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Bush’s Iraq War is Weakening America

by Sen. RUSSELL FEINGOLD

From the Floor of the United States Senate, September 29, 2005

I rise once again to comment on the deeply disturbing consequences of the President’s misguided policies in Iraq. I have spoken before about my grave concern that the Administration’s Iraq policies are actually strengthening the hand of our enemies, fueling the insurgency’s recruitment of foreign fighters and unifying elements of the insurgency that might otherwise turn on each other.

But today I want to focus on a different and equally alarming issue ­ which is, that the Bush Administration’s policies in Iraq are making America weaker. And none of us should stand by and allow this to continue.

It is shocking to me that this Senate has not found the time and energy to take up the Defense Authorization bill and give that bill the full debate and attention that it deserves. Our men and women in uniform, and our military families, continue to make real sacrifices every day in service to this country. They perform their duties with skill and honor, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances. But the Senate has not performed its duties ­ and the state of the U.S. military desperately needs our attention.

The Administration’s policies in Iraq are breaking the United States Army. As soldiers confront the prospect of a third tour in the extremely difficult theater of Iraq, it would be understandable if they began to wonder why all of the sacrifice undertaken by our country in wartime seems to be falling on their shoulders. It would be understandable if they — and their brothers and sisters in the Marine Corps — began to feel some skepticism about whether or not essential resources — like adequately armored vehicles — will be there when they need them. It would be understandable if they came to greet information about deployment schedules with cynicism, because reliable information has been hard to come by for our military families in recent years. And it would be understandable if they asked themselves whether or not their numbers will be great enough to hold hard-won territory, and whether or not properly vetted translators will be available to help them distinguish friend from foe. At some point, Mr. President, the sense of solidarity and commitment that helps maintain strong retention rates gives way to a sense of frustration with the status quo. I fear that we may be very close to that tipping point today.

We may not see the men and women of the Army continue to volunteer for more of the same. It isn’t reasonable to expect that current retention problems will improve, rather than worsening. We should not bet our national security on that kind of wishful thinking.

Make no mistake, our military readiness is already suffering. According to a recent RAND study, the Army has been stretched so thin that active-duty soldiers are now spending one of every two years abroad, leaving little of the Army left in any appropriate condition to respond to crises that may emerge elsewhere in the world. In an era in which we confront a globally networked enemy, and at a time when nuclear weapons proliferation is an urgent threat, continuing on our present course is irresponsible at best.

We are not just wearing out the troops; we are also wearing out equipment much faster than it is being replaced or refurbished. Just days ago the Chief of the National Guard, General H Steven Blum, told a group of Senate staffers that the National Guard had approximately 75% of the equipment it needed on 9/11. Today, the National Guard has 34% of the equipment it needs. And the response to Hurricane Katrina exposed some of the dangerous gaps in the Guard’s communications systems.

What we are asking of the Army is not sustainable, and the burden is taking its toll on our military families. This cannot go on.

Many of my colleagues, often led by Senator Reed of Rhode Island, have taken stock of where we stand and have joined together to support efforts to expand the size of our standing Army. But this effort ­ which I support — is really a solution for the long-term, because it depends on new recruits to address our problems. We cannot suddenly increase the numbers of experienced soldiers so essential to providing leadership in the field. It takes years to grow a new crop of such leaders. But the annual resignation rate of Army lieutenants and captains rose last year to its highest rate since the attacks of September 11, 2001. We are heading toward crisis right now.

Mr. President, growing the all-volunteer Army can only happen if qualified new recruits sign up for duty. But all indications suggest that at the end of this month, the Army will fall thousands short of its annual recruiting goal. Barring some sudden and dramatic change, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve too will miss their annual targets by about 20 percent. And Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, told Congress recently that 2006 “may be the toughest recruiting environment ever.”

Too often, too many of my colleagues are reluctant to criticize the Administration’s policies in Iraq for fear that anything other than staying the course set by the President will somehow appear weak. But the President’s course is misguided, and it is doing grave damage to our extraordinarily professional and globally admired all-volunteer United States Army. To stand by while this damage is done is not patriotic. It is not supportive. It is not tough on terrorism, or strong on national security. Because I am proud of our men and women in uniform, and because I am committed to working with all of my colleagues to make this country more secure, I am convinced that we must change our course.

As my colleagues know, I have introduced a resolution calling for the President to provide a public report clarifying the mission that the US military is being asked to accomplish in Iraq and laying out a plan and timeframe for accomplishing that mission and subsequently bringing our troops home. It is in our interest to provide some clarity about our intentions and restore confidence at home and abroad that U.S. troops will not be in Iraq indefinitely. And I have tried to jumpstart this discussion by proposing a date for US troop withdrawal: December 31, 2006. We need to start working with a realistic set of plans and benchmarks if we are to gain control of our Iraq policy, instead of letting it dominate our security strategy and drain vital security resources for an unlimited amount of time.

This brings me to another facet of this Administration’s misguided approach to Iraq; another front on which our great country is growing weaker rather than stronger as a result of the Administration’s policy choices: the tremendously serious fiscal consequences of the President’s decision to put the entire Iraq war on our national tab. How much longer can the elected representatives of the American people in this Congress allow the President to rack up over a billion dollars a week in new debts? This war is draining, by one estimate, $5.6 billion every month from our economy, funds that might be used to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina recover, or to help address the skyrocketing health care costs facing businesses and families, or to help pay down the enormous debt this government has already piled up.

And not only are we weakening our economy today, this costly war is undermining our nation’s economic future because none of that considerable expenditure has been offset in the budget by cuts in spending elsewhere or revenue increases. All of it — every penny — has been added to the already massive debt that will be paid by future generations of Americans. For years now, this Administration has refused to budget for the costs of our ongoing operations in Iraq that can be predicted, and has refused to make the hard choices that would be required to cover those costs. Instead, the President apparently prefers to leave those tough calls to our children. In effect, we are asking future generations to pay for this war, and they will pay for it in the form of higher taxes or fewer government benefits. They stand to inherit a weakened America, one so compromised by debt and economic crisis that the promise of opportunity for all has faded.

And there is no end in sight.

In addition to that debt, the war will leave other costly legacies. Here again, it is the members of the military and their families who will endure the most severe costs. But even if the war ended tomorrow, the nation will continue to pay the price for decades to come. Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard estimates that over the next 45 years, the health care, disability, and other benefits due our Iraq war veterans will cost $315 billion. We owe our brave troops the services and benefits they are due. We owe it to them and to their children and to their grandchildren to guide the course of this country and this economy to ensure that we are in a position to deliver for our veterans and for all Americans.

I cannot support an Iraq policy that makes our enemies stronger and our own country weaker, and that is why I will not support staying the course the President has set. If Iraq were truly the solution to our national security challenges, this gamble with the future of the military and with our own economy might make sense. If Iraq, rather than such strategically more significant countries as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were really at the heart of the global fight against violent Islamist terrorism, this might make some sense. If it were true that fighting insurgents in Baghdad meant that we would not have to fight them elsewhere, all of the costs of this policy might make some sense. But these things are not true. Iraq is not the silver bullet in the fight against global terrorist networks. As I have argued in some detail, it is quite possible that the Administration’s policies in Iraq are actually strengthening the terrorists by helping them to recruit new fighters from around the world, giving those jihadists on-the-ground training in terrorism, and building new, transnational networks among our enemies. Meanwhile the costs of staying this course indefinitely, the consequences of weakening America’s military and America’s economy, loom more ominously before us with each passing week. There is no leadership in simply hoping for the best. We must insist on an Iraq policy that makes sense.

Russell Feingold represents Wisconsin in the US Senate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

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