Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia)

Congressional Record
Sunday, July 8, 2007; 12:00 AM

Delivered on the Senate floor, May 2, 2007

Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I rise today to address the war supplemental which was vetoed last night at 10 minutes after 6 by the President. It is my understanding that today leaders from both sides of the Senate will go to the White House, this afternoon, to begin talking about where we go next.

I rise today to talk a little bit about what has got us to where we are, why we are where we are, and what, in my judgment, as one Member of the Senate, we need to be focused on.

I am glad the President vetoed the war supplemental with timelines for withdrawal. It is absolutely wrong to tie the money to support our troops to arbitrary timetables that have nothing to do with success or failure but only to do with the declaration of a cause being lost. We should never declare, as Members of the Senate, our cause to have been lost. And we should never hold hostage the money for our troops based on arbitrary deadlines or thresholds.

It is, however, important for us to debate the war on the floor of the Senate. I hope when the next supplemental comes, it will be a supplemental that goes to support our men and women who have been deployed in defense of freedom, to give them everything they deserve and everything they need without strings and complication. To do so will not keep us in the Senate from debating the war, but it will clearly separate the money to support our troops from whatever the course that debate may take.

We have a long history in this country of many great Americans taking exactly the same position. One of those great Americans, Walter George, a Member of the Senate, from Georgia, a Democrat, in 1955--when Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States of America and Adlai Stevenson had been his first opponent, and would be his second opponent in the 1956 Presidential election--the big issue of the day was the issue of Quemoy and Matsu and Red China's attempt to expand its influence on those islands and the policy of the United States of America and our President, Dwight Eisenhower. In Time magazine, April's issue, 1955, Walter George, Senator, Democrat from Georgia, a man in whose legacy and in whose shadow I now serve, said the following:

If it would advance the cause of peace, I would be happy for the President to declare his policy. But how would it advance the cause of peace to inform the enemy of what we intend to do?

I know one thing--George said, and I continue to quote--if we do fulfill our high mission and our high destiny, it will be because we have resolved to do our dead level best to advance peace, to advance security, to shore up a shaky world. Only by doing that can we vindicate the sacrifice of those who died on land and at sea, and fulfill the hopes of men and women in every free land.

It has been 52 years since that statement was made, but it could never ring more true than it rings today. Walter George was absolutely right, and Walter George, a Democrat, came to the defense of Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican who was President, when Dwight Eisenhower was being forced to play our hand in a critical issue of the day. We should never force our chief executive officer, nor should we force our generals, nor our troops in the field, by declaring our hand before the cards are dealt.

There are a few other quotes I wish to share with my colleagues as I lead up to the point I want to make this morning, and these are contemporary quotes and these are quotes about Iraq . These are quotes about the supplemental. These are quotes about our brave men and women in harm's way. The first is by General Lynch, the commanding officer of the third ID. When asked about whether funding should be tied to an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal, he said:

Ultimately, a precipitous withdrawal would increase the probability that American troops would one day have to return to Iraq and confront an enemy that is even more dangerous than today.

He is absolutely correct. Every time this country waited or every time it determined to withdraw from a conflict or looked the other way from a challenge of evil, it only had to muster itself in greater numbers and fight with greater losses at a greater day in the future.

General Lynch continued:

No matter how frustrating the fight can be and no matter how much we wish the war was over, the security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq . The price of giving up there would be paid in American lives for years to come. It would be an unforgivable mistake for leaders in Washington to allow policies and impatience to stand in the way of protecting the people of the United States of America.

I could not say it better myself.

Lastly, for quotes from contemporaries, Gary Kurpius, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the following:

The time to debate the war is not in front of a microphone making irresponsible statements, and it's certainly not in the funding bill that keeps our troops alive. If our troops need funds, it is the responsibility of Congress to provide them the money. Debate the war elsewhere.

My last quote is from an e-mail I got from Captain Schratt, on the ground with the U.S. Army in Baghdad right now, a couple of weeks ago when this debate was going on. He e-mailed me and said: I see they are debating whether or not they can not support the war and still support me. He said: Please tell them I am the war.

That is the truth. Our troops are the war. They are deployed and they are fighting and their funding should not be restrained or constrained or in any way hinged on political gymnastics. Those gymnastics belong in the speeches on this floor and the dialogue we have with our administration.

Now, it is my understanding there are some who are talking about a second supplemental to come, to be an incremental supplemental, maybe 60 days at a time. I would implore the Senate to consider not doing that because that brings uncertainty to our troops in the field and only partial funding on a daily or on a 60-day basis, which is wrong. There are others who are talking about maybe benchmarks--not timetables for withdrawal but benchmarks for the achievement of the Iraqi people. That may or may not be wise, depending on what those are, and I will reserve judgment, but I will tell my colleagues one thing. A lot of us around here have selective memories and have forgotten the fact that we have had some benchmarks.

In fact, when we went into Iraq, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, declared three succinct benchmarks. He said: When we deploy our troops, we will do the following: A, we will search and find the weapons of mass destruction that the U.N. and the entire world believed were there, and in fact we found the remnants and the evidence, although never the smoking gun. Then, second, he said: We are going to give the Iraqi people a chance to hold free elections and determine a new Constitution and self-determine their future. The Iraqis have held three elections. They have a parliament. They have established a self-determined democracy in their way of doing so, and it is functioning. Then the President said: Our third goal will be to train the Iraqi Army so that it can protect and defend that fledgling Government and we will come home.

Those are three benchmarks. Two of the benchmarks have been achieved. The third benchmark is what the surge is intended to accomplish.

Today in downtown Baghdad and in Anbar Province, American troops are sleeping and eating and deployed in the neighborhoods--not in bases--side by side with Iraqi troops. The securing of neighborhoods is taking place, the holding of neighborhoods is taking place, and the rebuilding of those neighborhoods is soon to follow. In the months ahead, if we remain committed to the cause, if we fund our troops, we have the opportunity to reduce the violence, to allow the reconciliation that is so necessary.

So as people debate whether we ought to put benchmarks in supplemental appropriations for our men and women in harm's way, I hope they will recognize we have benchmarks, three that we established when almost every Member of the Congress voted to go into Iraq , two of which have been completely met and satisfied and a third is partially there and will ultimately be achieved if we don't pull the plug and we continue to fund our troops.

War is never fun and it is always controversial. There is not a one of us in this room who does not wish war was ever necessary. But we know as we look back upon history, as Walter George, the Senator from Georgia, said: We have to honor the lives of those who were lost on land and sea to preserve freedom and liberty and democracy for the people of the United States of America. We are at such a day today with our battle in Iraq and in the overall war on terror. Iraq is but a battle in that war. We don't need to send signals that we will quit; we don't need to declare that we have lost. We need to declare the resolve to see the mission through. There are 140,000 brave men and women deployed in Iraq right now committed to the cause. When they come home and I talk to them, to the man and to the woman, they all say: We are there for the right reason. We are making progress. Continue to support me, and we will do the job.

So as the leaders go to the White House today to discuss with the President where we go next, as we look to what we do in this supplemental, let's resolve to fund our troops. Let's resolve to do it without condition on our troops. Let's resolve to do it without declaring defeat but instead in the interest of and with a commitment to victory. Then, if we have debate--and we should and we must--let's have it on the floor, unattached to funding, not restricting our troops but deciding what our course will be and the absolute objective to be, rather than a conditional debate that only sends a message to our enemy that our resolve may be lost and we may be turning the other way. As Walter F. George said in 1955, an American Democratic Senator from Georgia, in support of a Republican President, we should honor the lives that have been lost and stay true to our commitment, and it will never be in our interests to declare to our enemies what our intentions might be.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

(Congressional Record)

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