Update: Democrats in Senate not suggesting pullout
While Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) delivered a landmark speech in terms of outlining his party's strategy for Iraq, Democratic senators have yet to embrace the pullout goal of Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), who made waves in the House last week.
Aides to several Democratic senators tell RAW STORY they had not seen specific changes among Democrats' positions since Murtha's emotional call for withdrawal.
"We're waiting to see what the next steps are, but whether senators are embracing Murtha or Feingoldís (D-WI) position, I donít think thatís out there yet," one Democratic leadership aide said.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has called for the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops at the end of 2006.
Biden's speech, delivered to the Council of Foreign Relations, sketched out a strategy that included (1) forging better alliances between Iraqi factions (the senator said he thought the current constitution had the power to divide the country) (2) strengthen the Iraqi government and its reconstruction efforts and (3) accelerate the transfer of the country's security to Iraqis.
Each of Biden's goals have already been embraced and trumpeted by the Bush Administration. Whether his specific vision -- which is illustrated in great detail -- provides a clearer articulation of the Democrats' Iraq position remains to be seen.
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Turning the Corner in Iraq
U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Council on Foreign Relations
November 21, 2005
Mr. BIDEN: Today, I want to talk to you about Iraq. I want to start by
the addressing the question on the minds of most Americans: when will we
bring our troops home?
Here is my conviction: in 2006, American troops will begin to leave Iraq
in large numbers. By the end of the year, I believe we will have
redeployed at least 50,000 troops. In 2007, a significant number of the
remaining 100,000 American soldiers will follow.
But the real question is this: as Americans start to come home, will we
leave Iraq with our fundamental security interests intact or will we
have traded a dictator for chaos?
By misrepresenting the facts, misunderstanding Iraq, and misleading on
the war, this Administration has brought us to the verge of a national
As a result, many Americans have already concluded that we cannot
salvage Iraq. We should bring all our forces home as soon as possible.
They include some of the most respected voices on military matters in
this country, like Congressman Jack Murtha. They're mindful of the
terrible consequences from withdrawing. But even worse, in their
judgment, would be to leave Americans to fight - and to die - in Iraq
with no strategy for success.
I share their frustration. But I'm not there yet. I still believe we
can preserve our fundamental security interests in Iraq as we begin to
redeploy our forces.
That will require the not to stay the course, but to change course and
to do it now.
And though it may not seem like it, there is actually a broad consensus
on what the must do.
Last week, 79 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together and
said to the President: we need a plan for Iraq.
Level with us. Give us specific goals and a timetable for achieving
each one so we know exactly where we are and where we are going.
As I have been urging for some time, that will require as many changes
at home as on the ground. The gap between the Administration's rhetoric
and the reality of Iraq has opened a huge credibility chasm with the
The problem has been compounded by the President's failure to explain in
detail his strategy and to report regularly on both the progress and the
As David Brooks reminded us in the New York Times yesterday, "Franklin
Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he
described, step by step, what was going on in World War II, where the
U.S. was winning and where it was losing. Why can't today's president
do that? Why can't he show that he is aware that his biggest problem is
not in Iraq, it's on the home front?"
I want to see the President regain the American people's trust. It is
vital to our young men and women in Iraq today -- and to our security --
that we get this right. George Bush is our President - and he will be
there for another three years. I want him to succeed.
Leveling with the American people is essential, but it is not enough.
The President has to be realistic about the mission and forget his
grandiose goals. Iraq will not become a model democracy anytime soon.
Instead, we need to refocus our mission on preserving America's
fundamental interests in Iraq.
There are two of them: We must ensure Iraq does not become what it
wasn't before the war: a haven for terrorists. And we must do what we
can to prevent a full-blown civil war that turns into a regional war.
To accomplish that more limited mission and to begin to redeploy our
troops responsibly we must make significant, measurable progress toward
three goals over the next six months:
One, we must help forge a political settlement that gives all of Iraq's
major groups a stake in keeping the country together.
Two, we must strengthen the capabilities of Iraq's government and revamp
the reconstruction program to deliver real benefits.
Three, we must accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces and
transfer control to them.
Let me discuss each goal, one at a time.
First, we need to build a political consensus, starting with the
Constitution, that gives the Kurds, Shi'a, and Sunnis a stake in keeping
Iraq together. Iraq cannot be salvaged by military might alone.
Last month, the Constitution passed overwhelmingly. But the vast
majority of Sunni Arabs voted "no." Unless changes are made by next
spring, it will become a document that divides rather than unites Iraq.
All sides must compromise. Sunnis must accept the fact that they no
longer rule Iraq. But unless Shiites and Kurds give them a stake in the
new order, they will continue to resist it.
If the situation devolves into a full-blown civil war, all the king's
horses and all the king's men won't be able to put Iraq back together
Does anyone here support using American troops to fight a civil war
against the Sunni on behalf of the Kurds and Shiites? I don't - and I
doubt many American would. But if we fail to forge a political
consensus soon, that is what our troops will be dragged into.
The Bush Administration was AWOL until the arrival of Ambassador
Khalilzad this summer. We let the Iraqis fend for themselves in writing
a Constitution. In our absence, no headway was made.
We can't make those mistakes again. We need to be fully engaged. Next
month, there is an election for the National Assembly, and I expect
Sunnis to turn out in large numbers.
After the elections, we must turn our attention immediately to
encouraging the Kurds and Shi'a to make genuine compromises.
Our Ambassador can't be the only one in the room cajoling Iraqis. We
need a regional strategy that persuades Iraq's neighbors to wield their
influence with the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds for political compromise.
They will do it, because no one other than the terrorists has an
interest in Iraq descending into civil war.
The major powers also have a stake. Europe has un-integrated Muslim
populations that are vulnerable to Middle East extremism. India and
China need stable oil supplies.
Our Allies must get over bruised feelings and help forge a political
consensus. We must get over our reluctance to fully involve them.
We should form a Contact Group that becomes Iraq's primary international
interlocutor. That would take some of the burden off of us... and
maximize the pressure on Iraq's main groups to compromise.
I've called for a regional strategy and an international Contact Group
repeatedly. So have three former Republican Secretaries of State -
Shultz, Kissinger, and Powell. It's what the Clinton Administration did
in the Balkans. It's what this Administration did in Afghanistan.
Organized, sustained international engagement can make all the
But it will only happen if America leads.
MINISTRIES THAT WORK/A RECONSTRUCTION PLAN
Second, we need government ministries that work and provide basic
services, and we need to re-do the reconstruction program to deliver
Right now, Iraq's ministries are barely functional. They make FEMA look
like the model of efficiency.
The Bush Administration belatedly has developed plans to build up the
government's capacity. But there aren't enough civilian experts with
the right skills to do the job.
We need a civilian commitment in Iraq equal to our military one. I
recommend the President and Secretary of State consider ordering staff
to Baghdad -- if there are shortages.
Just as military personnel are required to go to Iraq, why shouldn't the
same apply to the foreign service? The dedication and courage of the
foreign service officers I've met on my five trips to Iraq is
extraordinary. They will take the toughest assignments if we ask them.
This should not be their burden alone. Earlier this year, Prime
Minister Blair proposed individual countries be partnered with
ministries. It's a good idea. But it got a lukewarm reception. We
should revive it.
Our military commanders tell me: we can't defeat the insurgency unless
we have a reconstruction program that makes a difference to ordinary
Iraqis. Congress gave the Administration $20 billion for
reconstruction. There is far too little to show for it.
Raw sewage is in too many streets. Lights are on less than half the
day. The water isn't safe to drink in too many homes.
Unemployment rates are around 40 percent. If 40 percent of Iraqis have
no job and no hope, the insurgency will always find fresh recruits.
We were told before the war, oil would pay for reconstruction.
Two-and-a-half years after Saddam's statue fell, Iraq still is not
exporting what it did before the war. They are 700,000 barrels per day
below target. That is roughly $25 billion in lost revenues a year.
This President has the only oil company in the world losing money.
Projects have been delayed or never started. Now, the money is nearly
gone, and the needs are still great. The President has yet to explain
how he will fill the gap.
Of the $23.5 billion in non-American aid pledged at the Madrid
conference two years ago, only $3 billion has been delivered, and even
The Administration is creating Provincial Reconstruction Teams, modeled
on the civil-military effort in Afghanistan. They will focus on getting
local governments to deliver services. It's a good idea, but it's long
overdue - and it's not enough.
We should step up our recruiting of Allied civilian experts for the
I would redirect our spending to Iraqi contractors and away from
expensive multinationals. Iraqis don't have to add a line item worth 40
percent of the value of a contract for security. I'm glad to save
American taxpayers money.
And we need to get countries that have already pledged economic
assistance to actually deliver it -- and pledge more.
It's time for another Jim Baker mission. The President should ask him to
convene a conference with our Gulf allies. These countries have seen
huge windfall oil profits, from our pocket books. We've gone to war
twice in the past decade to protect them and preserve security. It is
past time that they step up - and give back.
BUILDING SECURITY FORCES
The third goal is to build Iraqi security forces that can provide law
and order in neighborhoods, defeat insurgents, and isolate and eliminate
foreign jihadists over time.
The tread water on training for two years. Not until the arrival of
General David Patreaus in June 2004, did we start a training program
worthy of its name.
Back in Washington, all we have heard from this Administration is
misleading number, after number.
In February 2004, Secretary Rumsfeld announced there were over 210,000
Iraqi security forces. He called it "an amazing accomplishment." Seven
months later he said there were 95,000. Now we're supposedly back over
210,000 trained security forces.
When folks in Delaware hear numbers like that they ask me: why do we
have 160,000 American troops in Iraq then?
What we need to know - and what the Administration has refused to tell
us until recently - is how many Iraqis can operate without us, or in the
lead with U.S. backing?
We're finally starting to get answers. In September, General Casey said
that, two and half years into the training program, one battalion --
less than 1,000 troops -- can operate independently. Another 40 or so
can lead counter-insurgency operations with American support.
And there are real concerns that the security forces have more loyalty
to political parties than to the Iraqi government that militia members
dominate certain units and that others have been infiltrated by
General Patreaus overhauled the training program. The result is much
But training takes time. And just as it was getting on track, the
reassigned General Patreaus back home. That was a mistake.
The President must tell Congress the schedule for getting Army
battalions, regular police, and special forces to the point they can act
on their own or in the lead with American support.
We also need to accelerate our training efforts, but not at the expense
We should urge Iraq to accept offers from France, Egypt and other
countries to train troops and police - especially at the officer level
-- including outside Iraq
If embedding more Americans with more Iraqi units would do the job, do
We should devote whatever resources are necessary to develop the
capacity of Iraq's security ministries. Even the most capable troops
will not make a difference if they cannot be supplied, sustained and
And we must focus our efforts on the police, who are lagging behind.
Establishing law and order through a competent police force is as
important for Iraqis, as defeating insurgents is for us.
DEALING WITH THE INSURGENCY
That leads me to the final piece of the Iraq puzzle: forging an
effective counter-insurgency strategy. Until recently, we have not had
Our forces would clean out a town. Then they would move to the next
hornet's nest, and the insurgents would return.
Why? Because we did not have enough U.S. troops... or any capable Iraqi
troops... to hold what we had cleared.
Meanwhile, neither the Iraqi government nor our reconstruction efforts
were capable of building a better future for those temporarily liberated
from the violence.
The Administration finally seems to understand the need not only to
clear territory, but to hold it, and then to build on it.
The critical question is this: who will do most of the clearing and the
holding? We now have no choice but to gamble on the Iraqis.
In the past, I argued that we needed more American troops in Iraq for
exactly that purpose. The failure to provide them... and the absence of
capable Iraqis... made a "clear and hold" strategy impossible.
We also left huge ammunition depots unguarded. . . allowed unchecked
looting . . . and created a security vacuum filled by Sunni insurgents,
foreign jihadists and common criminals.
But the time for a large number of additional American troops is past.
What we need now is a different mix, with more embedded trainers, civil
affairs units and special forces.
The hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is both
necessary... and increasingly counter-productive.
Our presence remains necessary because, right now, our troops are the
only guarantor against chaos. Pulling out prematurely would doom any
chance of leaving Iraq with our core interests intact.
But our large presence is also, increasingly, part of the problem.
Two years ago, even one year ago, Iraqis were prepared to accept an even
larger American presence if that's what it took to bring security and
real improvements to their lives.
Our failure to do just that has fueled growing Iraqi frustration. A
liberation is increasingly felt as an occupation. And we risk creating
a culture of dependency, especially among Iraqi security forces.
Even if more troops still made sense, we don't have more to give. In
fact, we cannot sustain what we have now beyond next spring unless we
extend deployment times beyond 12 months, send soldiers back for third,
fourth, and fifth tours or pull forces from other regions.
That is why it is virtually certain we will redeploy a significant
number of forces from Iraq in 2006 and more will follow in 2007.
Assuming we succeed in preventing a civil war, perhaps 20,000 to 40,000
Americans will stay for some time after that to continue training and
equipping the Iraqis to keep Iraq's neighbors honest and to form a rapid
reaction force to prevent jihadists from establishing a permanent base
If - if -- that redeployment is accompanied by measurable progress in
forging a political settlement, building real Iraqi governing capacity
and transferring control to effective Iraqi security forces, we can
start the journey home from Iraq with our fundamental interests intact.
But if we fail to implement the plan I've described, then Iraq is likely
to become a Bush-fulfilling prophecy - a terrorist training ground - and
we'll see a full blown civil war that could become a regional war.
If that happens, nothing we can do will salvage Iraq. We'll be reduced
to trying to contain the problem from afar. Those who today are calling
for us to leave will be proved tragically prescient.
I still believe that, if the follows the plan I've outlined today - and
if the President brings it to the American people and asks for their
support -- we can start climbing out of the hole the has dug and start
to leave Iraq with our interests intact.
Iraqis of all sects want to live in a stable country. Iraq's neighbors
don't want a civil war. The major powers don't want a terrorist haven
in the heart of the Middle East.
And the American people want us to succeed. They want it badly. If the
Administration listens, if it levels, and if it leads, it can still
redeem their faith.