Congressman Walden on Iraq

Floor Speech from Congressman Greg Walden, H. Con. Res 63 — Iraq War Resolution, February 16, 2007

Madam Speaker. Since learning that we would consider a resolution regarding troop levels in Iraq, I have spent considerable time listening to veterans of this war, and other wars; questioning some of America’s top national security officials; reading every email and letter on this most serious issue of our day that’s come into my office from the people I represent, and listening to the voices of leaders of the nations surrounding Iraq. I’ve read the National Intelligence Estimate and the Iraq Study Committee’s report. I’ve been given books, such as “Fiasco,” to digest. I’ve reached out to parents of brave Americans who are on their way into this conflict, and I’ve heard from parents of sons were lost in this war. I’ve heard strong opinions on both sides of this issue. And I have reflected upon my own vote to authorize the war in the first place. It has been an agonizing experience for me.Agonizing, because I want to do what is right for America with minimal sacrifice of the brave Americans who wear our nation’s uniform. I want to do what is right to protect our freedom and security. I still remember that days and nights when the smoke from the Pentagon wafted into my apartment which was just blocks away. I remember the images of rescue personnel trying to save lives, only to lose their own. I remember the pledge I made to do all I could to never let that happen to America again.

I supported implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations to improve how the government operates, communicates and protects our shores and our citizens.

I supported efforts to improve our intelligence gathering and processing efforts, so that America doesn’t miss key indicators of danger, or worse, misinterpret the data that is gathered. Policy makers must be given accurate and reliable intelligence if we are to make responsible decisions.

Had Congress been given accurate intelligence, I doubt the vote to invade Iraq would ever have come to this Floor in the first place. And I certainly would not have cast the vote I cast because the threat was not what we were told it was, despite the horrific brutality of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen sons.

Unfortunately, we cannot edit history. We cannot change the past. Our responsibility is to the present and even more so to the future. America’s future.

In some areas of the world, America has made strong, diplomatic progress on the most difficult issues facing the planet. I speak of the recent agreement with North Korea coming out of the six party talks.

I’m reminded of the willingness of Lybia to give up its weapons of mass destruction and come more into line with the world community.

And while much work remains regarding Iran’s nuclear development, America’s work with other countries, and through the United Nations, is having an effect on Iran.

Meanwhile, our troops and our work internationally in Afghanistan continue to show progress, even in light of the recent resurgence of the Taliban. Consider the historic role NATO is playing to help bring peace and stability to this far off land.

If we are accomplishing good in Afghanistan, why is the situation in Iraq still such a mess? And what can or should America do there now that will hasten Iraq’s move toward stability and the bringing of our troops home to America?

As my colleague from New Mexico, Heather Wilson, so eloquently and forcefully asked this week: What are America’s strategic interests in Iraq and how can we best achieve them?

These are the serious issues of our day. And these are the issues tragically missing from this non-binding resolution.

In this new world where war is not waged by armies in uniform with codes of honor, but by terrorists who blow up food markets and behead journalists, how do we respond in an effective way to prevent the insanity from coming again to our shores? How best do we prevent a whole region from ripping apart at the seams and perhaps taking much of the world with it?

While Congress has a clear, Constitutional role and responsibility when the nation is at war, where is the line that Congress should not cross? Are we really the best equipped to decide precisely how many reinforcements are sent into which battle? Isn’t that decision best left to the commanders in the field whom this Congress just unanimously approved to lead the effort?

Can Congress really give General Petraeus a unanimous vote of support to lead our effort in Iraq and then turn around and deny him the strategy he told us he believes is necessary to win?

A former colonel in the Air Force wrote to me recently on this very topic and she said some in Congress say they support General Petraeus and Admiral Fox Fallon but “”¦don’t want them to undertake the mission they were confirmed to do. It seems right out of Alice in Wonderland.”

And if Congress is going to make these decisions, then have we analyzed carefully where the other 134,754 troops are in Iraq and what they’re doing and where we want them to go every day? If my own son were in Iraq and his commanders said they needed reinforcements to protect their troops and accomplish their mission, I would not want a bunch of politicians in Washington standing in his way and threatening his security.

Another of the emails I received was from a veteran of the Vietnam War who, like many other veterans of that conflict, urged me to vote against the resolution that is before us today. He wrote:

“Our troops need unqualified support. They don’t need to be told they’re participating in a lost cause.”

Indeed, this two-sentence, non-binding resolution sends a very mixed message to our troops. Moreover, this resolution is a lost opportunity to address at least five major issues that a serious Congress would address:

First, this resolution fails to even mention the Iraqis’ role in this effort. Where’s a siren call for the Iraqi government to keep its word and perform as promised? We cannot be expected for long to do for Iraq what it is unwilling to do for itself.

Second, this resolution fails to even mention the need for this Administration to embrace the Iraq Study Group’s call for aggressive diplomatic initiatives with Syria, Iran and other nations in Iraq’s neighborhood. Where’s the call for enhanced diplomacy?

Third, this resolution fails to even mention the need to replenish the equipment that our National Guard units have left behind while serving their country overseas. My state’s National Guard’s ability to conduct training is deeply affected by a lack of equipment.

Fourth, this resolution fails to call on Iran, Syria and other nations to stop directly, or indirectly, supplying the weapons and explosives to those who detonate car bombs in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, killing women and children as they try to buy food in local markets. Where’s the condemnation of those who are supporting the random acts of violence? Where’s the condemnation of those who carry out these acts of urban terrorism?

Fifth, this resolution fails to define what our strategic national interests are in Iraq and how we can best achieve them.

I know that I stand alone in my state’s delegation by opposing this resolution. I’ve been told by some that I should just vote for this, it would be easier, politically, for me, because then the problem in Iraq is off my shoulders. It’s someone else’s problem. They will own it.

But I cannot do that and look myself in the mirror. I cannot ignore the counsel recently given to us by diplomats in the region whose advice we ignored when America took on this challenge and who now counsel us in the strongest of terms against leaving Iraq before the country is stabilized.

They’ve made it clear to this member of Congress that failure in Iraq will have grave and dangerous consequences to the entire region. In short, we broke it, we need to fix it before we leave.

But fixing Iraq does not mean ending all religious differences””differences that have ripped apart this region for more than 1,300 years. Fixing Iraq does not mean installing our form of democracy. Fixing Iraq means ensuring a new terrorist haven is not created or allowed to be created from which they can again train and plan safely to carry out attacks against the West. Fixing Iraq means ensuring that their government can stand on its own and not collapse into a sink hole that drags the other nations in the region into an abyss.

Given the glaring shortcomings of the non-binding resolution we have before us today, I will vote “no” for, as many of those who served in Vietnam have told me, its message does undercut our troops. Moreover, it fails to call for the increased diplomatic initiatives in the region, it fails to call for Iraq to do its part, it fails to define our strategic national interests of stabilizing Iraq so as to prevent the creation of another terrorist training haven, and it fails to address the very real needs of our National Guard.

It is unfortunate that the opportunity to actually affect these very serious policy choices was not allowed on the Floor of the House today. It is, indeed, a missed opportunity for America.