Veteran anti-war American politician EDWARD KENNEDY spoke at the National Press Club last week about the radical resolution he is introducing in the US Senate that would get Congress to vote on President Bush's controversial 'surge' plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts who has served in the Senate for 44 years, called the Iraq war "George Bush's Vietnam." He wants Democrats, who now control Congress, to push for the withdrawal of US troops and start the process by using their power to stop funding for Bush's proposal.
Here The-Latest publishes the full text of this historic intervention.
I had hoped to speak today about health care and my agenda as Chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee. I will speak to those concerns on another day soon, but an issue of grave importance requires our immediate action.
President Bush will address the nation tomorrow about his decision to send tens of thousands of additional American troops to the war in Iraq. That war is the overarching issue of our time, and American lives, American values and American honour are all at stake.
If ordered into battle, we know our brave men and women will serve us with pride and valour, just as they have throughout this troubling war. All Americans will support them fully, as will those of us in Congress. We will always support our troops in harm's way.
It's a special honour to have here with us today a person who symbolizes that commitment — Brian Hart of Bedford, Massachusetts. His presence reminds us who is being called to sacrifice and service — husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours.
Brian Hart's son John, at the age of 20, gave his life in Iraq in 2003, defending his patrol from ambush. Brian and his wife Alma turned that enormous personal tragedy into a remarkable force for change. He's worked skilfully and tirelessly ever since to ensure that our soldiers have better equipment to protect them. Today and every day, I salute his patriotism and his own dedicated service to our country — Brian Hart.
As the election in November made clear, the vast majority of Americans oppose the war in Iraq, and an even greater number oppose sending even more troops to Iraq today.
Families like the Harts and all Americans deserve a voice in that profound decision. Our Constitution gives them that right. The President is Commander-in-Chief, but in our democracy he is still accountable to the people. Our system of checks and balances gives Congress — as the elected representatives of the people — a central role in decisions on war and peace.
Today, therefore, I am introducing legislation to reclaim the rightful role of Congress and the people's right to a full voice in the President's plan to send more troops to Iraq. My bill will say that no additional troops can be sent and no additional dollars can be spent on such an escalation, unless and until Congress approves the President's plan.
My proposal is a straightforward exercise of the power granted to Congress by Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. There can be no doubt that the Constitution gives Congress the authority to decide whether to fund military action. And Congress can demand a justification from the President for such action before it appropriates the funds to carry it out.
This bill will give all Americans — from Maine to Florida to California to Alaska and Hawaii — an opportunity to hold the President accountable for his actions. The President's speech must be the beginning — not the end — of a new national discussion of our policy in Iraq. Congress must have a genuine debate over the wisdom of the President's plan. Let us hear the arguments for it and against it. Then let us vote on it in the light of day. Let the American people hear — yes or no — where their elected representatives stand on one of the greatest challenges of our time.
Until now, a rubber stamp Republican Congress has refused to hold the White House accountable on Iraq. But the November election has dramatically changed all that. Over the past two years, Democrats reached for their roots as true members of our Party. We listened to the hopes and dreams of everyday Americans. We rejected the politics of fear and division. We embraced a vision of hope and shared purpose. And the American people voted for change.
We campaigned as Democrats in 2006. And we must govern as Democrats in 2007. We have the solemn obligation now to show the American people that we heard their voices. We will stand with them in meeting the extraordinary challenges of our day — not with pale actions, timid gestures, and empty rhetoric, but with bold vision, clear action, and high ideals that match the hopes and dreams of the American people. That is our duty as Democrats and as Americans on the war in Iraq.
The American people sent a clear message in November that we must change course in Iraq and begin to withdraw our troops, not escalate their presence. The way to start is by acting on the President's new plan. An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake. It would compound the original misguided decision to invade Iraq. We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq. We must act to prevent it.
Our history makes clear that a new escalation in our forces will not advance our national security. It will not move Iraq toward self-government, and it will needlessly endanger our troops by injecting more of them into the middle of a civil war.
Some will disagree. Listen to this comment from a high-ranking American official: "It became clear that if we were prepared to stay the course, we could help to lay the cornerstone for a diverse and independent [region]. If we faltered, the forces of chaos would smell victory and decades of strife and aggression would stretch endlessly before us. The choice was clear. We would stay the course. And we shall stay the course."
That is not President Bush speaking. It is President Lyndon Johnson, forty years ago, ordering a hundred thousand more American soldiers to Vietnam.
Here is another quotation. "The big problem is to get territory and to keep it. You can get it today and it will be gone next week. That is the problem. You have to have enough people to clear it and enough people to preserve what you have done."
That is not President Bush on the need for more forces in Iraq. It is President Johnson in 1966 as he doubled our military presence in Vietnam.
Those comparisons from history resonate painfully in today's debate on Iraq. In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy. The Department of Defence kept assuring us that each new escalation in Vietnam would be the last. Instead, each one led only to the next.
Finally, in 1968, in large part because of the war, Democrats lost the White House. Richard Nixon was elected President after telling the American people that he had a secret plan to end the war. We all know what happened, though. As President, he escalated the war into Cambodia and Laos, and it went on for six more years.
There was no military solution to that war. But we kept trying to find one anyway. In the end, 58,000 Americans died in the search for it.
Echoes of that disaster are all around us today. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.
As with Vietnam, the only rational solution to the crisis is political, not military. Injecting more troops into a civil war is not the answer. Our men and women in uniform cannot force the Iraqi people to reconcile their differences.
The open-ended commitment of our military forces continues to enable the Iraqis to avoid taking responsibility for their own future. Tens of thousands of additional American troops will only make the Iraqis more resentful of America's occupation. It will also make the Iraqi government even more dependent on America, not less.
General Abizaid made this point plainly when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last November, "I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more and from taking more responsibility for their own future."
General Abizaid was unequivocal that increasing our troop commitment is not the answer. He said, "I've met with every divisional commander — General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey — we all talked together. And I said, 'in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?' And they all said no." That was General Abizaid.
General Casey reiterated this view just two weeks ago. He said, "The longer that U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to make the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. They can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are, at base, their problems.."
One of our great military commanders, who actually won a war, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, put it this way last month: "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."
Such an escalation would be a policy of desperation built on denial and fantasy. It is "stay the course" under another name. It will not resolve the Iraq war, but it will exact a fearsome new toll in American lives and further weaken our nation.
For the sake of our men and women in uniform in Iraq, the President should have heeded these generals, not discarded them and gone shopping for advice that matches his own wishful, flawed thinking.
Cooking the intelligence is how we got into this war. Ignoring the sound counsel of our military is no way to end it. The American people are also well aware that the military action authorized by Congress in 2002 was for a very different war than we face today. Our troops are now caught in the crossfire of a civil war — a role that
Congress has not approved and that the American people rejected in November.
Many of us felt the authorization to go to war was a grave mistake at the time. I've said that my vote against the war in Iraq is the best vote I've cast in my 44 years in the United States Senate.
But no matter what any of us thought then, the Iraq War resolution is obviously obsolete today. It authorized a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction. But there were no WMDs to destroy. It authorized a war with Saddam Hussein. But today, Saddam is no more. It authorized a war because Saddam was allied with al Qaeda. But there was no alliance.
The mission of our armed forces today in Iraq bears no resemblance whatever to the mission authorized by Congress. President Bush should not be permitted to escalate the war further, and send an even larger number of our troops into harm's way, without a clear and specific new authorization from Congress.
In everybody's reality except the Administration's, Iraq is now in the middle of a civil war. Sectarian violence is on the rise. Militias continue to commit unspeakable acts of violence and torture. Ethnic cleansing is a fact of daily life. Millions of Iraqis are fleeing the violence and leaving their country.
Can anyone seriously deny that this civil war is radically different from the mission which Congress voted for in 2002? Can anyone justify why even more of our troops should be sent to Iraq in the middle of this civil war?
The President may deny the plain truth. But the truth speaks loudly and tragically.
Congress must no longer follow him deeper into the quagmire in Iraq.
I recognize the President's almost certain determination to persist in his failed course. It appears that he will not listen to the views of Congress or of the American people. It is disappointing that he seems ready — even eager — to reject the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Instead of heeding the growing call for genuine change, he has used the time since that report to root out dissent in his own Administration and in our armed forces.
This Congress cannot escape history or its own duty. If we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeat them. We must act, and act now, before the President sends more troops to Iraq, or else it will be too late..
The legislation that I will introduce today is brief but essential. It requires the President to obtain approval from Congress before he sends even more American soldiers to Iraq. And it prohibits the President from spending taxpayer dollars on such an escalation unless Congress approves it.
My proposal will not diminish our support for the forces we already have in Iraq. We will continue to do everything we can to make sure they have all the support they truly need. Even more important, we will continue to do all we can to bring them safely home. The best immediate way to support our troops is by refusing to inject more and more of them into the cauldron of a civil war that can be resolved only by the people and government of Iraq.
I will seek a vote on this proposal at the earliest realistic date. I hope that instead of escalation without end and without authorization, the President will follow through on his words last week, when he said, "We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus" on Iraq. If he truly means those words, he will ask Congress for our approval.
The heavy price of our flawed decisions a generation ago is memorialised on sacred ground not far from here. On a sombre walk through the Vietnam Memorial, we are moved by the painful, powerful eloquence of its enduring tribute to the tens of thousands who were lost in that tragic war that America never should have fought. Our fingers can gently trace the names etched into the stark black granite face of the memorial. We wonder what might have been, if America had faced up honestly to its failed decisions before it was too late.
I often pause as well at Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery. Those from Massachusetts who have fallen in Iraq lie there now in quiet dignity. Each time, I am struck by the heavy price of the war in their young lives cut so sadly short.
The casualties are high. The war is long. The time is late. But as Tennyson said, "Come, my friends. 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world."
Those words speak clearly to all of us today. And we are inspired anew to wage this battle by the concluding line of that great poem: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."