Opening today's hearing on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee chairman, called for a moment of silence in honor of the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist strikes. He expressed skepticism about President Bush's "surge" strategy and the ability of Iraqi political leaders to govern the country in a centralized system.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John Kerry made the following statement at today’s hearing (as prepared for delivery):
General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, thank you very much for coming before the Committee today, and thank you for your exemplary service. The country owes the brave men and women who serve in the Armed Forces -- and in our diplomatic corps -- an awesome debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they make every day under extremely difficult circumstances in Iraq.
This is a historic moment: Not since General Westmoreland appeared before Congress 40 years ago has an active duty general played such a major public role in the national debate.
Many thousands of the names inscribed on the Vietnam wall were added after that testimony, after it should have been clear that the strategy would not work. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. That is why we have a solemn duty here to ask the tough questions about Iraq. We owe our troops a strategy that is worthy of their sacrifice, and it’s clear that the current strategy -- the President’s escalation -- has failed to achieve its goal of bringing about a resolution of the fundamental conflict between Sunni and Shia.
We all agree that there is no American military solution to an Iraqi civil war. That’s why the escalation had a single, simple goal: to create "breathing room" for Iraqis to make the political compromises that will hold their country together and end their civil war.
We heard the bottom line from the GAO last week: only 3 of the 18 benchmarks that the Iraqi government agreed to over a year ago have been met – including only 1 of the 8 benchmarks for political reconciliation. Over 15 months after the Maliki government took power, the Iraqi parliament still has not passed legislation on oil revenue sharing, de-Ba'athification, and provincial elections. The constitutional review process vital to political reconciliation is nowhere close to completion.
Yet despite the obvious lack of movement on political reconciliation, we keep hearing that we are making progress in Iraq. General Petraeus has effectively asked for more time to allow the escalation strategy to succeed. He has spoken about reduced levels of violence, and success in “bottom-up reconciliation” efforts against Al Qaeda, as justification for continuing the current mission.
Let’s be absolutely clear: whatever “tactical successes” we have achieved have not translated into the strategic success we need to turn the tide. The escalation has failed to resolve the fundamental conflict between Sunni and Shia that continues to drive the Iraqi civil war, and there’s no reason to believe that more of the same is going to make a difference.
All summer, supporters of the escalation urged us to wait until September. Wait until September to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Well, September is here, and despite your best efforts, the result is clear: Without deadlines, without accountability—there has been no real political progress in Iraq.
We should not be asking any more American troops to sacrifice their lives and limbs for Iraqi politicians who refuse to compromise. That’s why I believe more strongly than ever that we need to change course in Iraq.
As I have been saying for a year and a half, we need to (1) change the mission to pursuing Al Qaeda, training Iraqi security forces, and protecting U.S. facilities and personnel; (2) set a deadline for redeployment that is necessary to make the Iraqis to make the tough compromises necessary to end their civil war; and (3) engage in the intensive diplomacy necessary to get Iraq’s neighbors to play a more constructive role in stabilizing Iraq.
I believe that strategy protects our vital national interests and gives us the best chance to succeed.
In related news, a new AP/Ipsos polls shows that "the public sees the Iraq war as a failure and thinks the U.S. troop buildup there has not worked."
The pessimism expressed by most people -- including significant minorities of Republicans -- contrasted with the brighter picture offered by Gen. David Petraeus. The chief U.S. commander in Iraq told Congress on Monday that the added 30,000 troops have largely achieved their military goals and could probably leave by next summer, though he conceded there has been scant political progress.
By 59 percent to 34 percent, more people said they believe history will judge the Iraq war a complete or partial failure than a success.
Cross posted from The Democratic Daily.