Tuesday, October 25, 2005

''Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold''

"Why a Timeframe for the U.S. Military Mission in Iraq Will Improve Our National Security--Mr. President, today I come to the floor to talk about why we need a timeframe for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. I don’t mean a rigid timetable, nor do I mean a timetable that isn’t connected to clear and achievable benchmarks. What we need is a public, flexible, realistic timetable that will tell people when and how we expect to finish the military mission in Iraq.

As my colleagues may know, I have suggested a target date of December 31, 2006 for the completion of our military mission. Today I want to explain why a flexible timetable for withdrawal will help make the U.S. stronger and our enemies weaker.

Some have argued that a timetable is designed to appeal to the American public, but that it has no relationship to our security, or to achieving policy goals in Iraq. Actually, it is just the opposite – I proposed the timeframe because it has everything to do with improving our national security strategy.

Our fundamental national security goal must be to combat the global terrorist networks that attacked and continue to threaten the United States. An increasing number of military experts and members of the public have concluded that our military presence in Iraq is not consistent with that goal – and that it is in fact undermining that goal.

It's becoming increasingly clear that we have created a breeding ground for terrorism in Iraq and that the indefinite presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops is often fueling, not dampening, the insurgency in that country.

Melvin Laird, a former Republican congressman from Wisconsin who was defense secretary under Richard Nixon, said, "We owe it to the rest of the people back home to let them know that there is an exit strategy. And more important, we owe it to the Iraqi people. Our presence is what feeds the insurgency. And our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgents."

General George Casey, the commanding general of the allied forces in Iraq, made a similar point in testimony to Congress last month. He testified that “getting Iraqis into leading the counterinsurgency effort as they are capable will allow us to gradually reduce the visibility of coalition forces across Iraq and, ultimately, as conditions warrant, to begin to reduce our presence in Iraq, taking away an element that fuels the insurgency; that is, the perception of occupation.” He went on to call reducing the visibility and presence of coalition forces “a key element of our overall counterinsurgency strategy.”

Melvin Laird and General Casey know that our presence has fed this insurgency, making it easy for the insurgents to convince recruits that we are there to stay. That’s not the fault of our men and women in uniform, who are serving courageously. It’s the fault of the Administration for sending them into battle without a clearly defined or well thought-out mission.

In February, I asked one of the top allied military commanders in Iraq, what would happen if we suggested to the world that there is a timeframe for achieving our military mission? His response to me, which of course was off the record, was that nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents more than providing a clear public plan and timeframe for a remaining U.S. mission.

The President himself in June told the nation that he didn't support putting more troops into Iraq because “sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever.” That same logic applies to his refusal to issue a public timetable.

To the extent we don't explain what our military goals in Iraq are and when we hope to achieve them, we play into the hands of the insurgents. The insurgents are motivated by our presence, and they feed off conspiracy theories and suspicions regarding American intentions. And, of course, our brave servicemembers and their families deserve some clarity about how long they are likely to remain in Iraq.

The President is one of an ever-narrowing group of people who believe that a timetable works against our goals in Iraq. Military experts, people I talked to in Iraq, and the American people increasingly agree that the Administration’s refusal to even suggest a timetable for meeting our military goals in Iraq is feeding the insurgency.

The lack of a timetable doesn’t just feed the insurgency -- it also discourages Iraqi ownership of their own political process. By making it clear that the U.S. will not be there indefinitely, we will help the Iraqis move toward the real political independence they need and dispel some of the cynicism about American intentions that empowers some of the more extreme elements of Iraqi society.

Finally, a timetable is important because it enables us to devote more resources to the other national security issues that demand our attention. To fight the global terrorist networks that threaten the U.S., we need to focus energy and resources on countering emerging terrorist tactics, dealing with the threat of “loose nukes,” and repairing the damage to our Army, to name just a few urgent priorities. Drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq will allow us to focus on these priorities. It’s time to make sure that our Iraq policy is advancing, not undermining, our national security goals.

The Administration and its allies have offered various arguments as to why they can’t or won’t come up with a clear plan and timeline for military success in Iraq.

One argument has been that the U.S. pullouts from Somalia in the 1990s and Lebanon in the 1980s emboldened terrorists and others who oppose American interests. To pull out of Iraq without having put down the Iraqi insurgency once and for all would supposedly be another sign of American weakness.

Mr. President, our decisions about national security shouldn’t be made based on conjecture about the “message” that some might perceive. No one, including the Bush Administration, can know how the insurgents in Iraq might feel about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. We do know, however, that right now we are making the insurgency stronger with our indefinite presence in Iraq, and our failure to articulate a timetable for military withdrawal. We also know that our commitment of resources – money, troops, time – to Iraq is detracting from our ability to focus on our most pressing national security goals and stretching our military to the breaking point. Terrorists will not feel particularly emboldened about us putting our Iraq policy on track so that we can focus our attention on eliminating them. The President suggests that if he issues a timetable for how long he expects U.S. troops to remain in Iraq, our enemies will think that we are weak. But without a plan to finish our military mission, our enemies will know that we have fallen into a trap and we can’t figure out how to get out.

When I pressed Secretary Rice on the need for a timetable last week, she responded that “we’d like our discussions of withdrawal and of bringing down the numbers of forces to be results-based rather than time-based.” Mr. President, of course a timetable should be results-based. As I have said over and over, any timetable needs to be flexible and needs to be tied to achievable benchmarks. The point is to have some idea of when those benchmarks, those results, can be achieved. Without such a timetable, and without clear, realistic benchmarks, we cannot hold ourselves accountable for meeting our goals. Nor can we give our troops and the American people the clarity they deserve about their mission.

The Bush Administration, with all these arguments, has succeeded in one thing: in intimidating people into not uttering the words timetable, or timeframe, or target date for finishing the military mission.

But with the words of Republicans like Melvin Laird and military leaders like General Casey, more and more people understand that having a flexible timetable will strengthen our national security. This is not a timetable where the objective is troop withdrawal – the objective is to focus on our national security needs and the timetable is one step towards that goal. A timetable is not about domestic politics – it’s about undercutting insurgency recruiting and unity, encouraging more Iraqi ownership and responsibility, and creating space for other important U.S. national security efforts.

I again emphasize that the timeframe I have proposed is a flexible one -- not a drop-dead date, not a deadline, not a formula for “cut and run.” It is linked with a call for more clarity about what we want the U.S. military to achieve in Iraq.

And, Mr. President, please note that I am only referring to a timeframe for the military mission in Iraq, not for our broader political and other missions in Iraq. We all understand that our engagement in Iraq won’t end with the U.S. military mission. We will still have a great deal of tough diplomatic work to do in Iraq well after the bulk of U.S. troops leave, and probably some serious security cooperation as well.

We will continue to devote resources to Iraq, without a doubt. But as it stands today, we have focused on Iraq to the exclusion of critically important national security priorities. And we have done so at great cost to the outstanding men and women of the U.S. military, and to their families. When I speak to servicemen and women in Wisconsin and in Iraq, and when I speak to their families, their pride in their service is evident and it is well earned. But their frustration with this open-ended commitment, with the stop-loss orders and the multiple deployments, with the extensions and the uncertainties, is equally evident, and it is painful. We can do better by them, by insisting on clarity, by insisting on accountability, and by assuring them that we have a plan with clear and achievable goals.
Mr. President, we must stop feeding the insurgency in Iraq, and focus on the fight against the terrorist networks that threaten the security of the American people. A timetable can make us stronger, and our enemies weaker. That is the strategy we must pursue, and I look forward to working with colleagues here in the Senate to move such a proposal forward."-from Feingold's statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

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