STATEMENT BY SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON IRAQ STUDY GROUP AND GATES NOMINATION
(AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY)
December 6, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mr. President, this morning the Iraq Study Group issued a stunning indictment of the Administration’s policy toward Iraq.
The Study Group has concluded that the “situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating” and that “sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability.”
The Group’s report explicitly rejects the strategy of staying the course. As it states, “Current U.S. policy is not working, as the level of violence in Iraq is rising and the government is not advancing national reconciliation. Making no changes in policy would simply delay the day of reckoning at a high cost. Nearly 100 Americans are dying every month.“ Truer words were never spoken.
The Study Group calls for “new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.”
Significantly, this group of distinguished leaders has called unanimously for change in our military mission of engaging in combat directly to a new mission of supporting the Iraqi Army and beginning to withdraw our combat troops. The report sets a clear goal for achieving this shift in mission and beginning the redeployment of our forces by the first quarter of 2008. The report states clearly that “the United States must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of American troops deployed in Iraq.”
Instead, the report calls for clear commitments from the Iraqi Government on reconciliation, along with clear consequences for our military, political, and economic assistance if the commitments are not met.
The report also calls for talks that include all of Iraq’s neighbors in the region, especially Iran and Syria, and for a new diplomatic initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The American people are demanding change in Iraq. Robert Gates, the nominee for Secretary of Defense, has agreed we need change, and now the bipartisan Iraq Study Group has recommended a clear change in the way forward in Iraq.
The verdict is in. There can no longer be any doubt that the violence and chaos in Iraq are getting worse, that our current strategy is failing, and that we need to work together on a new strategy that will make it possible for us to bring our troops home. The only question is whether the White House will heed this clarion call and agree to change the perilous course we have been on in Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell and the chaos began.
More of the same failed policy that depends on an open-ended commitment of our military will not bring America closer to success. It will not stop the violence. It will only continue to undermine our own national security interests.
Iraq is the defining issue of our time, and the person who will have a major voice in meeting the enormous responsibility of recommending the new course will be the new leader we are confirming today as the Secretary of Defense.
The American people are demanding far more than a change of faces at the Pentagon. They are demanding – and they deserve – a comprehensive change in our policy so that we finally have a policy on Iraq that is worthy of the enormous sacrifice, commitment, and valor of our men and women in uniform.
Although I voted against the nomination of Robert Gates to head the CIA in 1991, I support his nomination to be Secretary of Defense, because he assured the Committee that he would be an independent thinker and give candid and frank advice to the President about a way forward in Iraq.
During the confirmation hearing yesterday, Dr. Gates spoke with candor – a candor that has been sorely missing from the Department of Defense under this Administration. He recognized the high price that our troops are paying for the current policy.
He clearly stated that we are not winning in Iraq and that all options for a way forward are on the table.
He assured us personally that he would speak candidly, frankly, and boldly to people at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue about what he believes and what he thinks needs to be done. He told us that he is not coming “back to Washington to be a bump on a log.” He assured us that he will be “independent,” that he “will consider all of the options,” and that he is open to dialogue with Iran and Syria.
We all hope the Administration will quickly set a new course that will enable our troops to begin to come home. America is aching – aching – for a new policy on Iraq and we now have the greatest opportunity in nearly four years to have one.
Our men and women in uniform who have been making the ultimate sacrifice every day in Iraq deserve no less and they deserved it long ago. I’m sure that all of us in the Senate look forward to working closely with Dr. Gates on this all-important issue in the months and years ahead.
Laura Capps/Melissa Wagoner (202) 224-2633
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