Senator Ted. Kennedy's floor remarks on Iraq

Floor remarks on Iraq  (2004) 
by Ted Kennedy

A speech on the subject of the War in Iraq. Given on 28 September 2004, on the floor of the United States Senate.

Mr. President, I would like to speak today about the war in Iraq.

In his presidential election campaign 24 years ago, Ronald Reagan posed the defining question to the American people in that election, when he asked, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" That simple question has even greater relevance now than when Ronald Reagan asked it.

The defining issue today is our national security. Especially in this post-9/11 world, people have the right to ask Ronald Reagan's question in a very specific and all-important way-are we safer today because of the policies of President Bush?

Any honest assessment can lead to only one answer, and that answer is an emphatic no. President Bush is dead wrong and John Kerry is absolutely right We are not safer today. And the reason we are not safer is because of President Bush's misguided war in Iraq.

The President's handling of the war has been a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and stubborn ideology. No amount of Presidential rhetoric or preposterous campaign spin can conceal the truth about the steady downward spiral in our national security since President Bush made the decision to go to war in Iraq. If this election is decided on the question of whether America is safer because of President George Bush, John Kerry will win in a landslide.

Enough time has now passed to make us sure of that verdict, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Shakespeare stated the enduring age-old principle eloquently and wisely when he wrote: "Time's glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light."

No issue is more important today. The battle against terrorism is a battle we must win. Even those of us who opposed the war in Iraq understand that this is now an American commitment, and we must see this through. But to remain silent in the face of mounting failures by this President and this White House is to weaken our security even further, and we cannot let that happen.

Even after 9/11, it is wrong for this President or any president to shoot first and ask questions later, to rush to war and ignore or even muzzle serious doubts by experienced military officers and experienced officials in the State Department and the CIA about the rationale and justification for the war, and the strategy for waging it.

We all know that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We've known it for more than twenty years. We're proud, very proud, of our troops for their extraordinary and swift success in removing Saddam from power. But as we also now know beyond doubt, he did not pose the kind of immediate threat to our national security that could possibly justify a unilateral, preventive war without the broad support of the international community. There was no reason whatsoever to go to war when we did, in the way we did, and for the false reasons we were given.

The Administration's insistence that Saddam could provide nuclear material or even nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda has been exposed as an empty threat. It should have never been used by George W. Bush to justify an ideological war that America never should have fought.

Saddam had no nuclear weapons. In fact, not only were there no nuclear weapons, there were no chemical or biological weapons either, no weapons of mass destruction of any kind.

Nor was there any persuasive link between Al Qaeda and Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. A 9/11 Commission Staff Statement put it plainly: "Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between Al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The 9/11 Commission Report stated clearly that there was no "operational" connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Secretary of State Colin Powell now agrees that there was no correlation between 9/11 and Saddam's regime. So does Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless, President Bush continues to cling to the fiction that there was a relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. As the President said in his familiar Bush-speak, "The reason that I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda."

That's the same logic President Bush keeps using today in his repeated stubborn insistence that the situation is improving in Iraq, and that we and the world are safer because Saddam is gone.

The President and his administration continue to paint a rosy picture of progress in Iraq. Just last Wednesday, he referred to the growing insurgency as "a handful of people." Standing in the Rose Garden with Prime Minister Allawi, President Bush described the last three months in Iraq as "steady progress." He went so far as to say that Iraqis feel better about the direction of their country, than Americans feel about the direction of our country.

Vice President Cheney says we're "moving in the right direction," despite the worsening violence. Our troops are increasingly the targets of deadly attacks. American citizens are being kidnapped and brutally beheaded.

But Secretary Rumsfeld says he's "encouraged" by developments in Iraq. He said, "the successes we've achieved over the past period of months…have been really remarkable."

Our colleague Senator Lindsey Graham doesn't buy that, and he has said so clearly: "We do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people."

Neither does our colleague Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stated unequivocally last week, "I don't think we're winning… The fact is, we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq."

The National Intelligence Estimate in July, although not yet made public, made this point as well-and made it with such breathtaking clarity that for the good of our country, unnamed officials discussed it with the press. The New York Times said the estimate "spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq." According to the same New York Times report and other reports, the National Intelligence Estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of next year. The worst-case scenario is that Iraq plunges into outright civil war. The best-case scenario-the best case-is an Iraq with violence still at current levels, with tenuous political and economic stability. Yet President Bush categorically rejected that analysis, saying the CIA was "just guessing." Last week, he retreated somewhat. He said he should have used "estimate," instead of "guess."

In other words, the best-case scenario, between now and the end of 2005-2005-is that our soldiers will be bogged down in a continuing quagmire with no end in sight. President Bush refuses to give the time of day to advice like that by the best intelligence analysts in his Administration, but the American people need to hear it.

About the National Intelligence Estimate, Secretary Powell said last weekend: "It was something that I could have written myself." He knows that the insurgency is getting worse and that the occupation has caused, in his words, "an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world."

The outlook is bleak, and it's easy to understand why. It's because the number of insurgents has gone up. The number of their attacks on our troops has gone up. The sophistication of the attacks has gone up. The number of our soldiers killed or wounded has gone up. The number of hostages seized and even savagely executed has gone up.

Our troops are under increasing fire. More than a thousand of America's finest young men and women have been killed. More than seven thousand have been wounded.

In August alone, we had 863 American casualties. Our forces were attacked an average of 70 times a day-higher than for any other month since President Bush dressed up in a flight suit, flew out to the aircraft carrier, and recklessly declared "Mission Accomplished" a year and a half ago.

The President, the Vice President, the National Security Council, Secretary Rumsfeld, and other civilian leaders in the Pentagon failed to see the insurgency that took root last year and that began to metastasize like a deadly cancer. How could they not have noticed that?

Perhaps because they were still celebrating their mission accomplished.

For two year, terrorist cells have been spreading like cancer cells. Any doctor who would let that happen would be guilty of malpractice. Is It only coincidence that one of the principal domestic priorities of the Bush Administration is to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits?

Indeed, the Schlesinger panel, which was handpicked by this administration, found that senior leaders failed to see the insurgency growing in Iraq last year.

In many places in Iraq today, it is too dangerous to go out, even with guards. The streets are so dangerous that parents are keeping their children home from school, afraid they will be kidnapped - or worse - along the way.

At the end of July, at least 68 Iraqis were killed in a car bombing in Baqouba. Iraqi police and military are often targets of the insurgents. More than 140 foreigners have been kidnapped by insurgents on the roads in the Sunni triangle, from their apartments in Baghdad, and on the road to Najaf. No one is immune. The insurgents have kidnapped aid workers and engineers, truck drivers and telecom workers, journalists and diplomats. In addition to Americans, Insurgents have beheaded citizens from Turkey, Nepal, Bulgaria, and South Korea.

The State Department does not attempt to conceal the truth, at least in its travel warnings. Its September 17th advisory states that Iraq remains "very dangerous."

At the end of August, a bloody three-week battle in Najaf ended with an agreement that US troops would give up the city. Fallujah now also a "no-go" zone for our troops. Meanwhile, inside the city, the terrorist Zarqawi and his network gather strength and regroup.

Those aren't the only areas where we've lost control. On Friday, Secretary Powell said, "we don't have governmental control or governmental control is inadequate in Samarra, Ramadi, Erbil and a number of other places." In large parts of Baghdad, frequent car bombs and mortar attacks disrupt daily life. This month, according to recent reports, such attacks have happened almost hourly in the city.

Whole cities are considered "no-go" zones for our troops-presumably to avoid even greater casualties until after the election.

We continue to use so-called "precision" bombing in Iraq, even though our bombs can't tell whether it's terrorists or innocent families inside the buildings they hit.

What is helping to unite so many Iraqi people in hatred of America is their emerging sense that America is unwilling - not just unable - to rebuild their shattered country and provide for their basic needs. Far from sharing President Bush's unrealistically rosy view, they see up-close that their hopes for peace and stability are receding every day. Inevitably, more and more Iraqis feel that attacks on American forces are acceptable, even if they would not resort to violence themselves.

For every mistake we make, for every innocent Iraqi child we accidentally kill in another bombing raid, the ranks of the insurgents climb, and so does their fanatical determination to stop at nothing to drive us out. An Army Reservist described the deteriorating situation this way: "For every guerilla we kill with a 'smart bomb,' we kill many more innocent civilians and create rage and anger in the Iraqi community. This rage and anger translates into more recruits for the terrorists and less support for us."

The Iraqi people's anger is also fueled by the persistent blackouts, the power shortages, the lack of electricity, the destroyed infrastructure, the relentless violence, the massive lack of jobs and basic necessities and services.

Mr. President, by any reasonable standard, our policy in Iraq is failing. We are steadily losing ground in the war. No amount of campaign spin can gloss over that fact. We have to do better, and November 2nd is our chance, the people's chance to demand that we do better.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).