McCain on Feingold Bill

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Feb 26, 2008 5:06 PM

I'm not sure how helpful it is for John McCain to reference Russ Feindgold, but today, he submitted the following statement about the Feingold bill to withdrawl troops from Iraq.[# More #]

Mr. President, I strongly oppose, as I have before, the legislation offered by the Senator from Wisconsin.   

This bill would mandate a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq and cut off funds for our troops 120 days after enactment.  The one exception would be for a small force authorized only to carry out narrowly defined missions.  If this latest attempt sounds familiar, it should – the majority has thus far engaged in no less than 40 legislative attempts to achieve this misguided outcome.  And, just like the 40 votes that preceded this one, the result of this effort will undoubtedly be the same.   

The reason is clear.  To pass such legislation would be to court disaster, and to set a date certain for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, regardless of the conditions on the ground or the implications for our national security, would be tantamount to setting a date for surrender.  Should we ignore the signs of real progress in Iraq and legislate a premature end to our efforts there, the Congress would be complicit in all the terrible and predictable consequences that would ensue.   

The Senate, in facing this choice time and again over the past year, has voted against legislated surrender in Iraq.  Instead, we have decided to build on the clear successes of our new strategy and to give General David Petraeus and the troops under his command the time and support they have requested to carry out their mission.  The interests of America, the future of the Iraqi people, and the stability of the Middle East are the better for it.   

But the Senate has come to this conclusion only after repeated attempts to do what the proponents of this bill would have us do today – bring the war in Iraq to a premature and disastrous close through legislative fiat.  If ever there was a case for precipitous withdrawal from Iraq – and I believe there never was – now is the last time anyone should consider such a step.  If abandoning Iraq was a terrible idea when we were unsuccessful in our efforts there, it is a catastrophic proposal today, when we are winning. 

The supporters of withdrawal said in 2007 that the surge could never work, that extra American brigades could do nothing to bring greater security to Iraq, that no new counterinsurgency strategy could succeed in protecting the population.  We were losing in Iraq, they said, and nothing could change that.  Some even declared that the war was already lost.   

But they were wrong.  As General Petraeus put it in his end of the year letter to the troops, “A year ago, Iraq was racked by horrific violence and on the brink of civil war.  Now, levels of violence and civilian and military casualties are significantly reduced and hope has been rekindled in many Iraqi communities.”  In fact, the surge has succeeded well beyond the projections of even most optimists.  Let me cite a few examples. 

In Baghdad, ethno-sectarian violence has fallen over 90 percent in a year.  IED attacks in Baghdad are down by 45 percent since February 2007.  The specter of civil war in Iraq’s capital, a real threat when the surge began, has retreated significantly.  The capital’s population has begun to retake its streets, its schools, and its markets.    

The remarkable progress is not confined only to Baghdad.  Attacks have decreased in 17 of 18 provinces in Iraq since the surge began.  In the country as a whole, attacks are down by some 60 percent and stand at the level experienced in early 2005 or even 2004.  Car bombs across Iraq are down, the number of civilian deaths has fallen, and IED explosions are down, all by significant margins.  Intelligence tips are up, discovery of weapons and explosive caches have increased, and Al Qaeda is on the run, having been forced by U.S. and Iraqi troops out of the urban areas like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, and Baquba and into isolated rural areas.  U.S. casualties, too, have fallen significantly, even in the midst of ongoing operations.   

As General Barry McCaffrey put it in a recent report, Iraq is seeing “dramatically reduced levels of civilian sectarian violence, political assassinations, abductions, and small arms/indirect fire and IED attacks on U.S. and Iraqi Police and Army Forces.  This is the unmistakable new reality . . . The national security debate must move on to an analysis of why this new political and security situation exists – not whether it exists.”    

In the face of such facts, it is beyond perplexing to see the proponents of this legislation seek not to consolidate our gains and ensure that they continue, but rather to force a troop withdrawal that would reverse all of the achievements I just cited.  Understanding what we now know – that our military is making remarkable progress on the ground, and that their commanders request from us the time and support necessary to succeed in Iraq – it is inconceivable that we in Congress would end this strategy just as it is succeeding. 

This is not to say that all is rosy in Iraq.  It is not, and neither I nor our military commanders make any such argument.  The cumulative results of nearly four years of mismanaged war cannot be reversed overnight.  Al Qaeda is on the run but has not disappeared, and we can expect them to fight back.  Fighting among Shia factions in the south presents a significant challenge, and violence and crime remain at unacceptably high levels in a number of areas.  The road in Iraq remains, as it always has been, long and hard.  But this is an argument for continuing our successful strategy, not for abandoning it in favor of sure failure.   

At some point last year, a few of the proponents of withdrawal from Iraq began conceding that the surge was having tangible, positive effects.  They went on to argue, however, that securing the population was irrelevant, as the point of the surge was to see political progress and there had been none.  Yet even while this new debate began, political progress at the local level took off across Iraq.  Tens of thousands of Iraqis – most of them Sunnis who were, or would have been, part of the anti-coalition insurgency – joined Concerned Local Citizens groups and aligned themselves with our efforts.  Moqtada al-Sadr announced that the Mahdi Army would observe a six-month ceasefire, a pledge he renewed just last week for an additional six months.  In Anbar and elsewhere, local populations turned to the coalition and against al Qaeda, turning that province from Iraq’s most dangerous into one of its safest.   

In the face of these new facts, supporters of withdrawal changed their argument yet again.  Maybe the surge had brought about greater security, they said, and perhaps this had helped generate political progress at the local level, as counterinsurgency doctrine would suggest.  But this was irrelevant, they said, so long as national level political reconciliation is lacking – and since we can never expect that, the troops must leave.   

Yet they were wrong again.  In January, the Iraqi parliament passed the long-awaited de-Baathification law that restores the eligibility of thousands of former party members for government jobs lost because of their Baathist affiliation.  Earlier this month, a provincial powers law passed that devolves a significant amount of power to the provinces and mandates new provincial elections by October 1 of this year.  The parliament passed a partial amnesty for detainees that can facilitate reconciliation among the sects, and it completed a landmark 2008 budget.     

Again, these significant achievements come coupled with remaining challenges.  Parliament has yet to pass an oil law, though oil revenues are being shared in its absence; the Maliki government remains unwilling to function and provide services as it must, and other difficulties abound.  Yet it is telling that in his latest report, military analyst Anthony Cordesman said, “No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. . . If the U.S. provides sustained support to the Iraqi government – in security, governance, and development – there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.” 

No one can guarantee success in Iraq or be certain about its prospects.  We can be sure, however, that should the United States Congress succeed in terminating the strategy by legislating an abrupt withdrawal and a transition to a new, less effective and more dangerous course – should we do that, then we will fail for certain.  

Let us make no mistake about the costs of such an American failure in Iraq.  Should Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.  If we leave, we will be back – in Iraq and elsewhere – in many more desperate fights to protect our security and at an even greater cost in American lives and treasure.   

In his testimony before the Armed Services Committee in September, General Petraeus referred to an August Defense Intelligence Agency report that stated, “…a rapid withdrawal would result in the further release of strong centrifugal forces in Iraq and produce a number of dangerous results, including a high risk of disintegration of the Iraqi Security Forces; a rapid deterioration of local security initiatives; al Qaeda-Iraq regaining lost ground and freedom of maneuver; a marked increase in violence and further ethno-sectarian displacement and refugee flows; and exacerbation of already challenging regional dynamics, especially with respect to Iran.” 

Those are the likely consequences of a precipitous withdrawal, and I hope that the supporters of such a move will tell us how they intend to address the chaos and catastrophe that would surely follow such a course of action.  Should we leave Iraq before there is a basic level of stability, we invite chaos, genocide, terrorist safehavens and regional war.  We invite further Iranian influence at a time when Iranian operatives are already moving weapons, training fighters, providing resources, and helping plan operations to kill American soldiers and damage our efforts to bring stability to Iraq.  If our notions of national security have any meaning, they cannot include permitting the establishment of an Iranian dominated Middle East that is roiled by wider regional war and riddled with terrorist safehavens.   

The supporters of this amendment claim that they do not by any means intend to cede the battlefield to al Qaeda; on the contrary, their legislation would allow U.S. forces, presumably holed up in forward operating bases, to carry out “targeted operations, limited in duration and scope, against members of al Qaeda and affiliated international terrorist organizations.”  But such a provision draws a false distinction between terrorism and sectarian violence, between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  Moving in with search and destroy missions to kill and capture terrorists, only to immediately cede the territory to the enemy, is the failed strategy of the war’s first four years.  We should not, and must not, return to such a disastrous course.   

Americans were divided over this war from the beginning, and we remain so today.  All of us want our troops to come home, and to come home as soon as possible.  But how we leave – that is of the utmost importance.  We must not leave, as the supporters of this amendment would have it, in a way that erodes all the security gains that our brave men and women have fought so hard to achieve and in a way that puts us on the road to surrender.  The stakes are too high, we have come too far and sacrificed too much for that.  Instead of surrendering, we should persevere with the pursuit of our strategic objectives:  to defeat al Qaeda, not be defeated by it; to implant in Iraq the forces of stability and tolerance, not chaos and civil war; to demonstrate that America keeps its word with its friends and allies, rather than abandoning them to horrific consequences.  The American soldiers we have sent to battle deserve to return to us with honor – the honor of victory that is due all of those who have paid with the ultimate sacrifice.   

Before I close, I would note that there will be another vote soon on the motion to proceed to legislation requiring the Administration to develop a new al Qaeda strategy within 60 days, and to report it to Congress.  I oppose putting such a mandate in law for several reasons.  The National Security Act of 1947 requires the President to transmit to Congress each year a comprehensive report on the National Security Strategy of the United States.  Title 10 requires the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to produce a National Military Strategy and to conduct a biennial review of that strategy, a review that was recently completed.  The Chairman has indicated that a new National Military Strategy is under development and, of course, the next President will be required to issue a fresh National Security Strategy.  In short there are, and will remain, a number of legislative requirements for security strategies that include a counterterrorism approach.  Finally, this bill would attempt to limit the President’s use of the military by imposing dwell times for our forces.  While I fully support the goal of achieving sustainable dwell times for our armed forces, I do not believe that we should try to force such a restriction on the President irrespective of any contravening interests. 

Mr. President, as the debate over Iraq goes on, let us remember to whom and what we owe our first allegiance – to the security of the American people and to the ideals upon which our nation was founded.  That responsibility is our dearest privilege and to be judged by history to have discharged it honorably will, in the end, matter so much more to all of us than any fleeting glory of popular acclaim, electoral advantage or office. I hope we might all have good reason to expect a kinder judgment of our flaws and follies because when it mattered most we chose to put the interests of our great and good nation before our own, and helped, in our own small way, preserve for all humanity the magnificent and inspiring example of an assured, successful and ever advancing America and the ideals that make us still the greatest nation on earth.  

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