Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hagel's Speech: Where We Stand On Iraq

Where We Stand On Iraq
Senators Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson

March 29th, 2007 - This week the Senate is engaged in an important and historic debate about America’s policy in Iraq. Today, we will vote to pass a responsible Iraq War Supplemental spending bill that provides our troops with the support they need and presents a clearly defined U.S. policy in Iraq.

Our troops deserve the continued support of the American people and the support from Congress necessary to see they have the right equipment, training and other resources to carry out their mission. We both appreciate and honor the sacrifices made by more than 40 Nebraskans and 3200 American men and women in Iraq.

We believe the status quo in Iraq is unacceptable and this bill, while not perfect, represents a desperately needed adjustment in our policy. Our most important criteria for supporting this legislation is creating an Iraq war policy that is worthy of the sacrifice of the men and women in the U.S. military.

There has been an enormous amount of disinformation, some of it intentional, on all sides about what the bill we will vote on today does. It is important that Nebraskans understand the facts about what the common sense legislation passed by the Senate does and does not do.

First, the legislation does not:

• cut funding for our troops in the field; or
• require a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq or set mandatory withdrawal timelines.

The legislation does the following:

• requires the President to limit the U.S. military mission to protecting U.S. and coalition personnel and infrastructure, training and equipping Iraqi forces, and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations;
• requires, within 120 days of enactment, the beginning of the redeployment of U.S. forces not involved in the military mission;
• establishes the goal that, by March 31, 2008, the redeployment of all U.S. forces not involved in the military mission would be complete;
• sets seven political, economic and military benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet “expeditiously and pursuant to a schedule established by the Government of Iraq”;
• requires a report from the President to Congress on the U.S. military’s plan for Iraq, “including strategic and operational benchmarks and projected redeployment dates of U.S. forces from Iraq”; and
• requires a report from the U.S. military commander in Iraq to Congress on Iraqi progress on meeting the seven benchmarks.

Previously, we had both voted against similar legislation because we felt, while an adjustment in our Iraq policy was needed, there were better ways to adjust our policy. We are voting for this legislation today because, given the choices we have between this legislation and the status quo, we believe this legislation is the most responsible course for the U.S. military and our nation’s security.

In addition, during negotiations over this legislation at the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, Senator Nelson was successful in securing an agreement to include provisions that establish measurable benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet and a requirement that the U.S. Commander in Iraq present regular reports to Congress on the Iraqis progress on those benchmarks. Establishing benchmarks is an approach endorsed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Our military is under enormous strain from multiple, extended deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. In February, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, reported to Congress that there is now a “significant” risk that the United States military will not be able to respond to an emerging crisis. Both of us spend an enormous amount of our time as senators on issues related to concerns that have arisen from the damage that is being done to our military. This legislation begins to ease the crushing burden we are placing on our military.

The President has said he will veto this bill. That would be unfortunate. Our troops deserve a policy that is worthy of their sacrifice and the American people deserve a policy they can support. We believe it is possible to create an Iraq war policy that can gain bi-partisan support and this legislation is a responsible starting point.

Ultimately, the future of Iraq will be determined by Iraqis—not Americans. As General Petraeus has said, there will be no military solution in Iraq. That reality must guide our thinking. The status quo is unacceptable. Today, we are voting for change.

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