Last week, our nation marked a somber anniversary – four years in Iraq. We must commit ourselves to honoring the memories of the fallen soldiers and doing right by those still serving in Iraq.By the way, there has been a lot of discussion from both parties about “Iraqis coming off the sidelines” to help with trying to bring something like democracy and self-rule to that country. To be honest, I don’t know how we can seriously talk about that now when today’s New York Times headline reads, “Sunni Baghdad Becomes Land Of Silent Ruins”; trying to make this country merely livable again would be a victory of sorts.
We need to change the direction in Iraq and that starts b stopping the practice of sending blank check after blank check to President Bush. Our troops in Iraq have performed bravely and they’ve done what’s been asked of them. They captured Saddam Hussein, they made sure there were no weapons of mass destruction, and they ensured three democratic elections and a constitution. Now it’s time to start bringing them home.
When I served in Baghdad, 19 members of my unit didn’t make it home. Not a day goes by that I do not think of them and their families. They are the impetus for why I support the plan that sets responsible benchmarks to get the Iraqis off the sidelines and sets a timeline for American troops to start coming home.
This bill isn’t perfect (re: the “Iraq Supplemental,” about which Patrick speaks here), but by including a timeline for redeploying our troops, it is far better than simply rubber stamping the president’s request for an open-ended commitment in Iraq. I have introduced legislation that sets a quicker timeline and is clean of extraneous spending projects – the Iraq De-Escalation Act – but the Iraq Supplemental is worthy of support. It provides additional funds for our veterans and service members to fix the escalating medical care problem. In Iraq it sets the benchmarks the Iraqis need to meet, and most importantly sets a timeline for American troops to start coming home.
However, there was a time when this could have been achieved, and George Packer wrote an article in The New Yorker last week about some brave Iraqis who tried to help with just that. I’ll try to post about it as soon as I can.
It is my belief that the Iraqis will not come off the sidelines and fight for their country so long as American soldiers are running their security convoys for them. A timeline would tell the Iraqis that we aren’t going to be there forever and would force them to act with a sense of urgency and to stand up for their own country.Hence the curse of omnibus spending bills, but I don’t know any politician from either side of the aisle who can tackle that one and still keep their job.
I would prefer the Iraq Supplemental to have a 12-month timeline to get our troops home from Iraq and for it to be a straight vote on Iraq without non-military spending. But since this is an emergency spending bill, there are some important measures included – such as money for spinach farmers who suffered after E. coli outbreaks, money for Katrina relief that the Bush administration has not delivered, and long-overdue money for children’s health care. These measures should have been funded separately, but they have bipartisan support.
One thing is certain, however; while the Iraq Supplemental has downsides, I would never deny the funds our troops need because of extra measures. Worse would be to blindly support the open-ended commitment endorsed by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. I will never support their plan to have Americans refereeing an unending religious civil war in Iraq.By the way, the Senate is now considering the Iraq Supplemental passed last week referred to by Patrick, as noted by Daily Kos diarist MissLaura here (and to contact Bob Casey on this, click here).
On my recent trip to the Middle East, I met with soldiers and commanders in Afghanistan. For those brave fighting men and women it has been more than five years and in many respects they are becoming (part of) the forgotten war. Commanders there told me that they need more troops to blunt the resurgent Taliban and a “spring offensive” they know is coming. That’s why the legislation I have introduced and the Iraq Supplemental that I support both call for the refocusing of our efforts on hunting down and killing al-Qaida’s forces in Afghanistan.
After four years, more than $410 billion spent, thousands of lives lost and even more lives changed forever by injury, we are finally doing something to change course in Iraq. In the Army we said: lead, follow or get out of the way. We cannot follow blindly anymore. I am fighting to make sure that we do right by the 19 heroes who never made it home from Iraq. I am also listening to the voices of those I represent in this critical debate.
When it comes time to vote on Iraq, you can be sure that I will always follow my heart. This is a defining moment for America. If those who idly support the status quo prevail, the history books of future generations will not treat them kindly – nor should they. The time for leadership on Iraq is now, and I continue to be proud to represent the families of Bucks County, Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia in this fight.
Also, if anyone thinks that Patrick is in the mode of “all Iraq war all the time and nothing else,” read this.