Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
The War in Iraq
Senate Floor

Tuesday 25 October 2005

Following is Sen. Patrick Leahy's address on Iraq, delivered Tuesday morning on the Senate floor. Leahy (D-Vt.) is the ranking member of the Appropriations panel that handles the Senate's work in funding the State Department and US foreign operations and aid, and he also is a senior member of the Appropriations panel with jurisdiction over the annual defense budget bill. Leahy was one of 23 senators who voted against the resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Leahy: Three years ago when the Congress and the country debated the resolution to give President Bush the authority to launch a preemptive war against Iraq, reference was often made to the lessons of Vietnam.

Unheeded Lessons

There are many lessons, both of that war and of the efforts to end it. But one that made a deep impression on me came from former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of that war, who said our greatest mistake was not understanding our enemy.

Vietnam was a relatively simple country that had changed little in the preceding 3,000 years. It was, for the most part, racially, ethnically, linguistically and religiously homogenous. One would have thought it would have been easy for U.S. military and political leaders to understand.

Apparently it was not. The White House and the Pentagon, convinced that no country, particularly not a tiny impoverished land of rice farmers, could withstand the military might of the United States, never bothered to study and understand the history or culture of Vietnam, and they made tragic miscalculations. They lacked the most basic knowledge of the motivation, the capabilities and the resolve of the people they were fighting.

At the start of the Iraq war, those who drew some analogies to Vietnam were ridiculed by the Pentagon and the White House. Iraq is not Vietnam, they insisted. Our troops would be greeted as liberators. Troop strength was not a concern. Our mission would be quickly accomplished. Democracy would spread throughout the Middle East. Freedom was on the march.

It is true that Vietnam and Iraq are vastly different societies. But the point was not that they are similar, but that some of the same lessons apply. We did not understand Vietnam - a simple country - and we paid a huge price for our ignorance and our arrogance.

Iraq - a complex country comprised of rival clans, tribes and ethic and religious factions who have fought each other for centuries - we understand even less.

If this were not apparent to many at the start of this ill-conceived and politically motivated war - a war I opposed from the beginning - it should be obvious today. Yet to listen to the Secretary of Defense, or to the President or the Vice President, one would never know it.

Misled into War

We know today that President Bush decided to invade Iraq without evidence to support the use of force and well before Congress passed the resolution giving him the authority to do so - authority he did not even believe he needed - despite the Constitution which invests in the Congress the power to declare war. Twenty-three Senators voted against that resolution, and I was proud to be one of them.

We know today that the motivation for a plan to attack Iraq, hatched by a handful of political operatives, had taken hold within the White House even before 9/11, and without any connection to the war on terrorism that came later.

We know that the key public justifications for the war - to stop Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons and supporting al Qaeda - were based on faulty intelligence and outright distortions and have been thoroughly discredited. United Nations weapons inspectors, who were dismissed by the White House as naïve and ineffective, turned out to have gathered far better information with a tiny fraction of the budget than our own intelligence agencies.

And we know that the insurgency is continuing to grow along with American casualties - 1,999 killed and at least 15,220 wounded, as of yesterday - despite the same old light at the end of the tunnel assertions and clichés by the White House and top officials in the Pentagon.

The sad but inescapable truth, which the President either does not see or refuses to believe or admit, is that the Iraqi insurgency has steadily grown, in part because of our presence there.

'Bring Them On'

After baiting the insurgents to "bring them on," we got what the President asked for. More than two years later, the pendulum swung against us, and the question is no longer whether we can stop the insurgency, but how to extricate ourselves.

According to soldiers who volunteered for duty in Iraq believing in the mission and who have returned home, many Iraqis who detest the barbaric tactics of the insurgents have grown to despise us. They blame us for the lack of water and electricity, for the lack of jobs and health care, for the hardships and violence they are suffering day in and day out.

Unlike our troops and their families who make great sacrifices, most Americans have been asked to sacrifice nothing for this war. The bills are being sent to our children and grandchildren, by way of our rapidly escalating national debt and annual deficits. Yet as the hundreds of billions dollars to pay for the war continue to pile up and domestic programs like Medicaid, job training and programs for needy students are cut, the sacrifices will be felt today as well.

Slogans have become little more than political rallying cries for the White House. Slogans as empty and unfulfilled as "mission accomplished." Our troops were sent to fight an unnecessary war without sufficient armor against these ruthless and barbaric bombing attacks, without adequate reinforcements, without a plan to win the peace, and without adequate medical care and other services when they return home on stretchers or crutches or with eye patches, unable to walk, to work, to pay their mortgages, or to support their families. Many of our veterans have been treated shamefully by their government when it sent them into harm's way under false pretences, and again after they returned home.

Today I worry about places like Ramadi, where more than 300 members of the Army National Guard from my State of Vermont are currently serving valiantly alongside their comrades in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania National Guard. Dozens of other citizen-soldiers from the Vermont Guard are serving across Iraq, while hundreds are deployed throughout the Persian Gulf region.

Many Vermonters have been killed in Ramadi and elsewhere by roadside bombs and all-too accurate sniper attacks.

The insurgents too often seem to attack and then escape with impunity. You can open a newspaper and see photos of armed insurgents walking the streets in broad daylight. Many of these cold-blooded attacks are by people who are willing to trade their own lives to kill civilians, security guards, and our soldiers who have no way of knowing who they can trust among the general population.

'More of the Same' Is Not Working

The President has no plan to deal with Ramadi, let alone the rest of Iraq, except doing more of what we have been doing for more than two years, at a cost of $5 billion a month - money we do not have and that future generations of Americans will have to repay. Nor has he proposed a practical alternative to our wasteful energy policy that guarantees our continued dependence on Persian Gulf oil for decades to come.

I am sure that what our military is doing to train the Iraqi Army and what our billions of dollars are doing to help rebuild Iraq - whatever is not stolen or wasted by profiteering contractors - are making a difference. Iraq is no longer governed by a corrupt, ruthless dictator, and there have been halting but important steps toward representative government.

I applaud the Iraqis who courageously stood in long lines and cast their ballots for a new constitution, despite the insurgents' threats. There are many profiles in courage among the Iraqi people, just as there are in the heroic daily endeavors of U.S. soldiers there.

But this progress masks deeper troubles and may be short lived, threatened by a widening insurgency and a divisive political process that is increasingly seen as leading to a Shiite dominated theocracy governed by Islamic law and aligned with Iran, or the dissolution of Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite states.

Escalating Toll, Escalating Costs

Mr. President, this war has been a costly disaster for our country. More than half of the American people now say they have lost confidence in the President's handling of it.

Far from making us safer from terrorists, in fact it has turned Iraq into a haven and recruiting ground for terrorists and deflected our attention and resources away from the fight against terrorism. If anything, it has emboldened our enemies, as it has become increasingly apparent that the most powerful army in the world cannot stop a determined insurgency.

Regrettably, it is no longer a secret how vulnerable we are, and Hurricane Katrina showed how tragically unprepared we are to respond to a major disaster - four years after 9/11 and after wasting billions on an unnecessary war.

Our cities are little further than the drawing board when it comes to developing workable evacuation plans for a terrorist attack or other emergency, not to mention how to feed, house and provide for millions of displaced people.

This war has caused immense damage to our relations with the world's Muslims, a religion practiced by some 1.2 billion people and about which most Americans know virtually nothing. We cannot possibly mount an effective campaign against terrorism without the trust, the respect and the active support of Muslims, particularly in the Middle East where our image has been so badly damaged. Our weakened international reputation is another heavy price that our country has paid for this war.

Each day, as more and more Iraqi civilians, often children, lose their lives and limbs from suicide bombers and also from our bombs, the resentment and anger toward us intensifies.

And every week, the number of U.S. service men and women who are killed or wounded creeps higher, will soon pass 2000, and shows no sign of diminishing.

This war has isolated us from our allies, most of whom want no part of it, and if we continue on the course the President has set it could also divide our country.

Course Correction

Other Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, have expressed frustration and alarm with the President's failure to acknowledge that this war has been a costly mistake, that more of the same is not a workable policy, and that we need to change course. My friend Senator Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, has pointed out the increasing similarities with Vietnam. We learned this week that the Administration has even resumed the discredited Vietnam-era practice of measuring progress by reporting body counts.

White House and Pentagon officials, and their staunchest supporters in Congress, warn of a wider civil war if we pull our troops out. They could be right. In fact, it could be the first thing they are right about since the beginning of this reckless adventure.

My question to them is, when and how then do we extract ourselves from this mess? What does the President believe needs to happen before our troops can come home, and what is his plan for getting to that point? If we cannot overcome the insurgency, what can we realistically expect to accomplish in Iraq, and at what cost, that requires the continued deployment of our troops?

What is it that compels us to spend billions of dollars to rebuild the Iraqi military, when our own National Guard is stretched to the breaking point and can't even get the equipment it needs?

Unfortunately I doubt that the President or the Secretary of Defense will answer these questions. Instead of answers, we get rhetoric that conflicts with just about everything we hear or read, including from some of this country's most distinguished retired military officers who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Six months ago the Vice President said the insurgency was in its last throes. That was just the latest in a long string of grossly inaccurate statements and predictions and false expectations about Iraq.

Secretary Rice, when asked recently when U.S. forces could begin to come home assuming the Administration's rosy predictions come true, could not, or would not, even venture a guess.

Without answers - real answers, honest answers - to these questions, I will not support the open-ended deployment of our troops in a war that was based on falsehoods and justified with hubris.

Even though I opposed this war, I have prayed, like other Americans, that it would weaken the threat of terrorism and make the world safer, that our troops' sacrifices would prove to have been justified and that the President had a plan for completing the mission.

Instead, it has turned Iraq into a training ground for terrorists, it is fueling the insurgency, it is causing severe damage to the reputation and readiness of the U.S. military, and it is preventing us from addressing the inexcusable weaknesses in our homeland security. The Iraqi people, at least the Shiites and Kurds, have voted for a new constitution, as hastily drafted, flawed and potentially divisive as it may be.

Saddam Hussein, whose capacity for cruelty was seemingly limitless, is finally facing trial for his heinous crimes.

And elections for a new national government are due by the end of the year.

By then, it will be more than two and a half years since Saddam's overthrow, and we will have given the Iraqi people a chance to chart their own course. The sooner we reduce our presence there, the sooner they will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve their own problems.

Our military commanders say that Iraq's problems increasingly need to be solved through the political process, not through military force. We must show Iraq and the world that we are not an occupying force, and that we have no designs on their country or their oil. The American people need to know that the President has a plan that will bring our troops home.

Once a new Iraqi government is in place, I believe the President should consult with Congress on a flexible plan that includes pulling our troops back from the densely populated areas where they are suffering the worst casualties and to bring them home. Those consultations should begin in earnest as soon as Iraq's new government is in place. It is also long overdue for the White House and the Congress to reassess our policy towards the region. The President has declared that democracy is taking root throughout the Middle East, and there have been small, positive steps. But they are dwarfed by the ongoing threat posed by Iran, Syria's continued meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, repression and corruption in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the danger that the momentum for peace from Israel's withdrawal from

Gaza will be lost as settlement construction accelerates in the West Bank, and the widespread - albeit mistaken - belief among Muslims that the United States wants to destroy Islam itself.

Just as the White House's obsession with Iraq has diverted our resources and impeded our efforts to strengthen our defenses against terrorism at home, so has it made it more difficult to work constructively with our allies to address these regional threats. Mr. President, as I have said, I did not support this war, and I believe that history will not judge kindly those who got us into this debacle by attacking a country that did not threaten us, after deceiving the American people and ridiculing those who appealed for caution and for instead mobilizing our resources directly against the threat of terrorism.

I worry that many of our young veterans - nearly one million so far - who have gone to Iraq and experienced the brutality and trauma of war and who may already feel guilty for having survived, will increasingly question its purpose. As the architects of this war move on to other jobs, fear that we are going to see another generation of veterans, many of them physically and psychologically scarred for life, who feel a deep sense of betrayal by their government.

Mounting Trade-Offs

If President Bush will not say what remains to be done before he can declare victory and bring our troops home, then the Congress should start voting on what this war is really costing this Nation.

We should vote on paying for the war versus cutting Medicaid, as some of those across the aisle are proposing.

Or versus cutting VA programs that are already unable to pay the staggering costs of treatment and rehabilitation for our injured veterans.

Or versus rebuilding our National Guard.

Or rebuilding FEMA.

Or securing our ports and our borders.

Or investing in our intelligence so we can finally capture Osama bin Laden.

Or investing in health care for the tens of millions of Americans who can not afford to get sick.

Or fixing our troubled schools, so our children can learn to do a better job than we have of making the world a safer place for all people.

Mr. President, these, and the tarnished reputation of a country that so many once admired as not only powerful but also good and just, are the real costs of this war.