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Senator Barbara Boxer
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 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 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 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 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 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. [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 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 quo.

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 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 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 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 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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