General Wesley K. Clark
Remarks on Iraq
January 21, 2004
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you for inviting me into your classroom this afternoon. As you'd guess, this is the first class I would have signed up for if I were in your shoes. I just hope someone will send me their notes at the end of the semester.
A few months ago, I delivered a speech on the crisis in Iraq. The situation then was grim: thousands of America's soldiers were in harm's way. Thousands more had been killed or wounded. And the leader of Iraq -- the target of America's invasion -- Saddam Hussein, was still on the run.
Back then, President Bush assured us that hope was around the corner, that resistance would lessen, and that a new Iraqi government would be quickly established. According to Administration officials, Saddam's downfall would open the floodgates to hard evidence of his ties to al Qaeda and point the way to weapons of mass destruction -- including nuclear and biological weapons.
But time has not been kind to these predictions. Today, nearly four months later, and after the capture of Saddam Hussein, our troops are still in harm's way, and al Qaeda is still at large.
More than 120,000 service men and women are still in Iraq, placing enormous stress on tens of thousands of families back at home. More than 40,000 troops have been kept from leaving the service. Members of the National Guard and Reservists have effectively been drafted as full-time soldiers.
More than 500 have been killed.
There is no sign of a turnaround in the Iraqi economy, despite the Administration's rosy predictions about oil production. And unemployment in Iraq is heading toward 70 percent.
And most important of all, no weapons of mass destruction have been found and no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9-11 has been produced.
The bottom line: President Bush has misled the American people time and time again.
President Bush misled the American people when, in selling the war, he told them that Iraq was such a threat to our security that an immediate invasion was the only option. And that we simply couldn't afford the time to build an international coalition or pursue a diplomatic solution.
His Administration led us to believe that our troops would be greeted as liberators, that Iraqi oil would finance reconstruction, and that the Iraqi army and police would provide necessary security, allowing our forces to leave quickly.
Instead, we are seen as occupiers, the resistance continues, and tens of billions of dollars to finance the war have come out of the pockets of American taxpayers -- not Iraq's oil wells. Despite the President's victory lap on the back of an aircraft carrier, our soldiers are still in Iraq.
Last night, in his State of the Union Address, the President once again misled the American people. Why didn't he admit the truth? It was just one year ago, in his last address, that George Bush was talking about the grave and gathering danger of Iraq getting nuclear weapons, and using its stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. Now, we know that Iraq had no significant nuclear program, and no chemical and biological weapons have been found. His own top officials - including Secretary of State Colin Powell -- have admitted that. Why didn't he just level with the American people - and admit that the threat he warned us about didn't exist? That's not leadership that's playing politics with national security.
Last night, the President listed a series of countries that are contributing to our effort in Iraq. Why didn't he admit that more than 75 percent of the forces doing the fighting and dying in Iraq are American? Why didn't he admit that it is America that is paying more than 75 percent of costs of reconstruction in Iraq?
I know what a real coalition is. We had it in the Balkans. We had it in the first Gulf War. This is not a real international effort. But to hear the President, you'd think that all was well in Iraq. That the transition to an Iraqi government is going smoothly. That's not leadership. That's playing politics with national security.
And now, just as they created an unnecessary deadline to initiate military action, the Administration is once again playing politics on Iraq. Why did they set an arbitrary date of June 30th to transfer full governing authority to Iraq?
Why, last November, did the Secretary of Defense announce a cut-back in American forces even though resistance forces continue to attack both Americans and Iraqis?
Why did the Administration rush Iraqi police and security forces into the field without adequate training and without the minimum standards they set just this Fall?
Why, after spurning the United Nations time and again, has the Administration done a 180 degree turn - and is now desperately seeking help from the UN in hope of meeting its June 30th deadline?
When you look at these facts, there is good reason to suspect that President Bush set this date not because it is good for Iraq or our soldiers, but because it is an election year.
Now, I'm not on the ground. But all of the evidence points to some pretty ham-handed maneuvering in a delicate situation. First, the Administration blocked the United Nations from participating, and set strict standards for training of Iraqi security forces. Now, they're running back to the UN for assistance, and are bending the very standards they set just a few months ago. It's all characteristic of a policy that's driven inside the beltway by Washington politics, not by what's good for the Iraqi people, or what's right for the American people.
America simply can't afford to be misled any more - and we can't afford to play politics with national security. There's simply too much at stake.
It's time for a higher standard of leadership in America. We need a leader with experience and with a success strategy to get us out of the mess in Iraq. A leader who has been on the front lines of battle and in the backrooms of diplomacy. We need a leader who will know, day one, how to get us out of Iraq and win the war on terrorism. A leader who will use force only as a last resort. We need a leader who will stand up for American values.
And I am that man. I am in this race because the American people deserve better from their Commander in Chief, because there's no responsibility more important than protecting the American people. I served in the United States Army for thirty-four years. I was on the ground in Vietnam ... head of the Southern Command in Latin America ... and Supreme Allied Commander in Kosovo, where I led the effort to save 1.5 million Kosovar Albanians from ethnic cleansing.
Let me be clear: I have always been against George Bush's war in Iraq. Not because Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat. But because Saddam wasn't an imminent threat. Not because it wasn't right to confront Iraq. But because President Bush failed to use every diplomatic weapon at his disposal before deploying our service men and women.
But most importantly, the war on Iraq has come at a tremendous cost to the war on terror and stability in the region. It's drained our military and financial resources. It's drained our forces in other regions. It's drained morale. And it's taken our eye off the real enemy: Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network.
Instead of rushing us into war in Iraq, George Bush should have focused on working with our allies to finish off Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network - the real leaders of the war on terrorism.
But now that we're in Iraq, we need to finish the task at hand and bring success to the region. Success with honor. That's what our soldiers deserve. That's what their families deserve. That's what our veterans deserve. We can't impugn their honor -- and the honor of those who've perished - with a hasty deadline contrived for political expediency. And we'll be even less safe if we leave behind the mess that we helped create. We can't turn over the keys of government without laying the proper foundation for democracy and a lasting peace.
I hope the turnover will be successful, just as I hope that our troops will be successful. But I'm sincerely concerned about this deadline. Here's what's likely to happen. Stresses will build as the Administration rushes to meet the deadline. There won't be any organization behind the withdrawal, because they could be in a rush to pull out the coalition occupation authority.
I'm in favor of creating an interim Iraqi government -- but not hastily, and not in a manner that could compromise our security and regional stability. That's why you need the involvement of an international organization - one that's in it for the long haul and can grapple with the stresses and strains of an emerging government and pursue patient diplomacy.
The Administration's rush to transfer power carries with it real risk - risk for our soldiers, for the stability of the region, and for the broader war on terrorism.
Experts have always been wary of what would happen to Iraq after dictatorship fell. Now, those same experts are worried that a rush to transfer power on June 30th could undermine the very democratic experiment the Bush Administration claims motivated this war.
The Kurds in northern Iraq are now in daily disagreement with the Bush Administration. They are well-armed. And they are now demanding autonomy and talking more and more about independence. The result could be a conflict with Turkey and the rest of Iraq.
The largest ethnic group, the Shiites, are also alienated. After rejoicing at their liberation from Saddam Hussein, the Shiites are now demonstrating against the United States. If their leaders break with America's plan - as they are now threatening to do - we could see a break-up of Iraq and civil war.
Meanwhile, the third ethnic group in Iraq -- the Sunnis -- don't quite understand the jerry-rigged election system the Bush Administration has been advocating. And it is the Sunnis whose change of heart we need. The Sunni areas are where resistance is fiercest, and where, on television, we see Iraqis cheering when American helicopters are shot down.
All of this is just what Osama bin Laden wants. He has told his followers to go to Iraq, capitalize on the instability there, gun down Americans, and launch suicide attacks. Bin Laden sees the possibility of another failed state to house his followers and launch attacks on America and the civilized world.
All Americans didn't support this war. But I believe all Americans want us to succeed. Real success means an Iraq that's not a threat to its neighbors ... an Iraq that's not a breeding ground for al Qaeda ... but an Iraq that's stable with a representative government that can be a model for the region.
The Bush Administration wasn't honest with the American people last year about the need for war and its costs. But they better be honest with the American people now: It's high time that President Bush admit that there is no silver bullet to this war - no magic elixir to the mess, no magic date for a transition of authority.
President Bush didn't tell you this last night. But I will. There is no easy way out of Iraq. Every American should understand: early exit means retreat or early defeat. And we can't afford either. We need a success strategy -- for it is only success that can honor the sacrifice of so many American men and women; it is only success that will allow Iraq to stand on its own; and it is only success that will allow our soldiers to return home.
Some of the conditions have changed since I last laid out my success strategy. But the essence of it remains the same.
The first thing we must do is to internationalize the effort. We must end this American monopoly. The Coalition Provisional Authority, by which America controls Iraq today, must be replaced. But it is unrealistic to have the United Nations take over this daunting task - it's unable and it's unwilling. Instead, we must create a new international structure - the Iraqi Reconstruction and Democracy Council -- similar to the one we created in Bosnia, with representatives from Europe, the United States, Iraq's neighbors, and other countries that will support our effort.
Nations are more likely to share burdens if they are also sharing the decision-making. President Bush doesn't seem to understand this. But I do. I have done it before.
Second, we must transform the military operation - turning it into a NATO enterprise. General Abizaid, the Commander of US forces in the Middle East, would remain in charge of the operation. But he would report to the NATO Council as well, as I did when I commanded NATO forces in Kosovo. Why - with a new President - would NATO insert itself in Iraq? Because our friends and allies have a stake in a stable Iraq. And if they know that a new American President believes in collective action and supports international law - as they do - they will be willing to work more effectively with us in Iraq.
We can also get Muslim countries to step in as we did in the Balkans. The result will be a new pool of tens of thousands of troops from other countries.
With this level of international support, we can manage the ethnic crisis we are facing in Iraq. Political and election experts from the United Nations can come in. We can create an interim government that the Iraqi people understand and see as legitimate - and then we can help them draft a constitution, organize free elections, and establish a representative government.
By sharing responsibility for Iraq, we can get others to share the immense and growing burden we face.
This is something President Bush doesn't seem to understand. I do. I have done it before.
Third, we need a plan to prevent Iraq from becoming a magnet for every jihadist in the Middle East who wants to take a free shot at an American soldier. This past weekend, we witnessed the biggest suicide bombing since the capture of Saddam. We still don't know who did it. But we do know that suicide bombings are a signature of al Qaeda -- not Saddam loyalists from the Baath party.
Closing the borders will require real cooperation from the countries bordering Iraq. We faced the same problem in Bosnia. To deal with it, we need to create a Regional Council for Iraq. The United Nations should lead this effort, with the United States and all of Iraq's neighbors participating, as well as the new international authority. Together, such a Council can ensure that Iraq's neighbors have a stake in its success, close their borders to Jihadists, and encourage Iraqis to participate in their new government. With the end of the American occupation, they will have no excuse but to help.
President Bush doesn't seem to understand this. I do. I have done it before.
Finally, let me conclude by promising you this: if I am elected President, not only will I protect America from the threat of al Qaeda and the terrorist network, but I will bring success to the failed strategy in Iraq.
I will draw on my 34-year military career, the lessons of diplomacy, my experience as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, the personal relationships I developed with foreign leaders, my understanding of guerrilla warfare, and my efforts commanding the war and winning the peace in Kosovo.
But even more, I promise that I will never, ever bring politics into questions of war and peace. Force will always be a last resort. I will never misuse our military or mislead the American people.
What I will do is get us out of the mess in Iraq. I will recruit other countries to share the burden. I will protect our troops, draw them down, and eventually bring them home. We will leave Iraq and we will succeed in Iraq.
That is the higher standard of leadership the American people deserve, it's and that is the higher standard I will deliver as your president. Together we can take America forward.
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