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Shelby’s Senate speech on Iraq

Text of a speech delivered Thursday in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa:

Mr. President, I rise today to discuss U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Four years ago, we invaded Iraq to disarm an oppressor’s regime and restore control of that country to its own people. In the early hours of March 20, 2003, the United States, joined by our coalition partners, began a military campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Code named “shock and awe,” the first 24 hours of combat operations filled the country with punishing air attacks. As the massive firestorm of bombs and missiles targeted Iraqi leadership, ground forces rolled towards Iraq’s capital.

Without question, our military operations were swift and decisive. Approximately 120,000 U.S. troops, as well as a number of forces from our coalition partners, led the invasion into Iraq. Ground forces moved into Baghdad, formally occupied the city, and the Hussein government collapsed approximately three weeks after military operations began. Saddam Hussein and his top leadership were captured, killed, or forced into hiding by coalition forces.

With Saddam on the run, many Iraqis celebrated the downfall of the oppressive regime. While some fighting in Iraq continued, the major battles appeared over just one month after the start of the military campaign. And 43 days after announcing the beginning of the war, President Bush declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Undoubtedly, the president was wrong. After remarkable success during the initial combat operations, it appears that the Bush administration did not sufficiently prepare for the consequences of their military victory. The Bush administration could not have known everything about what it would find in Iraq.

But it could have, and should have, done far more than it did.

As George Washington once said, “There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.” In the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Baathist regime, the U.S. proved it was ill-equipped for the post-combat environment it would face. As a result, the Bush administration made grave and glaring political, military and intelligence miscalculations.

As it turned out, the defeat of the Iraqi Army was just the beginning of the war. Prewar plans drastically underestimated the number of troops necessary in a post-Saddam Iraq. The troop level of the invasion force proved inadequate to hold the country together after Saddam’s regime was removed. The Bush administration failed to heed the warnings of experienced, senior military officers who stressed the need for a large force structure in country to provide security.

In particular, on the eve of the invasion, then Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Eric Shinseki, predicted “something on the order of several hundred thousand solders” would be required to keep peace in a postwar Iraq. While it is evident that Gen. Shinseki was on the mark with his force calculations, the general’s comments were quickly dismissed by the Department of Defense as “wildly off the mark.” Consequently, the U.S. invaded with what proved to be an insufficient number of troops to secure a postwar Iraq.

Immediately after the invasion, it was readily apparent that serious miscalculations, poor prewar planning, misguided assumptions, and wildly optimistic Administration reporting was the order of the day. When the Iraqi government collapsed, there was no framework in place capable of filling the military, political and economic void.

U.S. combat units were assigned to patrol large urban areas with no sense of their mission and no standard set of operating procedures. Looting and other criminal activities were rampant. The U.S. forces were vastly inadequate to control the mounting violence, since the Bush administration had mistakenly believed that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators rather than as occupiers. The reality was widespread lawlessness throughout the country.

To make matters worse, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denounced the extent of the chaos as simply an expression of pent-up hostility towards the old regime.

“It’s untidy,” Rumsfeld said. “And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes.”

We clearly underestimated the disorder and chaos the toppling of the regime would cause. Then we failed to effectively respond to it once it did. The Bush administration simply did not believe that a major reconstruction effort would be required and they were unprepared when the Iraqi infrastructure collapsed. As a result, interagency rivalry and turf wars between the Departments of Defense and State plagued the immediate restoration of security and basic services.

Amid the escalating violence and civil disorder, the Department of Defense deployed a small reconstruction effort, led by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. Garner became the Bush administration’s fall guy for the problems and chaos in Iraq. He was blamed for not implementing key services or restoring order fast enough. Yet, he was prevented from cooperating with planners in the Central Command and denied key personnel increases. He was replaced less than one month after reconstruction efforts began.

At this critical juncture, perhaps the single most important event in the destabilization of Iraq after the cessation of large-scale military operations occurred — Garner’s replacement, Ambassador Paul Bremer, demobilized the Iraqi Army.

The abrupt decision in May 2003 to disband the entire force, including apolitical conscripts, may have been one of the most grievous mistakes made by our occupying force. The decision allowed enemies of a democratic Iraq the time necessary to regroup and infiltrate the under-secured nation. We disbanded an organization that would have been vital for providing security and assisting in the rebuilding. The 300,000-strong force almost immediately morphed from soldiers to bitter, unemployed, armed terrorists who became prime recruits for the insurgency efforts. The result of this one decision gave an enormous boost to the forces of instability in Iraq.

In the fall of 2003, the Administration faced the dilemma of securing a nation with a limited occupation force and no Iraqi security structures in place. While the Bush administration could have opted to deploy additional forces from the United States, the Department of Defense chose to speed up the Iraqi Army training program. The effect, inevitably, produced Iraqi soldiers who were neither properly trained nor fully committed to the mission.

This problem became even more severe with the creation of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. The Corps’ purpose was to provide local militia forces as adjuncts to the Iraqi Army. However, the Bush administration was impatient to create more Iraqi troops to illustrate that additional U.S. forces were unnecessary.

They once again increased the training pace, which restricted the vetting process of the Iraqi troops. The result was an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps limited in its combat capability, thoroughly infiltrated by insurgents, who predictably collapsed whenever committed to combat.

With nothing to fill the power void left by the regime’s fall, the U.S. ended up creating a failed state that allowed the insurgency to develop. The United States did not anticipate the deeply divided Iraqi society — one with the Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and the Shiites seeking power commensurate with their majority status — would devolve the country into sectarian violence.

The Bush administration was clearly unprepared for the likelihood that these ethnic differences and the dramatic shift in the power dynamics would cause the sects to engage in violent conflict. Perhaps even more importantly, the Administration did not foresee that the U.S. military, as an occupying force, would itself be the target of resentment and armed attacks.

Since the invasion, lingering Shiite resentment and Sunni fears associated with the shift in power have helped transform local and individual political or economic disputes into broader religious confrontations. Moreover, the Bush administration insisted that all of the problems of the country were caused by the insurgency, rather than that all of the problems of the country were helping to fuel the insurgency. Security was not established after the fall of the Baathist government and still remains beyond our grasp.

As a result, the hardening of sectarian and ethnic identities in a postwar Iraq has created significant anxiety among Iraq’s neighbors, many of whom also have religiously and ethnically diverse populations. Toppling the regime and dismantling the Iraqi armed forces removed a potential military threat to the Middle East region. Yet, it also eliminated the area’s principal strategic counterbalance to Iran. The instability and violence in Iraq, coupled with Iraq’s neighbors’ fears of an emboldened and potentially hostile Iran, has created new concerns among Middle Eastern nations and sparked increased interest in the future of Iraq.

In particular, Gulf governments worry that escalating sectarian violence in Iraq could spread to Iraq’s mainly Sunni neighbors and force them into conflict with Shiite-controlled Iran. Gulf governments also believe that regions in Iraq could become safe havens for terrorist organizations if the Iraqi government collapses or the U.S. withdraws troops precipitously.

As we debate a strategy for Iraq, we need to make certain we paint the big picture and understand what is at stake. If we precipitously withdraw our troops, we will open the door for the Iranians to exert even more influence in both Iraq and the Middle East.

Iran clearly has regional aspirations that will significantly increase without a counterbalance in the Persian Gulf.

However, more than just the strategic balance of the region is at stake. The oil reserves in Iraq are vast — believed to be only second in size in the Middle East to those of Saudi Arabia. Imagine over half the world’s oil in the hands of the mullahs in Tehran. Picture the world with another nuclear power that hates the United States and all it stands for. The president is correct when he states that those who say the future of Iraq is not a direct threat to our national security are deluding themselves.

Mr. President, we are now living with the consequences of successive policy failures. The blunders, miscalculations, and failed leadership made by the Bush administration continue to this day.

As I stand here today, one thing is clear — we are at a crossroads.

One month ago, President Bush addressed the nation and outlined a new strategy in Iraq. Since that time, the merit and purpose of escalating U.S. troops has been debated around the country. This week, the Senate brought forth several resolutions expressing various viewpoints on the subject.

One resolution, introduced by Sens. Warner and Levin, disagrees with the troop escalation strategy, but like all the resolutions on Iraq, it is not binding. It cannot deter the president from sending more troops. It cannot withdraw the troops currently in Iraq. And it does not limit the president’s power as commander in chief.

However, what this resolution does is state that we, the United States Senate, the same body that four years prior authorized the use of force in Iraq, no longer has confidence in the U.S. strategy in Iraq. Far more significantly, it sends the message to our brave fighting men and women that although the Senate will not stop you from deploying and engaging the enemy, we do not think you can succeed in your mission. That is a message I refuse to send.

Therefore, I do not support the Warner/Levin resolution. Our service embers need clear direction — not mixed messages from the United States Senate. The armed forces need support, both materially and morally, from the policymakers who sent them into combat. Ambiguity has no place in our strategy or operations in Iraq.

My opposition to this resolution, however, should not be confused with blind support of the president’s policy. I have grave concerns and serious doubts about the future of Iraq and what role the United States will play there. As we scrutinize the new strategy put forth by the president, numerous and troubling questions arise about the future of U.S. involvement.

  • Should we put more of our service members in harm’s way?
  • Is the number of troops in the surge enough? Or do we need more?
  • Is it too late to recover, and should we just cut our losses and begin to withdraw our troops?
  • If we did withdraw, what would be the cost — American prestige? An unleashing of transnational terrorism? The establishment of Iran as the dominant force in the Middle East?
  • Will the Iraqi government step up to help secure the country? Or will sending more troops only delay Iraq’s government from taking more responsibility?
  • The questions could go on and on. In the words of Winston Churchill who once said, “You ask, what is our policy? You ask, what is our aim?” I believe there are three fundamental questions that must be answered before moving forward:

  • What is our goal in Iraq? How do we measure success? Just stating that success is the establishment of a democratic and secure government in Iraq is too broad a definition. It represents an endless engagement for the U.S. We need more definable, measurable objectives. That is a basic principle of war.
  • How do we achieve it? What is our strategy? Not just our military strategy, but our overall strategy involving military, political, economic, and social components.
  • And is this new plan set forth by the president a viable option? Is it a rational strategy that will lead to achieving our objectives, which will in turn lead to success in Iraq?
  • When combat operations began, our goal was straightforward — to enable Iraq to be stable, unified, and democratic, able to provide for its own security, a partner in the Global War on Terror, and a model for reform in the Middle East. Four years later, the country has descended into chaos. While the formal political framework for a democratic government has advanced, insurgent and sectarian violence has increased and become more widespread. Is it still plausible to believe that the U.S. can unify this country so that it will be able to sustain a viable democratic government?

    We are fighting an insurgency in Iraq. American forces and the Iraqi people have the same enemies — the Shiite, Sunni, and al-Qaida terrorists, illegal militias, Iranian agents, and Saddam loyalists who stand between the Iraqi people and their future as a free nation. Only through a combination of military force, political dialogue, economic development and reform, and increased security for the population will we be able to restore peace. Therefore, we are now confronted with this question: How will the United States reverse Iraq’s steady decline into sectarian and radical religious chaos and bring stability to violence-torn parts of the country?

    In the announcement of an imminent deployment of 21,500 additional U.S. service members to Iraq, the Bush administration radically shifted its Iraq policy. By increasing the amount of “boots on the ground,” many of the basic tenets of the president’s Iraq strategy thus far have been repudiated — in particular, that political progress would eventually suppress the violence. The question now becomes, will the increase in our armed forces in Baghdad help stabilize the country and stop the spiral into a civil war, or is it too late?

    We have entered into a quagmire, and there is no easy exit. This is not a war that will be won overnight and it is dangerous to believe that if we set an artificial timeline to withdraw troops that the terrorist violence would not follow us home.

    The consequence of failure in Iraq is the strengthening and growth of radical extremists who will use the country as a safe haven for their terrorist organizations to threaten the safety and security of the United States and the entire free world.

    No one appears to have the answer to the calamity that is the current state of affairs in Iraq. Even those outspoken detractors of the Bush plan do not offer practical alternatives. Cutting and running is not an option. Not for the United States. Even the appearance of doing so under another name is unacceptable at every level.

    It is clear, though, that things cannot continue forward on this path. The Administration and the Congress, together, must find a viable strategy for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

    Mr. President, I will not stand before you and assert that the Bush plan is not without flaws. Nor will I state that I am completely confident that an additional 21,500 troops will turn the war around. We will know that answer soon enough.

    What I do know is this: When you vote to send troops into combat, it becomes your responsibility to ensure that their mission is clearly defined, that they have realistic military objectives, and that they have the best equipment to achieve these goals.

    As Congress debates the president’s plan, as new ideas and strategies are brought forward, one thing must remain constant — the support we give our service members.

    I acknowledge that there are different views within Congress about our way forward in Iraq, but Congress should never let political infighting lead to bartering for bullets. Cutting off funding for our troops should never be an option.

    The members of the United States armed forces willingly face grave dangers for each and every one of us. They have bravely faced a sometimes unknown enemy and have done everything asked of them. Abandoning our service members, hampering their ability to fight, or cutting off funds for necessary military equipment cannot be an alternative. We should never take any action that will endanger our armed forces fighting in combat.

    No one wants to bring our troops safely home more than I do. Yet, while many oppose sending more troops, no one in Congress has yet proposed an alternative that allows Iraq to stabilize. Therefore, the last question I pose is this: Why is no one looking for a way to win, as opposed to simply a way out?

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