We Must Change Course Now

Remarks delivered on the Senate floor, May 2, 2006.

Our country desperately needs a new vision for strengthening our national security, and it starts by redeploying U.S. forces from Iraq and refocusing our attention on the global terrorist threats that face us. I have filed an amendment that requires the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq by December 31st, 2006.

Unfortunately, the Senate will not be given the opportunity to vote on this amendment if we invoke cloture on the emergency supplemental bill that we will be considering shortly.

This body has failed time and again to debate the direction of our country’s policy in Iraq. Three years ago the President landed on an aircraft carrier and declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Today, with thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent, we are still no closer to a policy that lifts the burden from our troops and taxpayers, and that actually makes our country safer from the terrorist networks that seek to hurt us.

By failing to discuss alternatives to the Administration’s failed Iraq policy, we have let down this institution and our constituents. We simply cannot continue to avoid asking the tough questions about Iraq. We should not be appropriating billions of dollars for Iraq without debating–and demanding — a strategy to complete our military mission there. Not when the lives of our soldiers and the safety of our country are at risk.

Our military has performed heroically in Iraq, but the continued and indefinite presence of large numbers of U.S. forces there significantly weakens our ability to fight the global terrorist networks that threaten us today.

That is why I filed an amendment requiring the Pentagon to draw up a flexible timeline for redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of this year. The President has repeatedly failed to spell out for the American people when we can expect our troops to redeploy from Iraq. He has refused to provide a vision for ending our military mission in Iraq, and as a result a growing majority of Americans have lost confidence in our purpose, our direction, and our presence in Iraq.

Last August, I proposed a target date for withdrawal when I suggested U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of 2006. This amendment in part reflects the fact that the Administration has made no progress–no progress whatsoever–in developing a clear vision for ending our military mission, redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq, and refocusing on the real national security threats that face our country.

My amendment spells out what an increasing number of military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials have been saying for some time–that a massive and seemingly indefinite U.S. presence in Iraq is destabilizing and potentially damaging to Iraqi efforts to rebuild their government and their country. Our presence is generating instability in Iraq, and unless we make it clear that our intent is to leave, and to leave now, our presence is more harmful than it is helpful.

More important, though, is the fact that our current Iraq policy is making the United States weaker, not stronger. We need to redeploy U.S. forces from Iraq because, as a result of our current costly and burdensome presence in Iraq, we are unable to direct our resources worldwide to defeat the wide and growing network of terrorist organizations that seek to harm Americans.

This Administration has compounded its misguided decision to wage war in Iraq by refusing to recognize the consequences of its actions–the tremendous cost to our brave troops and their loved ones, the drain on our financial resources, and the burden on our nation’s national security resources and infrastructure, which are unable to focus on new and emerging threats to our country.

I don’t have to point very far to show how imbalanced and burdensome our policies in Iraq are. While we have spent, according to the Congressional Research Service, upwards of $6 billion dollars per week during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and $1.3 billion per week during Operation Enduring Freedom, we are spending a little more than $2 million annually–not weekly — in Somalia, a known haven for terrorists and criminals and a true threat to our national security. This supplemental appropriation, if passed, will increase the cost of this war to $320 billion and rising. Mr. President, this is simply unsustainable, and because the President has failed to provide us with any semblance of a vision for when our troops will be redeployed, we can expect more of the same for years to come. That is, unless the Congress finally requires the Administration to develop an Iraq strategy that includes a flexible timeline for redeploying our troops by the end of 2006.

My amendment recognizes the need to maintain a minimal level of U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2006. Those forces will be needed for engaging directly in targeted counter-terrorism activities, training Iraqi security forces, and protecting essential U.S. infrastructure and personnel.

It is time for Members of Congress to stand up to an Administration that continues to lead us astray in what has become an extremely costly and mistaken war. We need to hold this Administration accountable for its neglect of urgent national security priorities in favor of staying a flawed policy course in Iraq. And we need to tell the Administration that they it can’t continue to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way without a clear and convincing strategy for success.

Some have suggested that we should tie our military presence in Iraq to whether or not Iraqis are able to form a unity government. While I share their frustration with the status quo, decisions about our troop presence should be based on what is best for our country’s national security. Making decisions about our troop levels contingent on a political solution in Iraq doesn’t make sense–our troops should not be held hostage to the failure to bring about a political solution in Iraq.

Here’s the bottom line: We need to refocus on fighting and defeating the terrorist network that attacked this country on September 11, 2001, and that means placing our Iraq policy in the context of a global effort, rather than letting it dominate our security strategy and drain vital security resources for an unlimited amount of time. The President’s Iraq-centric policies are preventing us from effectively engaging serious threats around the world, including Iran, global terrorist networks, and other emerging threats. We must change course in Iraq, and we must change course now. It is in this spirit that I filed this amendment to this supplemental spending bill. And, if I am not allowed a vote on my amendment to the supplemental, I can assure my colleagues that I will be looking for the next opportunity to bring this amendment to the floor for debate and a vote.

My colleagues are entitled to disagree with my approach. I welcome their suggestions and their advice. But what I really want is for the Senate to live up to its responsibility and engage in a serious debate about the topic that’s on the mind of every American–how to put our Iraq policy right and our national security policy right.



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