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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

The War in Iraq
Senate Floor

Following is Sen. Patrick Leahy's address on Iraq, delivered Tuesday morning on the Senate floor. Leahy (D-Vt.) is the ranking member of the Appropriations panel that handles the Senate's work in funding the State Department and US foreign operations and aid, and he also is a senior member of the Appropriations panel with jurisdiction over the annual defense budget bill. Leahy was one of 23 senators who voted against the resolution that authorized the invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Leahy: Three years ago when the Congress and the country debated the resolution to give President Bush the authority to launch a preemptive war against Iraq, reference was often made to the lessons of Vietnam.

Unheeded Lessons

There are many lessons, both of that war and of the efforts to end it. But one that made a deep impression on me came from former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of that war, who said our greatest mistake was not understanding our enemy.

Vietnam was a relatively simple country that had changed little in the preceding 3,000 years. It was, for the most part, racially, ethnically, linguistically and religiously homogenous. One would have thought it would have been easy for U.S. military and political leaders to understand.

Apparently it was not. The White House and the Pentagon, convinced that no country, particularly not a tiny impoverished land of rice farmers, could withstand the military might of the United States, never bothered to study and understand the history or culture of Vietnam, and they made tragic miscalculations. They lacked the most basic knowledge of the motivation, the capabilities and the resolve of the people they were fighting.

At the start of the Iraq war, those who drew some analogies to Vietnam were ridiculed by the Pentagon and the White House. Iraq is not Vietnam, they insisted. Our troops would be greeted as liberators. Troop strength was not a concern. Our mission would be quickly accomplished. Democracy would spread throughout the Middle East. Freedom was on the march.

It is true that Vietnam and Iraq are vastly different societies. But the point was not that they are similar, but that some of the same lessons apply. We did not understand Vietnam - a simple country - and we paid a huge price for our ignorance and our arrogance.

Iraq - a complex country comprised of rival clans, tribes and ethic and religious factions who have fought each other for centuries - we understand even less.

If this were not apparent to many at the start of this ill-conceived and politically motivated war - a war I opposed from the beginning - it should be obvious today. Yet to listen to the Secretary of Defense, or to the President or the Vice President, one would never know it.

Misled into War

We know today that President Bush decided to invade Iraq without evidence to support the use of force and well before Congress passed the resolution giving him the authority to do so - authority he did not even believe he needed - despite the Constitution which invests in the Congress the power to declare war. Twenty-three Senators voted against that resolution, and I was proud to be one of them.

We know today that the motivation for a plan to attack Iraq, hatched by a handful of political operatives, had taken hold within the White House even before 9/11, and without any connection to the war on terrorism that came later.

We know that the key public justifications for the war - to stop Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons and supporting al Qaeda - were based on faulty intelligence and outright distortions and have been thoroughly discredited. United Nations weapons inspectors, who were dismissed by the White House as naïve and ineffective, turned out to have gathered far better information with a tiny fraction of the budget than our own intelligence agencies.

And we know that the insurgency is continuing to grow along with American casualties - 1,999 killed and at least 15,220 wounded, as of yesterday - despite the same old light at the end of the tunnel assertions and clichés by the White House and top officials in the Pentagon.

The sad but inescapable truth, which the President either does not see or refuses to believe or admit, is that the Iraqi insurgency has steadily grown, in part because of our presence there.

'Bring Them On'

After baiting the insurgents to "bring them on," we got what the President asked for. More than two years later, the pendulum swung against us, and the question is no longer whether we can stop the insurgency, but how to extricate ourselves.

According to soldiers who volunteered for duty in Iraq believing in the mission and who have returned home, many Iraqis who detest the barbaric tactics of the insurgents have grown to despise us. They blame us for the lack of water and electricity, for the lack of jobs and health care, for the hardships and violence they are suffering day in and day out.

Unlike our troops and their families who make great sacrifices, most Americans have been asked to sacrifice nothing for this war. The bills are being sent to our children and grandchildren, by way of our rapidly escalating national debt and annual deficits. Yet as the hundreds of billions dollars to pay for the war continue to pile up and domestic programs like Medicaid, job training and programs for needy students are cut, the sacrifices will be felt today as well.

Slogans have become little more than political rallying cries for the White House. Slogans as empty and unfulfilled as "mission accomplished." Our troops were sent to fight an unnecessary war without sufficient armor against these ruthless and barbaric bombing attacks, without adequate reinforcements, without a plan to win the peace, and without adequate medical care and other services when they return home on stretchers or crutches or with eye patches, unable to walk, to work, to pay their mortgages, or to support their families. Many of our veterans have been treated shamefully by their government when it sent them into harm's way under false pretences, and again after they returned home.

Today I worry about places like Ramadi, where more than 300 members of the Army National Guard from my State of Vermont are currently serving valiantly alongside their comrades in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania National Guard. Dozens of other citizen-soldiers from the Vermont Guard are serving across Iraq, while hundreds are deployed throughout the Persian Gulf region.

Many Vermonters have been killed in Ramadi and elsewhere by roadside bombs and all-too accurate sniper attacks.

The insurgents too often seem to attack and then escape with impunity. You can open a newspaper and see photos of armed insurgents walking the streets in broad daylight. Many of these cold-blooded attacks are by people who are willing to trade their own lives to kill civilians, security guards, and our soldiers who have no way of knowing who they can trust among the general population.

'More of the Same' Is Not Working

The President has no plan to deal with Ramadi, let alone the rest of Iraq, except doing more of what we have been doing for more than two years, at a cost of $5 billion a month - money we do not have and that future generations of Americans will have to repay. Nor has he proposed a practical alternative to our wasteful energy policy that guarantees our continued dependence on Persian Gulf oil for decades to come.

I am sure that what our military is doing to train the Iraqi Army and what our billions of dollars are doing to help rebuild Iraq - whatever is not stolen or wasted by profiteering contractors - are making a difference. Iraq is no longer governed by a corrupt, ruthless dictator, and there have been halting but important steps toward representative government.

I applaud the Iraqis who courageously stood in long lines and cast their ballots for a new constitution, despite the insurgents' threats. There are many profiles in courage among the Iraqi people, just as there are in the heroic daily endeavors of U.S. soldiers there.

But this progress masks deeper troubles and may be short lived, threatened by a widening insurgency and a divisive political process that is increasingly seen as leading to a Shiite dominated theocracy governed by Islamic law and aligned with Iran, or the dissolution of Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite states.

Escalating Toll, Escalating Costs

Mr. President, this war has been a costly disaster for our country. More than half of the American people now say they have lost confidence in the President's handling of it.

Far from making us safer from terrorists, in fact it has turned Iraq into a haven and recruiting ground for terrorists and deflected our attention and resources away from the fight against terrorism. If anything, it has emboldened our enemies, as it has become increasingly apparent that the most powerful army in the world cannot stop a determined insurgency.

Regrettably, it is no longer a secret how vulnerable we are, and Hurricane Katrina showed how tragically unprepared we are to respond to a major disaster - four years after 9/11 and after wasting billions on an unnecessary war.

Our cities are little further than the drawing board when it comes to developing workable evacuation plans for a terrorist attack or other emergency, not to mention how to feed, house and provide for millions of displaced people.

This war has caused immense damage to our relations with the world's Muslims, a religion practiced by some 1.2 billion people and about which most Americans know virtually nothing. We cannot possibly mount an effective campaign against terrorism without the trust, the respect and the active support of Muslims, particularly in the Middle East where our image has been so badly damaged. Our weakened international reputation is another heavy price that our country has paid for this war.

Each day, as more and more Iraqi civilians, often children, lose their lives and limbs from suicide bombers and also from our bombs, the resentment and anger toward us intensifies.

And every week, the number of U.S. service men and women who are killed or wounded creeps higher, will soon pass 2000, and shows no sign of diminishing.

This war has isolated us from our allies, most of whom want no part of it, and if we continue on the course the President has set it could also divide our country.

Course Correction

Other Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, have expressed frustration and alarm with the President's failure to acknowledge that this war has been a costly mistake, that more of the same is not a workable policy, and that we need to change course. My friend Senator Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, has pointed out the increasing similarities with Vietnam. We learned this week that the Administration has even resumed the discredited Vietnam-era practice of measuring progress by reporting body counts.

White House and Pentagon officials, and their staunchest supporters in Congress, warn of a wider civil war if we pull our troops out. They could be right. In fact, it could be the first thing they are right about since the beginning of this reckless adventure.

My question to them is, when and how then do we extract ourselves from this mess? What does the President believe needs to happen before our troops can come home, and what is his plan for getting to that point? If we cannot overcome the insurgency, what can we realistically expect to accomplish in Iraq, and at what cost, that requires the continued deployment of our troops?

What is it that compels us to spend billions of dollars to rebuild the Iraqi military, when our own National Guard is stretched to the breaking point and can't even get the equipment it needs?

Unfortunately I doubt that the President or the Secretary of Defense will answer these questions. Instead of answers, we get rhetoric that conflicts with just about everything we hear or read, including from some of this country's most distinguished retired military officers who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Six months ago the Vice President said the insurgency was in its last throes. That was just the latest in a long string of grossly inaccurate statements and predictions and false expectations about Iraq.

Secretary Rice, when asked recently when U.S. forces could begin to come home assuming the Administration's rosy predictions come true, could not, or would not, even venture a guess.

Without answers - real answers, honest answers - to these questions, I will not support the open-ended deployment of our troops in a war that was based on falsehoods and justified with hubris.

Even though I opposed this war, I have prayed, like other Americans, that it would weaken the threat of terrorism and make the world safer, that our troops' sacrifices would prove to have been justified and that the President had a plan for completing the mission.

Instead, it has turned Iraq into a training ground for terrorists, it is fueling the insurgency, it is causing severe damage to the reputation and readiness of the U.S. military, and it is preventing us from addressing the inexcusable weaknesses in our homeland security. The Iraqi people, at least the Shiites and Kurds, have voted for a new constitution, as hastily drafted, flawed and potentially divisive as it may be.

Saddam Hussein, whose capacity for cruelty was seemingly limitless, is finally facing trial for his heinous crimes.

And elections for a new national government are due by the end of the year.

By then, it will be more than two and a half years since Saddam's overthrow, and we will have given the Iraqi people a chance to chart their own course. The sooner we reduce our presence there, the sooner they will have to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve their own problems.

Our military commanders say that Iraq's problems increasingly need to be solved through the political process, not through military force. We must show Iraq and the world that we are not an occupying force, and that we have no designs on their country or their oil. The American people need to know that the President has a plan that will bring our troops home.

Once a new Iraqi government is in place, I believe the President should consult with Congress on a flexible plan that includes pulling our troops back from the densely populated areas where they are suffering the worst casualties and to bring them home. Those consultations should begin in earnest as soon as Iraq's new government is in place. It is also long overdue for the White House and the Congress to reassess our policy towards the region. The President has declared that democracy is taking root throughout the Middle East, and there have been small, positive steps. But they are dwarfed by the ongoing threat posed by Iran, Syria's continued meddling in Iraq and Lebanon, repression and corruption in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the danger that the momentum for peace from Israel's withdrawal from Gaza will be lost as settlement construction accelerates in the West Bank, and the widespread - albeit mistaken - belief among Muslims that the United States wants to destroy Islam itself.

Just as the White House's obsession with Iraq has diverted our resources and impeded our efforts to strengthen our defenses against terrorism at home, so has it made it more difficult to work constructively with our allies to address these regional threats. Mr. President, as I have said, I did not support this war, and I believe that history will not judge kindly those who got us into this debacle by attacking a country that did not threaten us, after deceiving the American people and ridiculing those who appealed for caution and for instead mobilizing our resources directly against the threat of terrorism.

I worry that many of our young veterans - nearly one million so far - who have gone to Iraq and experienced the brutality and trauma of war and who may already feel guilty for having survived, will increasingly question its purpose. As the architects of this war move on to other jobs, fear that we are going to see another generation of veterans, many of them physically and psychologically scarred for life, who feel a deep sense of betrayal by their government.

Mounting Trade-Offs

If President Bush will not say what remains to be done before he can declare victory and bring our troops home, then the Congress should start voting on what this war is really costing this Nation.

We should vote on paying for the war versus cutting Medicaid, as some of those across the aisle are proposing.

Or versus cutting VA programs that are already unable to pay the staggering costs of treatment and rehabilitation for our injured veterans.

Or versus rebuilding our National Guard.

Or rebuilding FEMA.

Or securing our ports and our borders.

Or investing in our intelligence so we can finally capture Osama bin Laden.

Or investing in health care for the tens of millions of Americans who can not afford to get sick.

Or fixing our troubled schools, so our children can learn to do a better job than we have of making the world a safer place for all people.

Mr. President, these, and the tarnished reputation of a country that so many once admired as not only powerful but also good and just, are the real costs of this war.


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Senator Leahy your letter is very positive and overflowing with truth. You spoke a lot on the level of Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote beyond Vietnam. I hear so many people tell me that God is doing this. I don't believe that the Almight is doing these evil things. But I do believe that the Almighty is judging this war as we speak and the resounding story in the history books will be "Nonviolence or Nonexistence". We of all races are children of the Living God of the fruit of the spirit.

Again thank you Mr. Leahy for being a Senator of the United States of America. I will always have deep respect for you, and will pray for you and your family always.


Stephanie White

Know the truth and the truth shall set you free! Thank you for speaking the truth Senator Leahy!

Thank you for speaking the truth! You are one of the few who have spoken out against this war from the beginning. The old adage, that "history repeats itself" could not be truer than now. The said truth is it seems to repeat itself so quickly!! Why it has taken this country so long to finally see what this administration is about I will never understand.

I am saddened and ashamed by what this country has become in a few short years, it will take decades to repair and redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world. Senator Leahy, you give me hope that it might be possible and that good, decent people do exist in our government.

Now, what is the next step for an American ciizen who no longer wants their taxes to go into the war chest, but wants to support necessary programs as you noted in your "OR" list?


Any chance he might run for president?

Sitting in Manchester, England we are not as affected as the US in terms of losing soldiers but we are losing some. You have my greatest sympathies and as 2000 US troops have now died it makes my heart sink. My wife and I visited the Vietnam Memorial in 1997 and found it incredibly emotional looking at the stone with the 57,000 names. Men around us cried and sobbed. I doubt Iraq will be any different and will solve just as little. Many more men are going to die and it is incredibly depressing. I have relatives in New York and they are becoming numb to the stream of bad news. Todays scandal with Mr Cheneys aid will rock them even further. Thank goodness they are Democrats....come on Hilary!!

Mr Blair, popular in the US, has stumbled blindly and stubbornly into this war and has supported Mr Bush without asking some very simple questions eg. "do we have plan?" "Have we an exit strategy?" "Is the war really needed?". Blair has some major problems here and will be standing down himself in the next couple of years. For a man who publicly states he wishes to leave a legacy he will only succeed in being remembered for the man who took the UK into an illegal war, against the views of the public, and he will leave office without the war being resolved. Thanks Tony and thanks GW for embroiling our country in a war which will be remembered as being a huge and costly mistake. God bless all Americans and all the innocent souls in Iraq.

The Senators letter summarizes my every thought on this war, this administration, and the TRUE state of the Union.

I was fooled in the early stages of this war, I was scared from 9/11, and I trusted President Bush and his staff that they would not lie to me.

My biggest fear now is that our Country is Vulnerable in more ways than I ever could have once imagined. I am embarassed that the people of our nation created these problems by electing this administration, and now we are stuck with our decision.

We need True leaders such as Senator Leahy to emerge and steer our country back to one of pride. Someone who is willing to admit the faults of our nation, and create a plan to undue the wrongs at once, regain trust from other nations and quite simply appologize to the world and the nation and force us to accept that we all have responsability to bear.

I did not vote for this president, but my country did, I cannot just sit back and say 'I'm not to blame' but I will say to my countrymen is that I will stand with you, stop pointing fingers and work to fix the issues at hand.

Our nation is not one of Dictatorship, but why do I feel so trapped here ? We have a rogue administration that does not have the best interest of our citizens at hand. Our debt is huge, our economy is faultering, our military has been weakened, poverty and joblessness are continuing to rise, education is suffering, health care is just a joke, our allies have lost faith, and we are sending our youth to die in a country we invaded without cause.

All of this will continue unless we as a people fight for our own country back, what does this mean ? Impeachment ? Stronger opinions from congress, the senate et al ? Im not sure, but I am willing to listen to any plan. What I am sure of is that without serious intervention, the problems we face today will look nil in comparison to the problems we will face in the future.

This obsession with Viet Nam and the total distortion of the conduct and results of that war has created a myth that the idea bankrupt left continue to use in order to hide from the truth of their shameful behaviour. It is dispicable that this hateful behaviour is justified with such a high moral tone. The real lessons follow:

Time to Revisit the Vietnam Analogy
August 2005

by: Andrew E. Busch

At least as early as Spring of 2004, prominent liberals (including Ted Kennedy) began echoing the standard refrain of the Left that the military action of the United States in Iraq was "another Vietnam."

Such sentiments were immediately, and rather effectively, rebutted by supporters of the war. Knee-jerk warnings about "another Vietnam" have become so commonplace for the last thirty years—and have been so wrongheaded most of the time—that the very uttering of them must be considered at the very least suspicious. El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, Kuwait, Afghanistan, all have been declared the next Vietnam. With the perspective of time, it is obvious that even Vietnam was not Vietnam, at least as the Left defines it. Virtually every shibboleth of the antiwar movement, fossilized and rigidly applied to every new situation, has been disproven. On questions ranging from the communist credentials of the enemy to the role of North Vietnam to the strategic benefits sought by the Soviet Union to the human consequences for the peoples of Indochina, the assumptions of the antiwar movement have been proven wrong, those of the U.S. government right.

Despite all of this, it would be a mistake to dismiss too easily the idea that we could learn something from Vietnam that can be applied in Iraq. It may be time for us to revisit this question.

Indeed, there would seem to be several parallels between Vietnam and Iraq that are worth thinking about.

First, politics (and hence persuasion) is at least as important as military prowess in prosecuting the war. As many commentators have noted—including North Vietnamese generals—the Vietnam War was not lost by American troops but by American politicians (like Ted Kennedy). Or to put it another way, it was lost not on the battlefields of Vietnam but in the streets of America.

Today, there is no mass movement opposing the war, partly because Baathism and Islamicism do not yet have a hold on the imagination of intellectuals like third world communism once did. Nevertheless, it is clear that America is more likely to lose this war on the homefront, by lack of resolve, than in the course of the fighting overseas. Indeed, persuasion of the public may be more important in Iraq than in Vietnam. According to recent polls, public support of George Bush’s handling of the war is as low after 1,800 American war dead as Lyndon Johnson’s was after 20,000 or more war dead.

Clearly, Bush has exerted himself more single-mindedly on Iraq than Johnson ever did on Vietnam, which often seemed an unfortunate distraction for the 36th president. However, Johnson fought for several years before the media turned against the war; Bush has faced a hostile media, anxious to do him harm and unconcerned with the effect of their journalistic irresponsibility on the war effort, from the very beginning. Protestor Cindy Sheehan, it is now clear, is a left-wing crank, a fact made no less real or pertinent by the depth of her loss. But her demand—that George Bush explain to her why her son died—is a demand the president must meet, not in a face-to-face meeting with Sheehan but in public argument day in and day out.

In this effort, the President must be aided by those who agree with him, just as he is being aided in the fight over John Roberts’ nomination to the Supreme Court. Television advertising is, perhaps unfortunately, the currency of political discourse today, and if public opinion on Iraq is going to be stabilized it must be employed. There are arguments that must be made that are better made by someone other than Bush himself—facts about the progress being made in Iraq, facts about Saddam’s very real connections with terrorism, facts about Saddam’s intent to reconstitute his WMD program after the demise of sanctions, facts about how the Iraq war stopped the Libyan Bomb, facts about how numerous al Qaeda leaders view the outcome of the "battle for Mesopotamia," as one of them called it, as critical to their cause, perhaps even a history lesson or two, starting with 50,000 Union and Confederate casualties at Gettysburg in three days. Unless the arguments for fighting and winning in Iraq are sharpened, Bush runs the risk of becoming another Lyndon Johnson.

The second parallel between Iraq and Vietnam that is worth considering is the important role of external agitation and supply in keeping the enemy fighting. From the very beginning of the Vietnam War, North Vietnam flooded the South with troops and supplies in an attempt to conquer it. The supplies, in turn, came from the Soviet Union and China. In Iraq, while the insurgency originated in Baathist plans for a post-invasion guerrilla war, it has increasingly taken on the character of an external war against the Iraqi people. Foreign fighters and arms flood in from Syria; Saddam’s uncaptured henchmen direct the financing and conduct of the war from Syrian villas; and now word has come of an Iranian unit, operating under the direction of the Revolutionary Guards, training insurgents in explosives at a base in Lebanon. Yet no action has been publicly taken. This (apparent) willingness to allow safe havens for the organization of the insurgency is eerily reminiscent of U.S. policy in Vietnam, where an invasion of North Vietnam was mostly off the table as an option (and was never actually pursued) and where Cambodia remained a sanctuary except for a brief incursion in 1970. With the war in Iraq increasingly unpopular, it is difficult to say whether Bush even has the political wherewithal to address this issue, but it is hard to imagine free Iraq surviving indefinitely a squeeze between Syria and Iran should the two miscreants remain unchastened. Bush may need to gamble that the American people are willing to widen the war in order to win it.

Finally, one lesson of Vietnam that was learned magnificently in subsequent years, and then was apparently unlearned in Iraq, was the importance of acting with overwhelming rather than incremental force. It seems clear in retrospect that more troops were needed—not to defeat Saddam’s army but to seal the borders and maintain order. Having laid down the gauntlet to the terrorist regimes of the region, and having held Iraq up as a model-in-the-making whose example would help bring those regimes down, the United States apparently failed to anticipate that they would act out of self-preservation to attempt to throttle the example in its cradle.

In all three areas—lack of an effective public argument, toleration of safe havens for the enemy, and failure to anticipate the violent reactions of violent despots—U.S. policy in Iraq has veered distressingly close to the mistakes of Vietnam. Taken together, they form a pattern of McNamara-style limited warfighting—a pattern of perhaps not taking a very serious enterprise quite seriously enough. That was the first real object lesson of Vietnam.

This is not necessarily to say that the Vietnam analogy is, on balance, more apt than not. There are still enormous differences that work in our favor. It is certainly not to say that the end must be the same. Let us, at any rate, pray that it is not. For the second great object lesson of Vietnam, apparent in the millions of deaths and millions of refugees generated by Stalinist Indochina after April 1975, is the very high cost of losing to the sorts of enemies that America acquires.

Andrew E. Busch is a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center.

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