The Original American Malcontent

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Boxer Speech at the Commonwealth Club

    Dear Friend:

    I recently gave a major speech to the Commonwealth Club in San
    Francisco about Iraq.  I thought you might be interested in my
    comments which follow.


    Barbara Boxer
    United States Senator

    Senator Barbara Boxer
    Speech at the Commonwealth Club
    “Iraq: Credibility, Responsibility, Accountability”
    San Francisco
    July 6, 2005

    It is a great honor to be back at the Commonwealth Club.

    When I decided to give a speech about Iraq, I knew I wanted to
    give it here. That’s because of the pivotal role the
    Commonwealth Club has played for more than 100 years, fostering
    real dialogue on the critical challenges that define the times
    in which we live.

    Today, those challenges are vast, from the Supreme Court
    vacancy to the attack on Social Security. But the war in Iraq
    is the most daunting because the status quo-of Americans dying,
    of Iraqis dying, of young soldiers coming home by the thousands
    with injuries to mind and body-weighs so heavily on all

    As a policy maker, I must push as hard as I can for a strategy
    that can succeed in Iraq and bring our brave men and women
    home. That will only happen if we immediately bring
    credibility, accountability, and responsibility to a war that
    has been lacking in all three. 

    Last week, President Bush had a chance to regain credibility
    when it comes to Iraq. In my opinion, he did not.

    He mentioned 9/11 five times in 30 minutes, despite the fact
    that there is absolutely no connection between Iraq and that
    tragic day.

    Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity. The war of necessity
    was the war against Osama bin Laden that we launched after
    9/11…the war that every single Senator voted for…the war that
    was a clear response to the vicious attack of that day.

    That’s why I was incredulous when Karl Rove said: "Liberals saw
    the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to offer therapy
    and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the
    savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.”

    Therapy? By rewriting history, President Bush’s chief advisor
    is either trying to divide our nation or divert attention from
    what is happening in Iraq.

    Let me read you directly from my speech on the Senate floor on
    September 12th.

    “We are resolved to hold those who planned these attacks and
    who harbor these people absolutely 100 percent accountable.
    They must pay because this is the test of a civilized nation…We
    will not back down. I stand proudly with my colleagues on both
    sides of the aisle and with our President. We will be resolved
    to do everything-and do it well and do it right-to bring

    After 9/11, the Congress was determined to dedicate as many
    resources as necessary to find the people who planned the
    attack. We knew they were in Afghanistan. We knew the Taliban
    was complicit. And, very important, we knew that the entire
    world was standing with us.

    Instead, the Administration took its eye off the ball and
    focused on Iraq.

    On September 12, the same day that I spoke on the Senate floor,
    the top terrorism expert at the White House, Richard Clarke,
    sat down with the president and a few colleagues in the
    Situation Room. He describes this scene in his book. I quote:

    “`Look,’ [the President] told us, `I know you have a lot to do
    and all…but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over
    everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he’s
    linked in any way.’

    “I was once again taken back, incredulous, and it showed,’
    Clarke wrote. ‘But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this.’

    `I know, I know, but…see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I
    want to know any shred.’

    `Absolutely, we will look…again.’ I was trying to be more
    respectful, more responsive. `But, you know, we have looked
    several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found
    any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does
    Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen.’

    `Look into Iraq, Saddam,’ the President said testily and left

    No link was found. And yet, according to Bob Woodward, two
    months later, the President took Rumsfeld aside and asked,
    “What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the
    status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to
    keep it secret.”

    Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says that going after Saddam
    was raised at a meeting just 10 days after the first

    And then there’s the now-famous Downing Street memo. In July
    2002, months before Bush asked Congress for authority to wage
    war in Iraq, the head of British intelligence reported that,
    and I quote: “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military
    action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [Weapons
    of Mass Destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being
    fixed around the policy.”

    So, what happened to the President’s aides who misled the
    public about the connection between 9/11 and Iraq, those who
    falsely claimed that this war was about terrorism, and that it
    wouldn’t cost us much-in lives, troops, or dollars?

    Condi Rice, who said “We do know that there have been shipments
    going…into…Iraq…of aluminum tubes that…are really only suited
    for nuclear weapons programs,” was promoted to be our Secretary
    of State.

    Paul Wolfowitz, who said, “Like the people in France in the
    1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator,” got the top
    job at the World Bank.

    George Tenet, who called the WMD claims a “slam dunk,” was
    awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest
    civilian honor.

    And the President? He had to know al Qaeda was not in Iraq
    before the war. His own State Department issued a report right
    after 9/11. It lists 45 countries in which al Qaeda operated.
    Guess who was not on that list? Iraq.

    Now, there were some who tried to speak the truth. But they
    didn’t last long in the Bush Administration.

    Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill are both gone.

    Army Vice Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki estimated that
    it could take “several hundred thousand” soldiers to
    successfully stabilize Iraq, Wolfowitz called that number
    “wildly off the mark.” Shinseki retired early.   

    White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey said that a U.S.
    intervention in Iraq could cost between $100 and $200 billion.
    He was disputed, and ultimately left.  We’ve now surpassed $200

    The rest of us were told we had no right to criticize the
    President in a time of war.

    Twenty-six months ago, President Bush told us our mission was
    accomplished. It wasn’t. And do you know why? The
    Administration knew how to win phase one-the military
    invasion-but had absolutely no plan to win phase two-the peace.
    As former NSC Advisor Brzezinski said, “This war has been
    conducted with “tactical and strategic incompetence.”

    So, where we are now? We have already lost 1,746 Americans in
    Iraq, 13,190 have been wounded. According to the New England
    Journal of Medicine, up to 17 percent of Iraq veterans suffer
    from major depression, generalized anxiety or post traumatic
    stress disorder. Divorces for active duty and enlisted
    personnel has nearly doubled and 8,000 Iraqis have been killed.

    Here is the unvarnished truth. The Bush Administration’s
    failures thus far have left us with no good choices. If you
    went to the doctor with a diseased kidney and he took out the
    wrong one, you would feel distressed, angry, and frustrated
    about your options.

    And that’s how many Americans feel now-distressed, angry and
    frustrated at the difficult situation facing our country and
    troops. All Americans love, support, and pray for our soldiers.
    The point is that our troops deserve far more than the status

    So, we must, as I have said, start being credible, truthful, if
    we want to succeed.

    But it is also long past time for accountability, and that is
    my second point.

    Last month, I co-sponsored Senator Feingold’s resolution asking
    the President to submit to Congress the remaining mission in
    Iraq, the time frame needed to achieve that mission, and a time
    frame for the subsequent withdrawal of our troops. Why?

    Because after two and a half years at war, the American people
    finally need to hear what our mission is and a detailed plan to
    accomplish it. That will give our soldiers and citizens hope
    and confidence.

    It is difficult to keep track of all the missions we’ve had so
    far in Iraq. There was the weapons of mass destruction mission.
    Then the regime change mission. Then the rebuilding mission.
    Then the democracy mission.

    And finally, terrorism, which the president mentioned more than
    30 times in his speech. “Our mission in Iraq is clear,” he
    said. “We will hunt down the terrorists.”

    That mission is a guarantee of a never-ending cycle of violence
    because our open-ended presence in Iraq is itself fueling the
    recruitment of terrorists. With that as a mission, we will find
    ourselves on a treadmill that never stops. We stay there to
    hunt down the terrorists and more terrorists are recruited, so
    we fight them and more terrorists are recruited and so the
    cycle goes.

    Let’s be clear: “What we have done in Iraq,” terrorism expert
    Peter Bergen explained, “is what bin Laden could not have hoped
    for in his wildest dreams…It’s hard to imagine a set of
    policies better designed to sabotage the war on terrorism.”

    A report issued by the CIA’s think tank found that Iraq has
    replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next
    generation of “professionalized” terrorists. But, the tragic
    irony is, terrorism was the result of the war, not a reason for
    waging it and so we are in greater danger.

    I believe our mission in Iraq is this: Security for Iraqis
    provided by Iraqis. We need a Manhattan project to train the
    Iraqi soldiers and a successful plan to tighten the borders,
    which should include troops from around the world.

    And what about our democratic goals? Yes, we must help the
    Iraqis create a government in which everyone has a stake,
    including the Sunnis. But, while we will likely continue to
    play an advisory role if asked, we cannot tie current troop
    levels to the goal of a well-functioning democracy, which, even
    under the best circumstances, takes generations to perfect.
    Ours certainly did.
    And that brings me to this point. The Administration
    continually compares Iraq’s struggle for democracy to our
    country’s struggle for democracy. Fine. But we fought for it
    with our own people. That’s what countries do. Others helped
    us, sure. But the people power was American.

    If there is to be a free Iraq, and I certainly hope there will
    be, then the Iraqis must want that freedom-and be willing to
    defend it-as much as we want it for them. 

    We need to hear from the Administration exactly how many Iraqi
    forces are needed; how to meet that goal; and by when. And the
    current pace will not cut it.

    In March, I went to Iraq with six other Senators of both
    parties. You can read or hear about it, but nothing can prepare
    you for seeing the security challenges we face there.

    Outside a meeting room I sat in, located in the safe green
    zone, two people had recently been killed. In the building
    where the Assembly gathers, the security was even more intense.
    Two guards with machine guns had to stand beside each of us
    everywhere we went.

    We watched the dynamic U.S. Army Lieutenant General, David
    Petraeus, train the Iraqi security forces. He told us he has
    enormous confidence in the ability of the Iraqis to take over
    their own security soon.

    Yet when we talked to the Prime Minister, Ibrahim Jafari, he
    was in no rush at all, emphasizing that you can’t build an army

    So how many Iraqi troops do we have right now? The answers are
    all over the map. Recently, the Pentagon said they have 107
    battalions, totaling 169,000 men.

    But of those 107 battalions, military commanders consider that
    only about 5,000 Iraqi soldiers are capable of carrying out
    missions on their own. That’s especially troubling when you
    consider the size of the insurgency, which has been estimated
    at anything from 12,000 to 50,000 with many more supporters.

    We must enlist all the countries willing to train Iraqi
    security forces outside of Iraq. France has offered.  Egyptians
    have offered.  The Jordanians have offered. Yet, Senator Biden
    says that none of these offers has been taken up.  It’s time.
    It’s past time. 

    When the Administration said that our allies who opposed the
    war need not apply for reconstruction contracts, the message
    was clear and counterproductive.  What a mistake. Leadership is
    now needed to turn this around, and make reconstruction truly
    the world’s responsibility.

    Because inside Iraq, water, electricity, and fuel are in short
    supply.  Sewage still runs through the streets. The situation
    in Baghdad is so bad that the Mayor has threatened to resign in

    Despite all those claims that Iraqi oil would pay for its
    reconstruction, we are still paying most of it.  I believe more
    of the reconstruction money now going to Halliburton-who just
    over-billed our government by $1 billion-should go to the
    Iraqis so they can rebuild their own country.

    So, where is the Congress in all of this? In every other war,
    Congress has played an oversight role. We are the voice of the
    American people. And the American people, who are fighting in
    and paying for this war, deserve to know the truth about
    everything. The truth about how we are measuring up to our
    highest ideals, including what happened at Abu Ghraib, a
    scandal that sickened everyone who saw those photos and has
    placed our brave troops in more danger.

    And they deserve to know the truth about whether we are meeting
    our clearly-stated goals in Iraq-and, if not, why?

    The Administration should come to the Hill often to report on
    specific progress. And the president himself should meet with
    the Senate in private sessions. Quite frankly, there are
    Senators of both parties-including Inouye, Warner, Lautenberg,
    McCain, Kerry, and Hagel-who have seen far more battles than
    the President and his core national security team. It would be
    wise to listen to these Senators.  

    We have no idea-none-how long the Administration plans to be in
    Iraq. Is it two years, ten, twenty? Condi Rice now calls it “a
    generational commitment.” The President’s message of "as long
    as it takes" is counterproductive.

    Retired General Gregory Newbold, who was one of the central
    planners of phase one of the war, told us: “We have to
    understand that the fundamental reason for the insurgency, the
    thing that ties all the various groups together, is their view
    that we are an occupying power.”

    It is time for the President to send a clear message that we do
    not intend to remain in Iraq indefinitely or maintain permanent
    bases there.  That doesn’t mean we should set an exact date for
    withdrawal. But it does mean we need a general timeframe to
    complete the mission.  

    And that brings me to my third and final point-responsibility.
    Responsibility to our troops and to the next generation.

    In his speech, the President told us how important it was to
    honor the courageous young men and women of the military on the
    4th of July. And I couldn’t have agreed more.

    But, to me, we need to do more than that. We must also honor
    our soldiers every day by giving them the equipment they need
    while they are deployed and the health care they deserve when
    they come home.

    Many of us have heard the heartbreaking stories about the
    soldiers sent to Iraq without proper armor to protect their
    bodies or vehicles.  One wrote: “My mother, an elementary
    school teacher, shipped the bullet-proof ceramic plates to me
    from the States. Other soldiers weren’t so lucky, having to
    raid buildings and patrol dangerous streets while wearing
    inferior Vietnam-era flak jackets.”

    Another wrote: “I was driving a high-back humvee with no
    armor…I lost three fingers on my left hand and took shrapnel in
    my legs and chest. Would an uparmor kit have kept my fingers
    from being blown off? No one will ever know for sure, but I
    think so.”  

    When roadside bombs are now the weapon of choice for
    insurgents, how can we fail to give our soldiers the jamming
    devices they need to protect themselves?

    But, in April, I had to fight-too hard-for an amendment to
    provide $60 million for jamming devices. And, we had to
    fight-too hard-to get the Administration to finally admit that
    it was $1 billion short of funds to provide health care for
    soldiers returning from war.

    It’s also no secret that we are facing a serious recruiting
    crisis, which the chief of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command
    called “the toughest recruiting climate ever faced by the
    all-volunteer army.”

    More pressure on recruiters is making some so desperate they
    are encouraging recruits to lie about their education and
    fitness to serve. And new aggressive ways of gathering data on
    high school students is angering parents, and not respecting
    family values.

    But those who are bearing the brunt of this recruiting crisis
    are our soldiers and their families. Many are forced to serve
    on multiple tours in Iraq, missing birthdays, wedding
    anniversaries, and the small moments that make up our life
    stories. National Guard and reserves are being kept away from
    both their families and their jobs.

    And what about those who make the ultimate sacrifice? Shouldn’t
    we honor, not hide, them? We should see photos of their
    flag-draped coffins. We should see the President or his
    personally appointed representatives meeting the coffins when
    they arrive-every single one.

    But we must do far more. We owe it to the fallen, to all those
    who serve bravely now, and those who will do so in the future,
    to get this war right. We cannot rewrite the history of the
    last three years, but we can write a new chapter in this war.

    On December 11, Bob Woodward had just finished his second
    interview with President Bush. They stood by the glass doors
    looking out on the Rose Garden. And Woodward asked him, “Well,
    how is history likely to judge your Iraq war?”

    “And he said, ‘History,’ and then he took his hands out of his
    pocket and kind of shrugged and extended his hands as if to say
    this is a way off. And then he said, ‘History, we don’t know.
    We’ll all be dead.”

    Imagine if our forefathers fighting for independence had
    thought that way? Or those who fought in the Civil War? Or in
    the World Wars?  Or those who risked their lives-like Martin
    Luther King Jr.-for civil rights? Or suffragists who almost
    died in a hunger strike for the right of women to vote. 

    When Americans dedicate, and even sacrifice, their lives for
    what is right, we do it because we have a sacred responsibility
    to those who come after us to leave behind a world that is
    better, not worse, than the one we found.

    Because, 20, 50, even 100 years from now, another group will
    gather in this spot to discuss issues of war and peace. And,
    when they do, I hope they look back and say that the summer of
    2005 is when Americans brought credibility, accountability, and
    responsibility to a very tough situation.

    I hope they say that we finally began to level with the
    American people. That we articulated a winnable mission and a
    detailed plan to fulfill it. And that we gave our troops the
    support they needed and deserved in Iraq and upon their return
    to our beloved shores.

    We owe it to our soldiers, to the American people, to Iraqis,
    and, yes, to history, to do nothing less.


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