Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President's Iraq Strategy

Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, January 11, 2007; 11:05 AM








BIDEN: Welcome to the Foreign Relations Committee, Madam Secretary. It's an honor to have you here.

Nearly four years ago, Congress and the American people gave the president of the United States the authority to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to depose a dictator.

We know now that weapons of mass destruction were not there and that the dictator is no longer there as well.

The Iraqis have held elections and they've formed a government. But the country and our troops, in my view, are now embroiled in the midst of a vicious civil war.

As of last night, according to the Pentagon, 3,009 Americans have lost their lives. Over 22,000 have been wounded. And we have spent and committed hundreds of billions of dollars, and there seems to be no end in sight.

For many months, now, the American people have understood that our present policy is a failure. And they wanted to know, and continue to want to know, where we go from here.

Last night, like millions of my fellow Americans, I listened intently to the president of the United States lay out his new strategy for Iraq.

We all hoped and prayed that the president would present us with a plan that would make things better. Instead, I fear that what the president has proposed is more likely to make things worse.

We hoped and prayed we would hear of a plan that would have two features: to begin to bring American forces home and a reasonable prospect of leaving behind a stable Iraq.

Instead, we heard a plan to escalate the war, not only in Iraq but possibly into Iran and Syria as well.

BIDEN: I believe the president's strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it's a tragic mistake.

In Iraq, the core of the president's plan is to send another 20,000 Americans to Baghdad, a city of more than 6 million people, where they will go, with their fellow Iraqi soldiers, door to door in the middle of a civil war.

If memory serves me, we've tried that kind of escalation twice before in Baghdad, and it's failed twice in Baghdad, and I fear it will fail a third time.

And the result will be the loss of more American lives and our military stretched to the breaking point with little prospect of success and a further loss of influence in the region.

Secretary Rice, this November the American people voted for a dramatic change in Iraq. The president said, forthrightly, he heard them. But it seems clear to me from listening to him last night, he did not listen.

And for the life of me, I don't understand how he could reject the overwhelming opposition to his plan from a broad, bipartisan, cross-section of the country's leaders, military, civilian and civic.

As I understand it, the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed this plan. Our commander in the region, General Abizaid, opposed the plan. Our commanders in Iraq, starting with General Casey, opposed this plan. The Baker-Hamilton commission opposed this plan. And so did our greatest soldier-statesman, Colin Powell.

BIDEN: They all gave advice to the president that could be boiled down to two things.

First, our military cannot stop the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis from killing each other. The Iraqi people have to make very, very, very difficult political compromises in order for the killing to stop.

And all of the people who gave advice to the president that I mentioned suggested that the best way to force the leaders and the people to make these hard compromises was to start this year to draw down our forces, not escalate them.

The second consensus point from the advice the president got was that the way to secure this political solution to secure Iraq -- it was to secure support for whatever political solution the Iraqis arrived at from Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and all the neighbors.

And there's a second reason for seeking that kind of support and consultation. It was that if in fact the civil war cannot be stopped, at least with a regional consensus the hope would be it could be contained within Iraq.

So Secretary Rice, to be very blunt, I can't in good conscience support the president's approach.

But because there's so much at stake, I'm also not prepared to give upon finding a bipartisan way forward that meets the twin goals most Americans share and I believe -- I don't speak for anyone on this committee, but I believe most of my colleagues in the Senate share -- and that is, how do we bring American forces home in an orderly way over the next year and leave behind a stable Iraq?

BIDEN: In all my years in the Senate, Secretary Rice, I don't think we've faced a more pivotal moment than the one we face today.

Failure in Iraq will not be confined to Iraq. It will do terrible damage to our ability to protect our interests all over the world, and I fear for a long time to come.

That's why we have to work together for a solution.

I'm aware that the surge is not 22,000 people or 20,000 people getting on a boat, landing in one moment. The reason why I think there's still time for us to work out a bipartisan solution is that this is a process.

We need a solution that will gain the support of our fellow citizens.

I say to my colleagues, maybe because I got here in the midst of the Vietnam War, or toward the end, I think we all learned a lesson, whether we went or didn't go, whether we were for it or against it, is no foreign policy can be sustained in this country without the informed consent of the American people. They've got to sign on. They've got to sign on.

I just hope it's not too late.

Mr. Chairman?

LUGAR: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I join you in welcoming Secretary Rice to the Foreign Relations Committee once again.

LUGAR: I appreciate her willingness to discuss policy on Iraq with the committee in advance of a very important trip to the Middle East, which I understand commences tomorrow.

All of us listened intently to President Bush's speech last night. And yesterday, I said that initially the president and his team should explain what objectives we're trying to achieve if forces are expanded. Where and how will they be used? Why is it the strategy will succeed? How Iraqi forces will be involved? How long additional troops may be needed? What contingencies are in place if the situation does not improve? And how this strategy fits into our discussion throughout the region?

The president made an important start on this process with the speech. The elements of his plan require careful study by members of Congress. And I appreciate the efforts the president has made thus far to reach out to Congress and to the American people for that discussion.

I was encouraged by the president's emphasis on a regional element in his Iraq strategy. Whenever we began to see Iraq as a set piece, an isolated problem that can be solved outside the context of our broader interests, we should reexamine our frame of reference.

Our efforts to stabilize Iraq and sustain a pluralist government there have an important humanitarian purpose. But remaking Iraq in and of itself does not constitute a strategic objective.

Stability in Iraq is important because it has a direct bearing on vital U.S. strategic objectives. To determine our future course in Iraq, we must be very clear about what those objectives are.

In my judgment, there are four primary ones.

First, we have an interest in preventing Iraq or any piece of its territory from being used as a safe haven or training ground for terrorists.

LUGAR: As part of this, we have an interest in preventing any potential terrorists in Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Secondly, we have an interest in preventing a civil war or conditions of permanent disorder in Iraq that upset wider regional stability. The consequences of turmoil that draws in outside powers or spills over into neighboring states could be grave. Such turmoil could generate a regional war, topple friendly governments, expand destabilizing refugee flows, close the Persian Gulf to shipping traffic, or destroy key oil production and transportation facilities.

Any of these outcomes could restrict or diminish the flow of oil from the region, with disastrous results for the world economy.

Third, we have an interest in preventing the loss of U.S. credibility and standing in the region and throughout the world. Some loss of confidence in the United States has already occurred, but our subsequent actions in Iraq may determine how we are viewed for generations.

Fourth, we have an interest in preventing Iranian domination of the region. The fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni government opened up opportunities for Iran to seek much more influence in Iraq. And if Iran was bolstered by an alliance with the Shiite government in Iraq or a separate Shiite state in southern Iraq would pose serious challenges for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab governments.

Iran is pressing a broad agenda in the Middle East with uncertain consequences for weapons proliferation, terrorism, security of Israel and other U.S. interests. Any course we adopt in Iraq should consider how it would impact the regional influence of Iran.

Now, these are not our only interests in Iraq, but they're fundamental reasons for our military presence during the last several years.

I would observe that all four of these objectives are deeply affected not just by whether the insurgency and sectarian violence can be abated in Iraq's cities and neighborhoods, but by the action of Iraq's neighbors.

LUGAR: For this reason I've advocated broader diplomacy in the region that is directed at both improving stability in Iraq and expanding our options in the region.

Inevitably when one suggests such a diplomatic course, this is interpreted as advocating negotiations with Syria and Iran, nations that have overtly and covertly worked against our interests and violated international norms.

The purpose of the talks is not to change our posture toward these countries. But necessary, reasonable dialogues should not be sacrificed because of fear of what might happen if we include unfriendly regimes.

Moreover, we already have numerous contacts with the Iranians and Syrians through intermediaries and other means. The regional dialogue I am suggesting does not have to occur in a formal conference setting, but it needs to occur, and it needs to be sustained.

Both our friends and our enemies in the region must know that we will defend our interests and our allies. They must know that we are willing to exercise the substantial leverage we possess in the region in the form of military presence, financial assistance, diplomatic contacts and other resources.

Although it's unlikely that a political settlement in Iraq can be imposed from the outside, it's equally unlikely that one will succeed in the absence of external pressures and incentives.

We should be active in bringing those forces to bear on Iraqi factions. We should work to prevent miscalculations related to the turmoil in Iraq.

Now, finally, much attention has been focused on the president's call for increasing troop levels in Iraq. This is an important consideration, but it's not the only element of his plan that requires examination.

The larger issue is how we will manage our strategic interests in the Middle East in light of our situation in Iraq. Can we use the stability that we offer the region and our role as a counterweight to Iran to gain more help in Iraq and in the region?

I look forward to continuing our examination of Iraq in the committee's hearings, and especially your testimony this morning.

Thank you.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Madam Secretary, the floor is yours.

RICE: Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Senator Lugar.

Thank you, members of the committee.

I look forward to our discussion. And in order to facilitate that, Mr. Chairman, I have a longer statement that I would like to have entered into the record and I would (inaudible) an excerpt.

BIDEN: Without objection, your entire statement will be placed in the record.

RICE: Thank you.

As I come before you today, America is facing a crucial moment, indeed, as the chairman has put it, a pivotal moment, concerning our policies in Iraq and concerning our broader policies in the Middle East.

I think that we all know that the stakes in Iraq are enormous and that the consequences of failure would also be enormous, not just for America and for Iraq, but for the entire region of the Middle East and, indeed, for the world.

And so, we agree that the stakes in Iraq are enormous.

And, as the president said last night, Americans broadly agree -- and we in the administration count ourselves among them -- that the situation in Iraq is unacceptable.

RICE: On these two points, we are unified: the enormousness of the stakes and the unacceptability of the current situation.

The president has, therefore, forged a new strategy that speaks both to our stakes in Iraq and the need to change the way that we are doing things.

The Iraqis have devised a strategy that they believe will work for their most urgent problem: that is to return security to Baghdad.

We are going to support that strategy through the augmentation of American military forces. I think Secretary Gates will say more about that in his committee.

But I want, also, to emphasize that we see this not just as a military effort, but also as one that must have very strong political and economic elements.

In order to better deliver on the governance and economic side, the United States is further decentralizing and diversifying our civilian presence. And I will talk a little bit more about that and in greater detail.

We are further integrating our civil and military operations.

And as Senator Lugar has noted, it's important to see Iraq in a regional context. And I would like to talk a little bit about the regional strategy that we want to pursue that supports reformers and responsible leaders in Iraq and across the broader Middle East.

RICE: Let me be very clear: We all understand that the responsibility for what kind of Iraq this will be rests with Iraqis. They are the only ones who can decide whether or not Iraq is, in fact, going to be an Iraq for all Iraqis, one that is unified, or whether they are going to allow sectarian passions to unravel that chance for a unified Iraq.

We know historically that Iraq rests on the regions religious and ethnic fault line. And in many ways, the recent events in Baghdad over the last almost a year -- that Baghdad has become the center of that struggle.

The Samarra mosque bombing provoked sectarianism and it set it aflame at a pace that threatens to overwhelm the fragile and yet promising process of reconciliation, the process that has produced successful elections and a new constitution, and substantial agreement as we sit here today on a law to share Iraq's oil wealth fairly, as well as a commitment to a more reasonable approach to deBaathification and to hold provincial elections.

Iraqis must take on the essential challenge, therefore, that threatens this process of national reconciliation, and that is the protection of their population from criminals and violent extremists who kill in the name of sectarian grievance.

The president last night made clear that the augmentation of our forces is to support the Iraqis in that goal of returning control and civility to their capital.

He also noted that there are also very important strategic -- important economic and political elements that must be followed up if clear, hold and build is to actually work this way.

And so I want to assure you that we in the State Department recognize the importance of surging our civilian elements and our civilian efforts, as well as the surge that would be there on the military side.

RICE: Iraq has a federal government. We need to get civilians out of our embassy, out of the green zone, into the field across Iraq.

We have had, over the last year and a half, the establishment of provincial reconstruction teams that are operating outside of Baghdad.

And the importance of those teams should be understood in the following way: It is extremely important to have an effective and functioning government in Baghdad. And we have worked with them on ministries, on budget processes, on the technical assistance that they need to have a functioning government.

But it is equally important to have local and provincial governments that can deliver for their people. And indeed, this gives us multiple points for success, not just the government in Baghdad but the people with whom we're working in the provinces.

I might just note that we believe that this is having an effect in places like Mosul, an effect in places like Tal Afar. But it's having a very good effect even in some of the most difficult places.

And one of the other elements of the president's policy last night was to announce that 4,000 American forces would be augmented in Anbar, the epicenter of Al Qaida activity.

That is, in part, because we believe that the efforts that we've been making with local leaders, particularly the sheikhs in Anbar, are beginning to pay fruit.

For instance, they have recruited, from their own ranks, 1,100 young men to send to Jordan for training. And these sons of Anbar, as they call them, will come back to enter the fight against Al Qaida.

And so I want to emphasize: We're very focused on the need to return control to Baghdad. But we're also very focused on the need to build capacity in the local and provincial governments and to be able to deliver economic and reconstruction assistance there.

Finally, let me just say one point about our regional diplomatic strategy -- one word about our regional diplomatic strategy.

Obviously, Iraq is central, now, to America's role in the Middle East, central to our credibility, central to the prospects for stability, central to the role that our allies and friends and Iraq's neighbors will play in the Middle East.

But we have to base our regional strategy on the substantially changed realities of the Middle East.

RICE: This is a different Middle East.

This Middle East is a Middle East in which there really is a new alignment of forces.

On one side are reformers and responsible leaders who seek to advance their interests peacefully, politically and diplomatically.

On the other side are extremists of every sect and ethnicity who use violence to spread chaos, to undermine democratic governments and to impose agendas of hatred and intolerance.

On one side of that divide are the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the other countries of the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan, the young democracies of Lebanon, of the Palestinian territory led by Mahmoud Abbas and in Iraq.

But on the other side of that divide are Iran, Syria and Hezbollah and Hamas.

And I think we have to understand that that is a fundamental divide.

Iran and Syria have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize, not to stabilize.

And so, with all respect to those who talk about engagement with Syria and Iran, I think we need to recognize that if Iran and Syria wish to play a stabilizing role for their own interests, then they will do so.

If, on the other hand, they intend to offer a stabilizing role because they believe that in our current situation in Iraq, we are willing to pay a price, that's not diplomacy; that's extortion.

And I would just ask you what that price might be. I have a hard time believing that Iran will, on one side, talk to us about stabilizing Iraq and say, "Oh, by the way, we won't talk about what you're doing in the Security Council to stop our nuclear program; that's not part of the price" -- or that Syria will talk about stabilizing Iraq while they continue to destabilize it and say, "Oh, we aren't actually interested in talking about the fact that we are irreconciled -- we have not reconciled -- to the loss of our position in Lebanon or to the existence of a tribunal to try those who are responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri."

RICE: These two will most certainly come into contact with each other: the destabilizing activities in Iraq and the desires of these states to have us pay a price that we cannot pay.

We do have a regional approach. It is to work with those governments that share our view of where the Middle East should be going. It is also to work with those governments in a way that can bring support to the new Iraqi democracy. It is to support the very normal democracy that Iraq itself may engage in with all of its neighbors. And it is to have an international compact which is a bargain between the international community and Iraq for support in response to Iraqi reforms, economic and, indeed, some that are political.

In that Iraqi compact both Syria and Iran have been present and will continue to be.

Let me just conclude by saying that we all understand in the administration that there are no magic formulas for Iraq, as the Baker-Hamilton commission said. I want you to understand that I personally, too, understand and know the skepticism that is felt about Iraq and, indeed, the pessimism that some feel.

I want you to know that I understand and, indeed, feel the heartbreak that Americans feel at the continued sacrifice of American lives, men and women who can never be replaced for their families, and for the concern of our men and women who are still in harm's way, those in uniform and those civilians who are also on the front line -- civilian diplomats and civilian personnel who are also operating in places like Anbar and Mosul.

That said, I know, too, how carefully President Bush and the entire national security team considered the options before us. And I'd like you to understand that we really did consider the options before us.

The president called on advisers from outside. He called on the advice of the Baker-Hamilton study group. And, of course, he discussed the policies with his advisers, like me, who've been there from the beginning and therefore bear responsibility for both the successes and failures of this policy, and new advisers, like Secretary of Defense Gates, who came with a fresh eye.

RICE: After all of that, he came to the conclusion -- and I fully agree -- that the most urgent task before us now is to help the Iraqi government -- and I want to emphasize "help" the Iraqi government -- establish confidence among the Iraqi population that it will and can protect all of its citizens, whether they are Sunni, Shia, Kurds or others; and that they will in an evenhanded fashion punish those violent people who are killing innocent Iraqis, whatever their sect, ethnicity or political affiliation.

We believe that the Iraqi government, which has not always performed, has every reason to understand the consequences now of nonperformance.

They, after all, came to us and said that this problem had to be solved.

They came to us and said that, yes, they would make the necessary decisions to prevent political interference in the military operations that need to be taken to deal with the Baghdad problem.

They came to us and said that this government will not be able to survive if it cannot reestablish civil order.

And they gave to the president -- and not just Prime Minister Maliki, but many leaders -- an assurance that this time they're going to make the difficult choices in order to get it done.

The situation in Iraq is unacceptable. But Iraq is also at this point in time of very high stakes to this nation. This is a time for a national desire and a national imperative not to fail in Iraq. We've faced crucible tests as a country before, and we've come through them when we have come through them together.

I want to pledge to you, as the president did last night, that we want to work with all Americans, here particularly in the Congress, the representatives of the American people, as we move forward on a strategy that will allow us to succeed in Iraq.

RICE: This is a strategy that the president believes is the best strategy that we can pursue. And I ask you careful consideration of it, your ideas for how to improve it. And, of course, understanding that not everyone will agree, I do believe that we're united in our desire to see America succeed.

Thank you very much.

BIDEN: Madam Secretary, thank you very much.


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