Speech at the Commonwealth Club
“Iraq: Credibility, Responsibility, Accountability”
San Francisco, July 6, 2005
Thank you, Dr. Fink, for that very kind introduction.
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 Americans.
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
Let me read you directly from my speech on the Senate floor on September
“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 justice…”
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
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 us.”
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 inauguration.
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
George Tenet, who called the WMD claims a “slam dunk” was
awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest
And the President? He had to know al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the
war. [SHOW CHART]. 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 billion.
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
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 quo.
So, we must, as I have said, start being credible, truthful, if we want
But it is also long past time for accountability, and that is my second
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
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
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 overnight.
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
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
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 protest.
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
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
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
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.