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John Kerry Speaks on His Iraq Strategy: Two Deadlines and an Exit, Introduces Senate Resolution on Iraq

by Pamela Leavey

Following up on his NY Times OP/Ed yesterday, in a speech on the Senate floor today, John Kerry lays out two important deadlines for Iraq –- If Iraqi leaders can’t form a unity government by May 15, American troops must leave rather than be stuck in the crossfire of an escalating civil war; If they do form a government, we need to empower the new Iraqi leaders by agreeing on a schedule to withdraw American combat forces by the end of 2006.

The resolution Kerry introduced in the Senate today is attached (PDF).

Below are Kerry’s remarks as prepared:

Thirty nine years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech at the Riverside Church in New York about the war in Vietnam. He began with these words: “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.” His message was clear: despite the difficulty of opposing the government’s policy during time of war, “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

I am here today to speak about Iraq. There should be humility enough to go around for a Congress that shares responsibility for this war. I believe that the time has come again when, as Dr. King said, “We must move past indecision to action.”

When you stand in the “V” at the Vietnam Wall, you can’t help but see that half the names were added after American leaders knew our strategy would not work. It was immoral then and it would be immoral now to engage in the same delusion.

Yes we would prefer to see democracy in Iraq – indeed in the whole Middle East. The simple reality is – Iraqis must want it and embrace it. If the Iraqi leadership isn’t ready to make the changes and compromises that democracy requires, our soldiers, no matter how valiant, can’t give it birth from a humvee or a helicopter.

The fact is that our soldiers have done an incredible job of giving the Iraqis the opportunity to create a democratic future for their country. Our soldiers have done their job. It’s time for the newly-elected Iraqi leaders to do their job. And it’s past time for America’s political leaders to do theirs.

President Bush says we cannot lose our nerve in Iraq. But it takes more nerve to respond to mistakes than to stubbornly continue down the wrong path. Last week, Secretary Rice acknowledged thousands of mistakes in Iraq. Nobody has been held accountable for these errors, but our troops have paid the price. Yet the President continues to insist on a vague and counter-productive strategy that will keep U.S. forces in Iraq indefinitely.

I accept my share of responsibility for the war in Iraq. As I said in 2004, knowing what we know now, I would not have gone to war. My frustration is that many of us have offered alternatives and suggestions to correct our course in Iraq. Time after time, the Administration has ignored them.

The Administration is fond of saying we shouldn’t look back; that recrimination only helps our enemies; that we have to deal with the situation on the ground now.

Frankly, I think that accountability and learning from past mistakes is the only way to improve both policies and institutions. But, let me for the moment, go along with this idea – let me focus on the here and now. Let us face that reality honestly and act accordingly.

One has to live in fantasy world to believe that we are on the brink of domestic peace and pluralistic democracy in Iraq. One has to be blind to the facts to argue that the prospects for success are so great that they outweigh the terrible costs of the present approach. And, finally, one has to be incapable of admitting error to not face up to the need to change course now – Yes now Mr. President – this year

Our soldiers on the ground have learned many terrible lessons in Iraq. Now, it is time we learned those lessons in Washington.

It is clear that the Administration’s litany of mistakes has reduced what we can reasonably expect to accomplish. And still, I will not sit by and watch while American soldiers give their lives for a policy that isn’t working.

So let me say it plainly: withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq is necessary to give democracy a chance to succeed and is vital to America’s national security interests.

Five months ago, I said at Georgetown University that we were entering a make or break six month period in Iraq. I said the President must change course and hold Iraqis accountable, or Congress should insist on a change in policy. And I set a goal of withdrawing most American combat forces by the end of this year.

The situation on the ground has changed for the worse since then. In fact, we are now in the third war in Iraq in as many years. The first was against Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction. The second was against jihadists terrorists who the Administration said it was better “to fight over there than here.” Now we find our troops in the middle of a low grade civil war that could explode at any time.

But while events in Iraq have changed for the worse, the President has not changed course for the better. It is time for Congress to act. We have a constitutional responsibility and a moral responsibility not to sit on the sidelines while young Americans are in harm’s way.

That is why today, I am introducing a resolution that will hold the Iraqis accountable and make the goal of withdrawing most American forces a reality. I believe most of our forces should be out by the end of the year.

This war, in the words of our generals, cannot be won militarily. It must be won politically. General Casey has said that our large military presence “feeds the notion of occupation” and “extends the amount of time that it will take for Iraqi security forces to become self-reliant.” As Zbigniew Brzezinski recently put it: “The U.S. umbrella, which is in effect designed to stifle these wars but is so poor that it perpetuates them, in a sense keeps these wars alive…and [is] probably unintentionally actually intensifying them.” Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, breaking a 30 year silence, summed it up simply: ”Our presence is what feeds the insurgency.” The bottom line is that as long as American forces remain in large numbers, enforcing the status quo, Americans will be killed and maimed in the crossfire of vicious conflict they are powerless to end.

We pay for the President’s reluctance to face reality in American dollars, and too many American families pay in the loss of a loved one’s life. We can no longer tolerate the political games currently being played by Iraqi politicians in war torn Baghdad. No American soldier should be sacrificed for the unwillingness of Iraqi politicians to compromise and form a unity government.

Given the recent increase in deadly sectarian strife, Iraq urgently needs a strong unity government to prevent a full fledged civil war from breaking out and Iraq from becoming a failed state. Thus far, Iraqis have only responded to deadlines. It took a deadline to transfer authority to a provisional government, a deadline for a first election, a referendum, and a recent election. It is time for another deadline to get our troops out and get Iraq up on its own two feet.

Iraqi politicians should be told in unmistakable language “you have until May 15th to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military.” After the last elections, the momentum was lost by squabbling interim leaders. That has gone on for too long again. If Iraqis aren’t willing to build a unity government in the five months after the past election, they won’t be willing to build it at all. The civil war will only get worse, and nothing American soldiers do will change that. We will have no choice but to leave.

To ratchet up the pressure, we should immediately accelerate redeployment of American forces to rear guard, garrisoned status for security back up, training and emergency response. Special operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq should be initiated on hard intelligence leads only.

If the Iraqi leaders finally do their job, we must agree upon a schedule for leaving, withdrawing American combat forces by the end of this year. The only troops that remain should be those critical to finishing the job of standing up Iraqi security forces. Such an agreement will empower and legitimize the new leadership with the Iraqi people, expedite the process of getting Iraqis to assume a larger role in running their country, and undermine support for the insurgency among the 80% of Iraqis who want U.S. troops to leave. In short, it will give the new Iraqi government the best chance to succeed in holding the country together while democratic institutions can evolve.

This deadline makes sense given the responsibilities Iraqis should have assumed by then. Formation of this unity government would constitute a major milestone in the transfer of political responsibility to the Iraqis. Even the President has said that responsibility for security in the majority of the country should be able to be transferred to Iraqis by this time, and the U.S. troops critical to finishing this process will remain. By the end of the year, our troops will have done as much as they can to give Iraqis a chance to build a democracy.

Key to this transition is a long overdue engagement in serious and sustained diplomacy. Starting with the lead up to the war, our diplomatic efforts in Iraq have ranged from the indifferent to the indefensible. History shows that effective diplomacy requires persistent, hands on engagement from the highest levels of America’s leadership. Top officials in the first Bush Administration worked directly and tirelessly to bring together a real coalition before the first Gulf war. And President Clinton himself took responsibility at Camp David for bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together and leading a comprehensive effort to resolve the conflict in the Middle East.

This type of major diplomatic initiative has proven successful. In 1995, there was a brutal civil war in Bosnia involving Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Faced with a seemingly intractable stalemate in the midst of horrific ethnic cleansing, the Clinton Administration took action. Led by Richard Holbrooke, they brought leaders of the Bosnian parties together in Dayton, Ohio with representatives from the European Union, Russia and Britain to hammer out a peace agreement. NATO and the United Nations were given a prominent role in implementing what became known as the Dayton Accords.

In contrast, this President Bush has done little more than deliver political speeches as his cronies in the White House blame the news media for the mess his Administration has created in Iraq. Secretary of State Rice’s brief surprise visit to Iraq pales in comparison to the real shuttle diplomacy practiced by predecessors like James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Given what is at stake, it is past time to engage in diplomacy that matches the effort of our soldiers on the ground.

We must immediately bring the leaders of the Iraqi factions together at a Dayton-like summit that includes our allies, Iraq’s neighbors, members of the Arab League and the U.N. The fact is that a true national compact is needed to bring about a political solution to the insurgency and end the sectarian violence. In addition to forming a unity government, the Iraqis’ must reach a comprehensive agreement that includes security guarantees, disbanding the militias, amendments to the Constitution. And all of the parties much reach agreement on a process for reviving reconstruction efforts and securing Iraq’s borders.

At this Summit, Shiite religious leaders must agree to rein in their militias and commit to disbanding them. They must also work with Iraqi political leaders to ensure that the leadership of the Interior Ministry, and the police force under its control, is non-sectarian.

Shiite and Kurdish leaders must make the concessions necessary to address Sunni concerns about federalism and equitable distribution of oil revenues. And Sunnis must accept the reality that they will no longer dominate Iraq. Until sufficient compromise is hammered out, a Sunni base can not be created that isolates the hard core Baathists and jihadists and defuses the insurgency.

We must work with Iraqis at this Summit to convince Iraq’s neighbors that they can no longer stand on the sidelines while Iraq teeters on the edge of a civil war that could bring chaos to the entire region. Where they can help the process of forming a government, they need to step up.

The Administration must also work with Iraqi leaders in seeking a multinational force to help protect Iraq’s borders until a capable national army is formed. Such a force, if sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, could attract participation by Iraq’s neighbors and countries like India, and would be a critical step in stemming the tide of insurgents and money into Iraq.

To be credible with the Iraqi people, the new government must deliver goods and services at all levels. Electricity production is currently at 4,000 megawatts, compared to 4,500 megawatts before the war. Crude oil production has declined from a pre-war level of 2.5 million barrels-per-day to 1.9 million barrels-per-day. That must change. Countries that have promised money for reconstruction, particularly of Sunni areas, must finally pay up.

We can also do our part on the ground. Our own early reconstruction efforts were poorly planned and grossly mismanaged. But as I saw on a recent trip to Iraq, the efforts of our civilian-military provisional reconstruction teams, which have the skills and capacity to strengthen governance and institution building around the country, are starting to take hold. We need to stand up more of these teams as fast as possible.

We must also continue to turn the job of policing the streets and providing security over to Iraqi forces. This means giving our generals the tools they need to finish training an Iraqi police force that is trusted and respected on the street by the end of the year. It also means finishing the training of Iraqi security forces with U.S. troops acting only on the basis of hard intelligence to combat terrorist threats.

The withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is necessary not only to give democracy in Iraq the best chance to succeed: it is also vital to our national security interests. We will never be as safe as we should be if Iraq continues to distract us from the most important war we must win – the war on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the terrorists that are resurfacing even in Afghanistan.

The way to defeat Al Qaeda is not by serving as their best recruitment tool in Iraq. Even Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor, has joined the many experts who agree that the war in Iraq actually feeds terrorism and increases the potential for terrorist attacks against the United States. The results speak for themselves: the number of significant terrorist attacks around the world increased from 175 in 2003 to 651 in 2004, and continued to increase in 2005.

The president keeps talking about Al Qaeda’s intent to take over Iraq. I do not believe that a few thousand – at most – foreign jihadists are a genuine threat to forcibly take over a country of 25 million people. And while mistake after mistake by the Administration has actually turned Iraq into the breeding ground for al Qaeda that it was not before the war, large numbers of U.S. troops are not the key to crushing these terrorists.

In fact, Iraqis have begun to make clear their unwillingness to tolerate foreign jihadists. As the political process moves forward, they have increasingly turned on the brutal foreign killers who are trying to foment a civil war among Iraqis. This process will only be complete when Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their future, and resistance to a perceived occupation no longer provides them any common cause with the jihadists.

As General Anthony Zinni said on Sunday, building up intelligence gathering capability from Iraqis is essential to defeating the insurgency,. “We’re not fighting the Waffen S.S. here” he said. “They can be policed up if the people turn against them. We haven’t won the hearts and minds yet.”

After the bulk of U.S. forces have been withdrawn, we should keep a rapid reaction force over the horizon in Kuwait to act against any terrorist enclaves. And our air-power will always ensure our ability to bring overwhelming force to bear. The bottom line is that working together with the Iraqis, from inside and outside Iraq, we can prosecute the war against Al Qaeda in Iraq more effectively than we are today.

Withdrawing U.S. troops will also enable us to more effectively combat terrorist threats around the world. But winning the war on terror requires more than killing terrorists. The cooperation critical to lasting victory will be enhanced when Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, civil chaos and mistake after mistake in Iraq no longer deplete America’s moral authority.

This is also key to allowing us to repair the damage that flag officers fear has been done to our armed forces. We know that it will take billions to reset the equipment that has been lost, damaged or worn out from three years of combat. In the National Guard alone, units across the country have only 34% of their authorized equipment—including just 14% of the chemical decontamination equipment they need. That’s a chilling prospect if they are ever asked to respond to a terrorist incident involving weapons of mass destruction.

The fact is that the Army is stretched too thin. Soldiers and brigades are being deployed more frequently and longer than the Army believes is best in order to continue to attract the best recruits, and recruitment is suffering for it. The Army fell 6,700 recruits short of their needs in 2005—the largest shortfall since 1979. Recruitment is suffering today. Not only are American troops not getting leadership equal to their sacrifice; our generals aren’t getting enough troops to accomplish their mission of keeping the country safe.

Withdrawing from Iraq will also enable us to strengthen our efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is delighted with our presence in Iraq because it advances their goals, keeping us otherwise occupied. Their president is so emboldened that he’s openly called for the destruction of Israel while defying the international community’s demands to stop developing its nuclear weapons capability. And North Korea has felt at liberty to ignore the six party talks while it continues to stockpile more nuclear weapons material. Any effort to be stronger in dealing with the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea is incomplete without an exit from Iraq.

It will also enable us to more effectively promote democracy in places like Russia, which is more than content to see us bogged down in Iraq while President Putin steadily rolls back democratic reforms.

China benefits from us throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq. Our long term security requires putting the necessary resources into building an economy and a workforce that can compete and win in the age of globalization. And we cannot do as much as we need to while the war in Iraq is draining our treasury.

Finally, we have not provided anywhere near the resources necessary to keep our homeland safe. Katrina showed us in the most graphic way possible that five years after 9/11, we are woefully unprepared to handle a natural disaster we know is coming a week in advance, let alone a catastrophic terrorist attack. Removing the financial strain of Iraq will free up funds for our homeland defense.

So, the time has come for the Administration to acknowledge the realities in Iraq and the requirements of America’s national security. Stop telling us that terrible things will happen if we get tough with the Iraqis when terrible things happen every day because we haven’t gotten tough enough. If we don’t change course and hold the Iraqis accountable now, it’s only going to get worse.

Ignoring all warnings and history itself, in a flourish of ideological excess, the Administration has managed to make the ancient cradle of civilization look a lot like Vietnam. But there is a path forward if we start making the right decisions.

As Dr. King said so many years ago, “The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.” Now is the moment of choice for Iraq, for America, and for this Congress.

Text of John Kerry’s Floor Speech in Word Doc.

22 Responses to “John Kerry Speaks on His Iraq Strategy: Two Deadlines and an Exit, Introduces Senate Resolution on Iraq”

  1. Fantastic. I love King’s Riverside speech and Kerry has used it perfectly – no surprise. Keep on, John. Your conscience and conviction make us proud, raise our hopes and courage.

  2. I didn’t see the speech…did he wear his lucky pink tie?
    He always does well when he wears a pink tie.

  3. “Your conscience and conviction make us proud, raise our hopes and courage.”

    Love that, Ginny.

  4. This is Kerry’s big move and he couldn’t have timed it better. He’s doing it for all of us…the Dems running this year, himself, and his people. The stakes are so high and he is right at home with this. These other politicians are child’s play compared to him and he knows it all. It started when he first spoke so clearly and boldly to the Foreign Relations gang in ’71 and then spend his Senate career on the Committee, himself. The guy’s experienced. He loves foreign affairs, and he’s the leader for the time.

  5. Teresa,

    AMEN, absolutely, he is so much more savvy on all this than most give him credit for. And for those who like to cast him as “part of the beltway crowd, therefore part of the problem”
    simply ignore the fact that you have to know how the game is played before you can change the rules or play to win. Kerry, as I’ve said before, does not try to obliterate his opponents and some people don’t like him because of it.

    The GOP plays politics to obliterate, to win a war and wipe out the enemy. Kerry respects that it is a game, you need opposing teams. Even if there is a team you hate for fighting dirty and breaking all the rules, you are better off not fighting by their means. It may mean losing some games until the league &/or fans shut them down. Kerry is wise enough to stick to the best path, and experienced enough to see it. Not something I can say for Hil or Russ.

  6. I’ll get excited when Kerry takes a “I will NOT run for president in 2008 pledge”.

    I am sick and tired of being played by presidential wannabes with a record of dismal failure.


  7. Hello Goodbye. hee, hee, hee.

  8. You know what, Lefty. I’m sick of people like you. I want our country out of Iraq and you are holding us up.

    Ginny, I completely agree with your assessment of his fighting style. Our country rewards the primitive brutal approach but I think they are getting weary from all the blows leading to no achievement. I am interested in politics now after such a long time since he emerged so forcefully. You are so right about the game and now he’e deep into it with the ability to influence it heavily. I’m so pleased he chose to work within the system in his life.

    Not to worry about ’08, and that includes you, Lefty. Things will work out for the best.

  9. *waves* howdy, Kerry supporters. 🙂
    “We are family.” It’s a beautiful day. 🙂

  10. “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”


  11. Love JK’s use of “birth” and “create” language to talk about what is going to happen with Iraq…

    (I’m “live blogging” as I read the copy! LOL)

  12. “…But it takes more nerve to respond to mistakes…” oh yeah, it so does. Nerve, courage and an abandonment of ego… which Kerry knows about, because he’s lived it.

  13. “We pay for the President’s reluctance to face reality in American dollars, and too many American families pay in the loss of a loved one’s life.” TRUTH TO POWER

  14. “Starting with the lead up to the war, our diplomatic efforts in Iraq have ranged from the indifferent to the indefensible. History shows that effective diplomacy requires persistent, hands on engagement from the highest levels of America’s leadership.” ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ON

  15. (Where’s BB? We need to talk about 4GW!)

  16. Kj!!!!!!

    Great to have you on the squad! It is a beautiful day, indeed.

  17. “The fact is that the Army is stretched too thin.”
    In my opinion, that is criminal, and Bush is responsible for bogarting not only our budget and our natural resources, but live human beings. Each president inherits the military from the one that came before him… what will Bush leave after his “watch?”

    Nothing. Flat nothing.

  18. Hey sweetie! Pamela gave me a call last night and to give a heads up on all the good action going on.

    I’m in full Kerry Freedom Fighter mode… just send on the naysayers. @;-)

  19. “The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”

    ahhh yes, time to print out (thanks for the word doc, Pam!) and scatter around places.

    Beautiful. Onward. We are going to do this, it’s just taken a long longer, with a lot more effort and sacrifice, than I think any of us realized.

  20. “I’ll get excited when Kerry takes a I will NOT run for president in 2008 pledge”.

    Run a long little Lefty Limblog. Nothing for you to see here but a little planning and vision.

    I hear Hillary calling for you…

  21. John Kerry on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Plans for a Regional Summit

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for a regional conference today, to discuss Iraq’s future and quelling the sectarian violence that has torn the country apart. Al-Maliki however, “rejected U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s proposa…

  22. […] e to reality in America Senators, some Democrats in the Senate, lole John Kerry, have been light years ahead of you on this issue and some Republicans have had the courage to say “Kerry Was R […]