Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Oklahoma for acknowledging there is something that is worth staying up all night for, that this is a debate we must continue to have. But this is also a vote we must have. The American people and our troops deserve nothing less than an up-or-down vote.
I disagree with the Senator from Oklahoma when he said we would be somehow hurting our troops by not staying the course. I think we need to change the course. I think this idea that we somehow dishonor our troops by having a free and open debate about this is wrong.
I think it is wrong to say we dishonor our troops when we talk about a change in course in Iraq, because I think it is what they deserve. We need a smart way to get our soldiers out of harm's way and transition to the Iraqi Government. This is about getting this policy right for our troops in the field, about giving them what they deserve: a simple majority vote. That is what we need today.
I hope all of my colleagues will recognize our current strategy in Iraq is not working, that a new strategy based on drawing down U.S. forces is necessary, and this strategy must be implemented now.
After 4 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 until next month, or until September to change our strategy.
After 4 years, we cannot wait for the Iraqi Government to demonstrate the progress before we begin bringing our soldiers home, and it has shown no indication of a commitment to compromise and reconciliation.
After 4 years, we cannot ask our men and women in the field to continue to risk life and limb indefinitely in the pursuit of a policy that so many of our colleagues across the aisle have now admitted and have spoken out about and said this policy needs to be changed, that it is not working. Talk is talk. But now it is time to vote.
Our troops have done what they have been asked to do. They deposed an evil dictator. They guaranteed free elections in Iraq. We all know there can be no purely military solution in Iraq. This has been agreed to by so many military commanders, experts, and Members in this body that it doesn't need to be argued anymore. We recognize true stability in Iraq will only come with political compromise between their various ethic factions. Only Iraqis can reach that agreement. Given that, should our strategy not be transitioning to Iraqi authority now, not some undefined time in the future?
We must push the Iraqi Government to assume the duties it was elected to perform, to lead the process in negotiation and deal-making. Our open-ended commitment is impeding this process and inhibiting the will 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 that would tie all nations with an interest in Iraq together, and beginning the phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq. Since the issuance of the Iraq Study Group report, some conditions on the ground have remained the same, and a number have gotten worse. In the last 3 months, more U.S. troops were killed than in any other 3-month period during the entire war.
I urge my colleagues to set aside differences, to forget about past agreements or voting records, and 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, our national interest, and for the Iraqis is to adopt the new strategy proposed by my colleagues Senators Levin and Reed that would begin bringing our troops home, removing the bulk of our combat forces by the spring of next year. We know this cannot be done overnight, and the troops will be remaining to train the police and guard our embassies, and for special forces. We also know it is time to send a message to this Iraqi Government that it is time for them to govern.
Keeping over 160,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq is simply not the answer. We need to start bringing them home. In March, I visited Baghdad and Fallujah and saw firsthand the bravery and commitment of our troops. I had a number of meetings set up with Minnesota troops. Of the 30,000 troops who were sent over as part of this surge, 3,000 were from Minnesota. In fact, they are the longest serving Guard unit right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A number of them are now coming home. We rejoice in Minnesota for the ones coming home to their families. But we know that, sadly, they are being replaced by other soldiers from across this country. I remember one of the Congressmen who had gone to Iraq shortly after I did. He came back and talked, as a House Member, about how it reminded him of--going through the market--a farmer's market in Indiana.
Well, that is not my memory from Iraq. What I remember, first, is our troops and how they didn't complain about the heat, or about their extensions, or about their equipment. They only asked me two things: What the State high school hockey tournament scores were, and then they asked if I would call their moms and dads and husbands and wives when I got home.
I did that. I talked to about 50 moms. I have to tell you they told me different stories. They told me about children who were waiting for their dad to come home, that they thought they were going to come home in January, and they were waiting month after month. They told me about how scared they were every time they turned on the TV. They told me about how proud they were of their child but that they wanted him to come home.
My starkest memory of that trip was not some farmer's market in Indiana; my memory was standing on the tarmac of the Baghdad airport where nine Duluth firefighters called me over to stand with them. First, I didn't know what it was. They were there to do their duty. They were saluting in front of a fire truck while six caskets draped in the American flag were loaded onto a plane. They didn't know what fallen soldiers were in those caskets. They didn't know who they were. They just knew it was their duty to salute and they knew the lives of the families of these fallen soldiers would never be the same.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about the Minnesota soldiers I met over there. They never complained. They did their jobs. They deposed an evil dictator and guaranteed free elections. Now it is time to bring them home. One thing that struck us in our State is that this is a different kind of war.
Up to 40 percent of the troops fighting in Iraq are members of the National Guard and Reserves.
In many respects, the 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 an active-duty soldier is 27. The average age of National Guard members is 33.
Three-fourths of all soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have families of their own, and fully one-half of those who have been killed have left families behind.
Almost 22 percent of the Guard and Reserve members have had multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. For four years, these citizen soldiers have gone above and beyond the call of duty as this war has lasted longer--our involvement has lasted longer than our involvement in World War II. These citizen soldiers have made extraordinary sacrifices.
As we see our Guard and Reserve come home in Minnesota, the longest serving unit in this war, we know many have come back injured and maimed. I think I heard it is a thousand in this war across this country who have lost a limb, and 20-some thousand have been injured. Having served and sacrificed for 16 months, these men and women earned their rest and their right to live their lives in peace. But we keep sending them back and we keep sending them back.
All across my State, I have heard a strong and clear message from Minnesotans: Change the course in Iraq. Push for the strategy and solution that will bring our troops home and transition to Iraqi governance.
They want to see a surge in diplomacy, not a surge in troops. It is a message that was echoed all over this country last fall, from Montana to Minnesota, from Pennsylvania to Virginia. The people of Minnesota, like their fellow citizens around the country, recognize what is at stake in Iraq. As I have traveled around our State, I have spoken with many families who have paid a personal price in this war.
I think of Claremont Anderson, who would drive hundreds of miles to attend public events. Every time anybody even brought up the war, he would start to cry. It is because his son Stewart, an Army Reserve major, was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
I think of Kathleen Wosika from St. Paul, MN. In January, her son James Wosika, Jr., was killed while patrolling on foot in an area near Fallujah. He was assigned with the Minnesota Army National Guard First Brigade, the same unit that was extended under the President's escalation. Sergeant Wosika was the third member of his unit to die within a 6-week period.
I also think of Becky Lourey of Kerrick, MN, near Duluth. She is the mother of 12 and a former State senator. Her son Matt was killed when the Army helicopter he was piloting went down north of Baghdad. I watched this Gold Star mother--a woman who has adopted 8 children--comfort her grandchildren, hold her shaking husband, and stand tall for hours in a high school gym in Findley, MN, where hundreds of people came together to gather for her son's memorial service.
Claremont Anderson, Kathleen Wosika, and Becky Lourey are parents whose children made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. They are among the many Minnesotans who have told me, without apology, that they want to see a change of course in Iraq. They pray that others will not experience their pain.
Although I opposed this war from the beginning, I recognize many did support it. But many years later, we are now dealing with a dramatically different situation. What we now know about the events and facts leading up to the war has changed dramatically. The conditions inside Iraq have changed dramatically. Our role there has changed dramatically. We need an up-or-down vote today. If we don't have a regular up-or-down vote, as the American people have asked for, we are not going to get the change of course the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended, the change of course that Iraq needs to halt its civil war, or the change of course our military forces deserve.
As of Thanksgiving, as I said, this war has lasted longer than World War II. Have we not asked our men and women to sacrifice enough?
Recently, at the funeral for a fallen soldier, I heard a local priest say our leaders have an obligation to do right by our children when we send them to war. This particular soldier was very tall and very strong. As the priest talked about him, he talked about the fact that even though this young man was over 6 feet tall, he was still our child. He said our children may be over 6 feet tall when we send them to war, but they are still our children.
If the kids we are sending to Iraq are 6 feet tall, he said, then our leaders must be 8 feet tall. I add that if these soldiers are willing to stand up and risk their lives for our country, those of us in Congress must be brave enough to stand up and ask the tough questions and push for the tougher solutions and not be afraid to have an up-or-down vote on a change of strategy in Iraq.
Claremont Anderson, Kathleen Wosika, and Becky Lourey are standing tall. The parents with whom I met, whose kids were supposed to come home back in January, have been waiting and waiting for that telephone call, and waiting and waiting for those letters. They have been standing tall all these months.
The members of the Minnesota National Guard whose deployment ceremony I attended a few months ago in Duluth stood tall. The teenage brother and sister I met there who saw their dad and their mom deployed to Iraq at the same time stood tall. The injured soldiers in the VA hospital in Minnesota, recovering from traumatic brain injuries, and in their wheelchairs, with their strength and their spirit are standing tall.
I say to my friends across the aisle, by having an honest and open debate about the war as we have done tonight, we in Congress can stand tall, but we can only stand tall when we allow for a fair and honest vote about the strategy in Iraq.
Our Constitution says Congress should be a responsible check and balance on Presidential power. Congressional oversight of our Iraq policy is long overdue. On behalf of the public, Members of this body have a responsibility to exercise our own constitutional power in a fair minded, bipartisan way, to insist on accountability and to demand a change of course. Ultimately, the best way to help our soldiers and their families is not only to give them the respect and the benefits and the help they deserve, but also to get this policy right.
I hope my friends across the aisle will see the merits of this debate and allow for an up-or-down vote on the Levin-Reed amendment. Our troops and our families deserve nothing less.
Thank you, Mr. President.