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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

October 6, 2005

Byrd to White House: Level with the People

Senator Byrd delivered the remarks (below) tonight in response to President Bush's speech on Iraq earlier in the day. The Senator said that it was time for the White House to stop relying on rhetoric and instead provide facts and truth to the American people.

Next week, the people of Iraq will go to the polls and cast a critical ballot. They will decide whether or not to endorse the constitution as drafted by their political leaders. It is an important day, and I pray that it goes well.

But no matter how well the vote goes, whether or not the constitution is ratified, it appears that the men and women of our nation's Armed Forces will be in Iraq for a long time to come.

I applaud those men and women. Our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, our Marines, our National Guard, our Reserves -- our troops have displayed unique courage in the face of great trials. My support for them has never -- and will never -- waver. They have earned the respect and thanks of this nation.

But even more than laudatory words, our troops deserve a plan for Iraq from their Commander-in-Chief. The American people deserve the same. We must have a plan with measurable goals and objectives, a plan that gives some surety to our military as well as to the people of this nation. Today, in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, the President talked a great deal of why we have forces in Iraq, but he did little to provide any plan for success.

The American people want to know how we will measure progress. In response, the President said, "We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory."

No specifics. No plans. No way to measure success.

Maybe the President didn't offer specifics because the specifics are not very encouraging.

Consider the Iraqi troops. For a new American soldier, basic training takes nine weeks to complete. Nine weeks. The United States has, for more than two and a half years, been training a new Iraqi military. Basic training for all Iraqi, and specialized training after that. Two and a half years. In June, the Senate was told by the Department of Defense that three of 100 Iraqi battalions were fully trained, equipped, and capable of operating independently -- what the Defense Department calls 'level one trained.' Two and a half years. Three battalions.

Between June and the end of September, one would assume that we would be growing that number. We are training more Iraqi forces, so more Iraqis should be ready to stand up and defend themselves.

Yet, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 29, General John Abizaid, the Commander of the U.S. Central Command, poured cold water on hopes for progress. Between June and September, the number of 'level one trained' battalions went from three to one. Instead of moving forward, we are going backward.

Perhaps the reason that the President did not tell the American people how to gauge success is because he does not have success to report.

I must admit, I listen to every address about Iraq with great skepticism. And it is because of the track record of this Administration. Don't just take my word for it. The record is replete with examples that cause one to look askance at the White House claims.

One example is from this past May. Vice President Cheney was asked about progress against the insurgency by CNN. He responded, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

The Vice President was confident. He was unwavering. And he was wrong.

Again, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Thursday, General George Casey, the Commanding General of the Multinational Force in Iraq, explained that the 'last throes' was a rosy scenario.

"The average counterinsurgency in the 20th century has lasted nine years. Fighting insurgencies is a long-term proposition, and there's no reason that we should believe the insurgency in Iraq will take any less time to deal with." Those are the words of General Casey.

Who should the American people believe? What should the American people believe? It's time for the deceptions and the distortions and the misrepresentations to end. The American people deserve the truth.

Instead of broad platitudes, the American people deserve the facts. Most importantly, the American people deserve a plan. When will the Iraqi people be able to defend themselves? When will the Iraqi military be able to fight the insurgency without the American forces? When will the Iraqi police forces be able to control the streets? What is the timetable for reconstruction? What is the target for constant electrical power in the major cities? For communications? For safe transportation? What is our strategy for preparing the Iraqi people to be able to defend themselves?

We seem to have no strategy with benchmarks for success, no plan for progress. How will we know victory if we cannot even define it? What is the plan for our heroes in Iraq? What is the plan to stabilize that nation? The American people and the Iraqi people deserve to know the answers.

"The people of the United States must know not only how their country became involved, but where we are heading." I agree with those words. But they are not mine. These words belong to a Congressman from the State of Illinois in August 1965. Those words belong to our current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. And they echo as true today as they did in that summer, 40 years ago.

I urge the Bush Administration to level with the American people. Moreover, I urge the White House to level with itself. Face the facts! Stop the spinning. Get a grip on the situation. Then please, oh please, explain to us all where we are heading in Iraq.

MORE by Senator Byrd

 
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