House Petraeus Hearing Opening Statements

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Sep 10, 2007 2:11 PM
Transcript of Tom Lantos, Duncan Hunter, and Ileana Ross-Lehtenin:

 LANTOS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And, on behalf of all of the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I want to extend the most cordial welcome to our two distinguished witnesses.
Two of our nation's most capable public servants have come before us today to assess the situation in Iraq.

General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, every single one of us wants you to succeed in your efforts to the maximum possible extent.

We admire the heroism and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and the dedication of our diplomatic corps in Iraq. And we fully understand the terrible burden on their families.
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Our witnesses have been sent here this morning to restore credibility to a discredited policy. We and the American people already know that the situation in Iraq is grim and the growing majority of this Congress and of the American people want our troops out.

In October of 2003, I flew in a helicopter with you, General Petraeus, over northern Iraq around Mosul. As we passed over the countryside, you pointed out to me several ammunition dumps that had once belonged to the army of Saddam Hussain.

I don't have enough troops to guard these places, you said. Someday, this might come back to haunt us.

Well, General Petraeus, you saw it coming. Those unguarded ammo dumps became the arsenals of insurgency. Those weapons have been turned against us. How very typical of this war. The administration's myopic policies in Iraq have created a fiasco. Is it any wonder that, on the subject of Iraq, more and more Americans have little confidence in this administration?

We cannot take any of this administration's assertions on Iraq at face value anymore. And no amount of charts or statistics will improve its credibility.

This is not a knock on you, General Petraeus, or on you, Ambassador Crocker, but the fact remains, gentlemen, that the administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand.

With all due respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it. And neither does the independent General Accountability Office or the commission headed by General Jones. Both recently issued deeply disturbing and pessimistic reports.

The current escalation in our military presence in Iraq may have produced some technical successes. But strategically, the escalation has failed. It was intended to buy time for Prime Minister Maliki and the other Iraqi political leaders to find ways to move toward the one thing that may end this terrible civil conflict. And that, of course, is a political settlement. As best we can see, that time has been utterly squandered. Prime Minister Maliki has not shown the slightest inclination to move in the direction of compromise. Instead of working to build national institutions, a truly Iraqi army, a competent bureaucracy, and nonsectarian police force, Maliki has moved in the opposite direction.

The so-called Unity Accord, announced with such fanfare a couple of weeks ago, is just another in a long list of empty promises. Instead of acting as a leader for Iraq as a whole, Maliki has functioned as the front man for Shiite partisans. And he has presided over a Shiite coalition that includes some of the most notorious militias, death squads and sectarian thugs in Iraq. This is not what the American people had in mind. And when Mr. Maliki states, as he recently did that, if the Americans leave he can find, quote, new friends, we are reminded most forcefully of his and his party's intimate ties to Iran.

In his recent visit to Anbar province the president made much of our cooperation in the fight against Al Qaida with Sunni tribal militias. This alliance may, in the short run, be a positive development, but it also raises some serious and profound questions.

Anbar, of course, includes just 5 percent of the population of Iraq -- an important 5 percent, but still only 5. What's more, by arming, training and funding the Sunni militias in that province, we are working against our own strategy of building national Iraqi institutions.

America should not be in the business of arming, training and funding both sides of a religious civil war in Iraq.

Did the administration learn nothing from our country's actions in Afghanistan two decades ago when by supporting Islamic militants against the Soviet Union we helped pave the way for the rise of the Taliban? Why are we now repeating the shortsighted patterns of the past? In Iraq today, we are wrecking our military, forcing their families to suffer needlessly, sacrificing the lives of our brave young men and women in uniform.

And the enormous financial cost of this war is limiting our ability to address our global security needs, as well as pressing domestic problems such as health care, crumbling infrastructure and public education. The cost of this war in Iraq will be passed along to our grandchildren and beyond.

In the last few days, General Petraeus, media have reported that you are prepared to support a slow drawdown of our forces in Iraq, beginning with a brigade or two, perhaps at the end of this year.

This clearly is nowhere near enough. We need to send Maliki's government a strong message, loud and clear. Removing a brigade is nothing but a political whisper and it is unacceptable to the American people and the majority of the Congress. As long as American troops are doing the heavy lifting in Iraq, there is no reason, none at all, for the Iraqis themselves to step up.

Military progress without political progress is meaningless. It is their country, and it is their turn. Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi politicians needed to know that the free ride is over and that American troops will not be party to their civil war.

The situation in Iraq cries out for a dramatic change of course. We need to get out of Iraq, for that country's sake and for our own. It is time to go -- and to go now.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SKELTON: I thank the gentleman.

The gentleman from California, Mr. Hunter?

HUNTER: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I'd like to ask unanimous consent to put my written statement into the record.

SKELTON: Without objection.

HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

You know, Mr. Chairman, we generally pass the threshold question when we have witnesses appearing before us, that threshold question being the credibility and the credentials of the witnesses.

But I think it would be interesting to General Petraeus to know -- and perhaps he does know, and Ambassador Crocker to some degree -- that the last week or so has been spent attacking your credibility, with major attacks here in the United States, some of them emanating from right here, saying essentially that your testimony today is going to be, and I quote my friend from California, Mr. Lantos, not your testimony but the -- but testimony which is written by, quote, political operatives.

In fact, I know that's not the case. I haven't reviewed your testimony, but I know this: Duty, honor, country; those are the principles by which our great officers in the United States Army and the other services derive their careers and base their careers on.

We've asked you for an independent assessment.

And, frankly, Mr. Chairman, the idea that we have spent the last week prepping the battlefield by attacking the credibility of the messenger is something that I think goes against the tradition of this great House.

And the last thing that I saw that particularly irritated me was a massive full-page ad in, I think it was the New York Times, stating that General Petraeus is, in fact, General Betray Us. That's moveon.org. Mr. Chairman, one of the great assets of this country is the professionalism and the capability and the integrity of the people who lead our armed forces. General Petraeus is coming back, not just as guy who's going to give us his take on the Iraq situation, but as the leader of more than 160,000 American personnel in uniform in Iraq.

And they're not only watching his testimony, but they're also watching our testimony. They're watching how we treat him. They're watching this Congress to see if we give credibility to what people in uniform say.

And so, Mr. Chairman, I think it's an outrage that we spent the last week prepping the ground, bashing the credibility of a general officer whose trademark is integrity, who was unanimously supported by the U.S. Senate for his position. And unanimity in the U.S. Senate is almost a majority these days.

And also Mr. Crocker, who brings an outstanding, unblemished record in the United States State Department to this very difficult position. Now, you know, I haven't read General Petraeus' report. But I do know some of the facts. I know the fact that we had 1,350 attacks in Anbar Province last October, that that is down by 80 percent.

Now, my friend, Mr. Lantos, has pointed out that Anbar is about 5 percent of the population. Say to my friend -- that's true. But at times in this war, it has been 50 percent of the American casualties.

And, therefore, what happens in Anbar Province is of importance to Americans; not just to the general public, but to the mothers and fathers and to the service people themselves who serve in that very difficult theater.  Now, in my estimation, the stand-up of the Iraqi military is the key to a stabilized Iraq, and that means those 131 battalions that we have trained and equipped.

And for those who said that we could have kept Saddam Hussein's army in place and that was somehow a major blunder, I'm reminded that Saddam Hussein's army had 11,000 Sunni generals.

Now, what are you going to do with an army with 11,000 Sunni generals, literally squads of generals, many of whom who have made their careers beating up on a Shiite population when that army is supposed to be the honest broker that brings reconciliation to the communities in Iraq?

And you know something? If you look at the leadership of the Iraqi army now, as shaped by General Petraeus and his subordinates, you now see Shiites in leadership positions. You see Sunnis in leadership positions. You see Kurds in leadership positions. You see a military which is starting to emerge as a professional force.

And for those who say that we could have simply adopted Saddam Hussein's army and that would have been the, quote, smooth road, there is absolutely no precedent for that.

Mr. Chairman, I've been here before. I was here when the left in this body said that if we stood up to the Russians in Central Europe we would bring on another war, that President Ronald Reagan was going to bring on World War III.

Instead, we held tough. We stood tough. And we brought down the Berlin Wall.

And I was here when, in Central America, when we had the communists supplying the FMLN and we put a small protection around that fragile government, and we allowed them to have free and fair elections. I remember people in this body saying that would be our next Vietnam, we would be bogged down.

Well, we hung tough, we provided that shield, and today there's El Salvadorans standing with American forces in Iraq.

Now, the key to having a stabilized Iraq which is a friend, not an enemy of the United States, which will not be a state sponsor of terrorism for the next five to 10 to 15 to 20 years, in my estimation is a successful hand-off of the security apparatus from American forces to the Iraqi armed forces. And that requires one thing. It requires reliability, having a reliable Iraqi force. And that is manifest in those 131 battalions that are now maturing.

And the idea that this Congress is going to arbitrarily overlay a requirement for a reduction in America's forces when we are moving toward a maturing of the Iraqi forces and a successful hand-off, which will be a victory for the United States, I think should not be supported by this body.

So, Mr. Chairman, let's lead off this hearing with this stipulation: that the gentlemen who are appearing before us, and particularly General Petraeus whose credibility has been attacked all week long by the Left in this country, represents the very best in military tradition.

But he is going to testify with an independent, candid view, and he is going to give us the one thing we ask of all of our military officers. And that is a candid, independent assessment given with integrity in the same tradition of MacArthur and Eisenhower and Schwarzkopf.

I look forward to this hearing, Mr. Chairman.

SKELTON: Thank the gentleman.

Be understood that the capability, the integrity, the intelligence, and the wisdom of our two witnesses requires nothing but admiration from me and those of us about to receive their testimony.

I have had a long friendship with General Petraeus. And when a few moments ago in my opening statement I said he is one of the best, he is. We expect their best judgment, and we will receive it. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Gentlemen, for your leadership and for the dedication of all who serve with you, our nation is eternally grateful.

As the wife of a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded in combat, I understand the sacrifices that you and all of our men and women defending our nation's security interests in Iraq and beyond have made and continue to make on a daily basis.

I experience the anxiety of having one's children in harm's way, as my stepson Douglas and daughter-in-law, Lindsay, both Marine captains, served in Iraq and now Lindsay continues to serve in Afghanistan.

I take comfort listening to them defend the importance of our mission in Iraq, for our broader regional interests and strategic priorities, including our efforts to protect our homeland.

They understand what is at stake. And they remind me that we cannot yield the victory to the radical Islamists.

Their words resonate so profoundly today on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the horrific events of September 11th. Douglas and Lindsay were in Iraq during the historic elections and described the sight of Iraqi families lining up to vote for the first time, bringing their children as witnesses, despite the Al Qaida threats that the streets would run red with the blood of anyone who voted. They said it was nothing less than awe-inspiring.

They will never forget that sight. And they ask Congress to never forget it either. They believe that those Iraqi voters deserve our continued assistance. They believe the Iraqis are worth it, and I do as well.

General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, do you think so as well? It is also significant that on the eve of this grim anniversary, we would be holding a hearing highlighting the contrast between those of us who are inspired by this new greatest generation and believe that we must confront and defeat Al Qaida and other jihadists on the Iraqi battlefield, and those of us who believe that we should simply retreat.

I am distressed by the accusations leveled by some in the media and by some members of Congress during hearings like these, calling into question the integrity of our military, accusing the military of cherry-picking positive numbers to reflect a dramatic decline in sectarian violence. Some in Congress accuse you, General Petraeus, of presenting a report that is simply White House propaganda.

I have more respect for the military and for the military leaders' regard for the men and women whom they lead, than to believe that you would misrepresent the facts and alter conclusions to serve partisan purposes.

I trust your reporting and that of our troops on the ground regarding the levels of sectarian violence over those compiled by individuals and entities who wish to discredit the information to justify an immediate withdrawal.

General Petraeus, does this report reflect your knowledge and conclusions regarding the facts on the ground in Iraq? Do you stand behind it? The personal attacks launched today by moveon.org against General Petraeus, calling this man of honor and courage General Betray Us in a full-page ad in the New York Time is outrageous and it is deplorable. It has been reported that the organization that paid for this ad has been coordinating its efforts in the last few months with certain members to derail the strategy spearheaded by you, General Petraeus. I sincerely hope that those reports are untrue.

In an interview reported in The Politico published just last Friday, an anonymous Democratic senator was quoted as saying, No one wants to call Petraeus a liar on national TV. The expectation is that outside groups will do this for us.

This cannot be tolerated. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to publicly denounce the ad that says that you are cooking the books for the White House and to apologize to you, General Petraeus, for casting doubt upon your integrity.

Today's hearing must focus on answering fundamental questions. How do we achieve critical U.S. strategic objectives? What policies will help us defend and advance our nation's security interests?

The development of viable, stable, representative government with economic development and political freedom for their citizens is a key element of our broad strategic approach to the war against Islamic militants, and this is considered by radical Islamists as the greatest threat to their aims, which is why Islamic jihadists, including Al Qaida, are blocking the development of such institutions in Iraq.

Radical Islam sees Iraq as a central front in their war on freedom. The enemies of the emerging Iraqi representative government as the enemies of democracies everywhere. They are our enemies, as well. Do we fight and defeat this enemy?

We must not fool ourselves into believing that we can accommodate our enemies and thereby secure their cooperation. Accommodation has been tried in the past, with catastrophic consequences.

Chamberlain genuinely believed that he had bought peace in our time, washing his hands of what he believed to be an isolated dispute in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. Chamberlain only ensured that an immensely larger threat was thereby unleashed.

Many speak of national reconciliation and granting amnesty as if the Mahdi Army, other Islamic jihadists, Al Qaida in Iraq, would lay down their arms simply because the Iraqi central government or the U.S. Congress asked them to.

Our military strategy and our presence in Iraq is critical to progress on the political front, which helps ensure long-term security goals. Iraq has taken significant steps toward building a representative government, but it does have a long way to go on this difficult road.

Our own history reminds us of how truly difficult that road is, but also of how worthy is the goal.

Yet, rapid withdrawal from Iraq would transmit to the radical Islamists that America has little real commitment to this goal and will abandon its stated core beliefs for temporary short-term relief.

There could be no greater confirmation of radical Islam's indictment of this decadent West and its great Satan, us, America, which, in their view, is weak and unreliable.

The latest NIE on Iraq said perception that the coalition is withdrawing probably will encourage factions anticipating a power vacuum to seek local political solutions and security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence and intra-sectarian competition. Precipitous withdrawal plays into the Islamic terrorist agenda. Al Qaida leader al-Zawahiri has affirmed jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals.

First, expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage, establish an Islamic authority. The third stage, extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage, the clash with Israel.

The enemy, however, did not count on the United States regaining the initiative and going on the offensive throughout this strategy behind the surge. This strategy has driven a wedge between Al Qaida and the Sunni population and that will help drive a similar wedge between the Shia extremists, particularly those in Sadr's Mahdi militia.

The Jones report suggests that the Iraqi security forces have made progress -- with the exception of the national police, which are not to be confused with the Iraqi police. The report concluded that there should be increasing improvements in both their readiness and their capability to provide for the internal security in Iraq.

As President Reagan would remind us, the ultimate determinant in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas.

A trial of a spiritual resolve --for all who have served and died defending what our nation holds dear, I hope that we, too, rise to the occasion and not let them down by precipitously withdrawing from the fight before the mission is truly accomplished.

Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.