goal--a goal, just a goal--of completing that transition by the end of 2008. The message the Iraqi political leaders need to hear is that Congress has lost patience with them, as have the American people. By their own Prime Minister's acknowledgment, a political solution is the only way to end the conflict, and ending the conflict is in their own hands.

I wish we could legislate a legally binding way forward for U.S. forces in Iraq. We have tried to do that. We have not been able to break the filibuster, to get to 60 votes. But at least expressing the sense of the Congress on this matter is better than silence because silence implies acquiescence in the open-endedness of our presence. It is that open-ended commitment which takes the pressure off the Iraqi political leaders, and Congress needs to act to correct that. Our amendment is a small but important step in that direction.

Later in the Senate debate on the Levin-Reed amendment, Senator Levin gave the following remarks:

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Michigan.

Mr. LEVIN. The message is not conflicting at all. There is no conflict between saying we are going to support our troops, we are not going to reduce funding for them, and at the same time have a goal a year hence for when they transition to the more limited mission. There is not the slightest inconsistency. It is not a conflicting message. If we are interested in success in Iraq, there is only one way to achieve it--for the Iraqi politicians to reach agreement on their differences which have continued the conflict. That is not just me saying it. That is our military leaders.

I wish to read this quote because I am not sure people have focused on it. This is our State Department. I ask my colleagues to listen to this very brief quote from our State Department:

Senior military commanders portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

Is that a conflicting message from our State Department, when they identify the political leaders of Iraq as being the major threat to our success? They are the major threat to our success. We all know it. Our military leaders have said it is the failure of the political leaders of Iraq to work out their differences, which is the key problem that keeps the battle going on between Iraqis. That is our State Department. Is that a conflicting message? I don't think so. It is the truth. Most of us recognize it. We are all completely unhappy with the Iraqi political leaders. Most of us, when we go to Iraq, tell them that. The President of the United States has even said it is useful for that message to be delivered. Let us deliver it tonight.