U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (WA-09) voted today in favor of a House resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. combat troops to Iraq. The resolution, which also pledged the House’s continued support for the troops in Iraq, passed by a bipartisan vote of 246 to 182.
Smith spoke in favor of the resolution on the House floor yesterday. The following are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“It has been nearly four years since the war in Iraq began—four-and-a-half since President Bush and his team in the White House started the effort to launch our nation on the path to this war. We learned a lot during that time frame, but two things stand out. First, the war effort has failed to achieve the outcome the President hoped for, instead creating problems he clearly felt would not come to pass. Even he admitted that he is dissatisfied with the way the war has gone. Second, at every step along the way, beginning with the way the President got us into the war, right up to the President’s latest plan to once again increase the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad, President Bush and his administration made mistake after mistake—failing to an almost incomprehensible level to learn from past errors or to demonstrate even a modest level of competence in prosecuting this war. Countless books from all points on the political spectrum lay out in painful detail all the mistakes this administration made in Iraq.
It is way past time for this Congress to stand up and say enough. We disapprove of what President Bush is doing in Iraq.
But our friends on the other side of the aisle claim that such a statement in meaningless. This is an astounding assertion. The United States House of Representatives—the elected voice of the people of our nation—stating clearly and on the record how they feel about the single most important policy issue of our time is meaningless? This opinion, expressed by the minority party, perhaps explains the utter lack of oversight and accountability that they employed when they were in charge—standing by and acting as mere cheerleaders for the President’s actions in Iraq as he made mistake after mistake. The other side of the aisle at least has a consistent record of believing that the opinion of Congress, a body our Constitution set up as a coequal branch of government with the Executive, is meaningless.
As much as I disagree with this conclusion as to the proper role of Congress in expressing its opinion on the Iraq War, I do understand this initial reluctance to pressure President Bush to change course. In a time of war we all want to stand behind our Commander–in-Chief as a first option, and the powers of the presidency make it difficult for Congress to, in a clear-cut straightforward manner, direct the President in the conduct of war. But the President’s record of mistakes in Iraq makes it clear we can no longer cling to this first option, and, difficulties notwithstanding, the cost of continuing down the same path the President has been pursuing in Iraq has reached the point where Congress must at least try to force a change in direction.
This effort should logically begin with a clear statement from the House that we disapprove of the way the President is conducting the war in Iraq. That is what this resolution does. With this vote members can no longer hide behind, “on the one hand, but then again on the other” statements. We can all mutter about things we don’t like in Iraq, but an official on the record vote is required to make that disapproval clear. Do you support the way President Bush is conducting the war in Iraq? Yes or no.
And make no mistake about it the President’s plan to increase the number of U.S troops in Baghdad represents no change in policy. It is stay the course, more of the same. In the last year we made large increases in the number of our troops in Baghdad twice already. Both times violence went up in the city, and as we have begun the current increase in troops that violence has once again increased. The lesson should be clear at this point--United States military might will not stop or even reduce the violence in that city.
Listening to the arguments against this resolution helps to understand why our President insists on making some of the same mistakes over and over again in Iraq. We are told that our fight in Iraq is a clear-cut battle against the same type of Al Qaeda-backed extremists who attacked our nation on 9/11 and that we are defending a worthy Iraqi government against these evil forces. If this were true, I would support whatever increase in troops was necessary to defeat that evil force.
But it is not even close to true—it is instead a dangerous attempt to paint a black and white picture on a situation that is far, far more complex. Baghdad is caught in a sectarian civil war. Both Shia and Sunni militias are battling each other as well as United States forces and the Iraqi government. It is a complex web of frequently changing alliances and interests that makes it impossible for our troops to separate good guys from bad guys. This is why our troops cannot stop or even reduce the violence. And the Maliki government we are being asked to support spends as much time acting like they are supporting the Shia side of the civil war as they do acting like they want to bring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds together to form a stable Iraq.
Al Qaeda is in Iraq and we should continue to target them, but that effort will require a far, far smaller U.S. military presence than we have there today. Currently we are expending an enormous amount of resources in Iraq, most of which is going towards putting our forces in the middle of a chaotic civil war where our efforts do not advance and may even retard our fight against Al Qaeda. That massive military commitment reduces our ability to pursue Al Qaeda in the dozens of other nations where they have influence—most glaringly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This larger, more important fight is not solely or even primarily military. Diplomacy and other efforts to move disaffected Muslim populations away from joining Al Qaeda are a huge part of our battle, and we need to enhance those efforts. But we can’t, because we’re hamstrung both by a lack resources - financial and strategic – that are tied down in Iraq, and because our open-ended occupation of Iraq continues to undermine America’s standing in the world.
Instead of sending more troops to Baghdad the United States policy in Iraq should be to instruct our military leaders there to put together plans to as quickly and responsibly as possible reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. We need our troops to focus on Al Qaeda and its supporters, not to be bogged down in a sectarian civil war that is only tangentially related to the larger fight against Al Qaeda.
The first, critical step in this process of changing our policy in Iraq is this resolution. Congress must make its disapproval of the President’s policy in Iraq clear and on the record.”