A Speech We'd Like to Hear

My fellow Americans:

The decision to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003 divided the country and divided my party. People I respect found themselves on both sides of that controversy. But three and a half years later, it's clear that the invasion was a serious error. The president told us the invasion was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from giving the fruits of his WMD programs to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. We now know that the programs did not exist, that the operational links between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda that the administration warned of did not exist, and that the White House's claims on these subjects were the result of either deliberate deception or a willful ignorance of the truth that is in many ways more frightening.

Once the invasion was done, like most Americans I initially believed it was our responsibility to do the best we could to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq. Embarrassed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the administration outlined a noble agenda to create an Iraqi democracy. These efforts began with my support and that of my party.

But almost immediately it became clear that the president had no real plan to achieve his goals. As the situation deteriorated, Democrats offered suggestions to alter our course in Iraq. Invariably, we were ignored. Time passed and things got worse. The administration eventually agreed to seek some changes, but always too late, past the moment when ideas might have helped. And so, things got even worse. It's possible that if the administration had listened to our suggestions the situation might have been turned around. But warnings went unheeded.

Now, we have reached the point where no further purpose is served by continuing the American military presence in Iraq. The time has come to redeploy our forces -- to begin the process of recovery from the war in terms of lost personnel and equipment, and to refocus our attention on other parts of the world -- including most pressingly the continuing threat from al-Qaeda.

The president believes -- or claims to believe -- that we are fighting them over there to avoid fighting them over here. This is bizarre. Our military presence in Iraq is not a physical barrier against terrorist infiltration of the United States. Since the invasion, al-Qaeda has struck in Spain and twice in England. Whether we stay in Iraq has no bearing on whether they'll strike America again. What is relevant is that the longer we keep half of our deployable military in Iraq, the longer we dedicate so many of our spy satellites, Arabic-speaking intelligence officers, special-operations forces, and so much of our money to the mission in Iraq, the harder it is to bring the necessary resources to bear on the crucial issue of international terrorism.

This might be a price worth bearing if keeping our soldiers in Iraq would do some good. Unfortunately, at this point it no longer can. Our men and women in uniform are serving with honor and distinction. But they are soldiers, not magicians. They have no way to heal the sectarian divisions that are tearing Iraq apart. They cannot conjure up a liberal democracy out of nowhere.

The future of Iraq lies in the hands of the Iraqi people and their leaders. If they can find a way to resolve the issues that divide them, there is every reason to be optimistic about the future of their country. If, as unfortunately seems more likely, they cannot and their country continues its slide into civil war, the presence of tens of thousands of American soldiers will do nothing to help Iraq and everything to endanger the lives of our troops and the long-term security of our country. This is not a pleasant reality, which is why the Bush administration has refused to face up to it. But refusing to face unpleasant truths is the reverse of leadership. The president's plan -- if you can call it a plan -- is simply to continue on the current course for two more years and hand the mess he's made off to his successor.

That's unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the White House's habit of comparing those who disagree to Neville Chamberlain and every conceivable alternative to their policies a form of appeasement. To put forward the view that America should blindly follow the dogmatic and failed leadership of the current administration is absurd, and to put it forward under the banner of anti-fascism more absurd still. The country can't afford to be led by people who make a wreck of our national security and then lash out at anyone who dares point out the truth to cover up their own failures. And the country desperately needs a Senate that's willing to say so. To stop the blank checks and the rubber stamps and make the White House hear what the American people are thinking -- that this war was a mistake, that the mistake needs to be brought to an end, and that the president can't keep on jeopardizing the security of our country out of a stubborn refusal to admit that it was a mistake.

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