"Mr. President, I come to the floor today to reassert my support for a change of course in Iraq, and to briefly address the several amendments concerning Iraq policy that the Senate is considering.
"Two weeks ago, Mr. President, I had the honor of experiencing first-hand one of the more memorable events to occur in the Senate in the six months since I've been here. It was late on a Monday evening, and just as you are now, I was sitting in the presiding chair and thinking that the day's events had been concluded. Ok, I was thinking I was the only Senator left and it was getting time to go home.
"Then, on to the Senate floor came Senator Lugar. In my short time in the Senate, I have come to know the senior senator from Indiana as a man who has the deepest respect both from and for his colleagues, a leader who always puts principle above politics, and a senator who earned the right to speak and be heard long before I came to Washington.
"For the next 50 minutes, I listened to Senator Lugar, standing right over there, as he delivered a poignant, pragmatic assessment of our nation's position in Iraq. Rising far above the partisan cross-fire that too often fills this chamber, the senator from Indiana urged his fellow members of Congress and members of the administration to suspend their party differences and to come together.
"As he said that night:
'In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.'
I hope all of my colleagues will recognize that our current strategy in Iraq is not working, that a new strategy based on the drawing down of U.S. forces is necessary, and that this strategy must be implemented now.
"After four years, over 3,600 American soldiers have been killed, over 25,000 have been wounded, and almost $450 billion has been spent. We cannot wait until next year or even next month to change strategy. After four years, we cannot wait for the Iraqi government to demonstrate progress before we begin bringing our soldiers home when it has shown no indication of a commitment to compromise and reconciliation. And after four years, we cannot ask our men and women in the field to continue to risk life and limb indefinitely in pursuit of a policy that is not working.
"As Senator Lugar said that night:
'A course change should happen now, while there is still some possibility of constructing a sustainable bipartisan strategy in Iraq.'
Well certainly what we saw here today on the floor of the United State Senate, Mr. President did not demonstrate that kind of bipartisan strategy. I personally thought it was obstructionism that we weren't allowed to at least continue debate on vote on Senator Webb's amendment.
"Mr. President, our troops have done all that they've been asked to do. They deposed an evil dictator. They guaranteed free elections in Iraq. They gave the Iraqi people the opportunity to vote and to establish a new government. We all know there can be no purely military solution in Iraq. This has been agreed to and on by so many military commanders, experts, and members of this body on both sides of the aisle that it does not need to be argued anymore.
"And we all recognize that true stability in Iraq will only come through political and economic compromises between Iraq's main ethnic groups, and that only the Iraqis themselves can reach this compromise. Given this, shouldn't our strategy be focused on transitioning to Iraqi authority now, not at some undefined time in the future?
"We must push the Iraqi government to assume the duties it was elected to perform, and to lead the process of meaningful negotiation and deal-making. Our open-ended commitment is impeding this process, and inhibiting the will and ability of the Iraqi people to stand up and take responsibility for their own country.
"Nine months ago the Iraq Study Group proposed a pragmatic change of course that focused on political and economic initiatives, intense regional and international diplomacy to tie all nations with an interest in Iraq together, and the beginning of a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq.
"Since the issuance of the Iraq Study Group some conditions on the ground have remained the same, and some have gotten worse. Now we in the Senate have an opportunity to vote on amendments that would implement the major provisions of this proposed strategy. I urge my colleagues to set aside differences, to forget about past disagreements or voting records, and to focus on what is best for our troops in the field going forward. We owe it to these brave men and women in the field to get this policy right.
"I believe the best thing we can do, for our troops, for our national interest, and for the Iraqis themselves, is to begin bringing our troops home, and to remove the bulk of U.S. combat forces by the spring of next year. We would still maintain a presence capable of protecting U.S. personnel, training Iraqi forces, and conducting counter-terrorism and other specific operations.
Keeping over 150,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq is undermining our ability to achieve our objectives there and in the region. We need to start bringing them home.
"As Senator Lugar said that night:
'A diplomatic offensive is likely to be easier in the context of a tactical drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. A drawdown would increase the chances of stimulating greater economic and diplomatic assistance for Iraq from multi-lateral organizations and European allies, who have sought to limit their association with an unpopular war.'
"In March Mr. President, I visited Baghdad and Fallujah and saw - firsthand - the bravery and commitment of our troops. Of the 22,000 troops involved in the surge, 3,000 of them are from my state, Minnesota. And not a day goes by that I don't think of the members of the Minnesota soldiers I met over there, who never once complained about their missions or equipment or they heat, they just asked me who won the state hockey championships to call their moms and dads when I got home.
"Since that trip, not a day goes by that I don't think of that afternoon at the Baghdad Airport, when I stood with nine firefighters from Duluth, Minnesota as they saluted as six caskets, draped in American flags, were loaded on a plane to be flown home. They didn't know who the brave soldiers were, but they knew that when they were sent home, when their families were there to meet them there families would be there to show their respect.
"Whenever I speak with the moms or spouses of soldiers who were killed, I always ask how they are doing. When I asked this question to a mom from Western Minnesota, she said 'you know people keep asking me that and I don't really know what to say.' She said 'do you have any ideas about what I should say?'
"And I told her 'well I can tell you what all the other mothers have been saying.' They've been saying that they wake up every morning and they try so hard to hang together for their family and then something happens - they see a picture or they remember something - and they are never the same for the rest of the day. And they have their good moments but their lives will never be the same.
"We owe it to these families to honor the sacrifices their sons and daughters have made, and to begin bringing our troops in Iraq home so that their families don't experience similar anguish.
"Mr. President, this is a different kind of war we are fighting. It has made demands on the National Guard that are unprecedented. At times, up to 40 percent of the troops fighting in Iraq have been members of the National Guard and Reserves. And, in many respects, this war has involved a different kind of soldier. In Vietnam, the average age of an American soldier was 19 years old. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the average age of active-duty soldiers Afghanistan is 27. And the average age of National Guard members over there is 33 years old.
"Three-fourths of all soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have families of their own. And fully one-half of those who've been killed have left families behind. Almost 22 percent of all Reserve and Guard members have had multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I've met some of these families. When I was up in Duluth, I met two parents who had both been to Iraq, and both were going again.
"We are finally, Mr. President, starting to see some of our National Guard and Reserve members coming home, just as others across the country are taking their place. These men and women from Minnesota are completing one of the longest deployments of any U.S. military unit since the war began. They were originally scheduled to return home at the beginning of this year, only to find out just weeks before they expected to ship out that their tours had been extended as part of the President's 'Surge' strategy.
"Already a few hundred of these Guard members have been reunited with their loved ones, and by August, the entire unit should be back in Minnesota, reconnecting with friends and family and beginning the process of transitioning to normal life. Having served and sacrificed for 16 months, these men and women have earned their rest and the right to live their lives in peace.
"That is why I cosponsored and voted for the amendment offered by my friend from Virginia, Senator Webb, also cosponsored by Sen. Hagel which would require units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to remain at home at least as long they were deployed, and give guard and reserves three years at home for every year they are deployed.
"The President's policies have placed unprecedented demands on our military in the four years of this war. Our forces are exhausted and overstretched. It is critical, both for morale and for operational safety, that units be given proper time to rest, recuperate, and retraining before redeploying. America's armed forces have a proud history and tradition that is unparalleled in the world. But when their ability to function properly is endangered, Congress must step in and address the situation.
"I'm disappointed that most of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle chose to block this responsible proposal rather than allowing a simple majority vote. This amendment would begin the process of repairing and rebuilding our military, while maintaining our ability to meet any threat to our nation's security."
"We owe this to the members of the Minnesota National Guard, and their fellow soldiers across the country.
"Mr. President, since I've been in the Senate, I have joined many of my colleagues on countless occasions in asking when this war's supporters would publicly acknowledge the realities on the ground and finally allow a change of course that begins bringing our forces home. Each time we ask this question, we are told to just be patient, the progress was just around the corner, and that it would be counterproductive to establish a timetable for withdrawal.
"After my trip to Iraq, I met with the President with three other Senators - he told us he believed in the Iraq Study Group but that a timetable would be counterproductive. Now we have reached a point where the patience of many of the most loyal supporters has been exhausted. We have reached a point where senators who have dedicated their lives to serving our national interests cannot stand silent as America's strength and standing in the world is continually undermined.
"We have reached a point where the necessary changes in our strategies in Iraq may finally be possible. I urge my colleagues to vote for these changes. We simply cannot wait any longer.
"Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum."