Sen. Joseph Biden's Opening Remarks

CQ Transcripts Wire
Tuesday, September 11, 2007; 3:10 PM

BIDEN (D-Del.): The committee will come to order. The hearing will come to order.

Six years ago this morning, agents of Al Qaida attacked the United States of America and murdered 2,998 American people. So I'd like you all to please join me at the beginning of this hearing for a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11.

Thank you.

Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, welcome. We've been seeing a lot of one another.

And I want to thank Ambassador Crocker for his hospitality to me last week in both Ramadi and in Baghdad.

And I'm glad to see you again, General. Welcome home, as brief as this stay may be.

You're here today to give the American people a progress report on the war in Iraq and on the president's decision in January to surge more forces into Iraq.

Americans are hearing a lot about this surge, and they want to know whether it's succeeding, whether the violence in Iraq is going up or down, and what impact that has on the future of Iraq and, most importantly from their perspective, the future of our men and women in uniform that are there as well as the civilians we have stationed there.

General Petraeus, you say the numbers show that violence is decreasing. Others, including the independent Government Accounting Office, have different figures and contrary conclusions.

But in my view, this debate in a sense misses the point.

The one thing virtually everyone now agrees on is that there is no purely military solution in Iraq; that lasting stability requires a political settlement among the Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds.

In announcing the surge, President Bush said his primary purpose was just that: to buy time for a political settlement to emerge in Baghdad.

And so, from my perspective, the most important questions we have to ask are these: Are we any closer to a lasting political settlement in Iraq at the national level today than we were when the surge began eight months ago?

BIDEN: And if we continue to surge for another six months, is there any evidence that the Sunnis, the Shias and the Kurds will stop killing each other and start governing together?

In my judgment, I must tell you, based on my experience and my observation here, as well as in-country, the answer to both those questions is no.

First, are we any closer to a political settlement?

According to you, General Petraeus, in a letter to U.S. forces and civilians in Iraq last Friday, you wrote -- and I appreciate your candor -- you said, "Many of us had hoped this summer would be a time for tangible political progress at the national level. It has not worked out as we had hoped," end of quote.

Not according to the administration's own report card has it worked out either. As of July, Iraq's government had failed to make satisfactory progress in five of the eight political benchmarks. The Government Accounting Office gives the Iraq government even lower grades.

And not according to the Iraqi people, apparently, have things gotten a lot better. They're voting on the surge with their feet. When the surge began, about 50,000 Iraqis a month were fleeing their homes for fear of sectarian violence and today they're leaving their homes at a rate as high as 100,000 a month since the surge.

Simply put, Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shiites, still live every day in deadly fear of each other. And until their leaders agree on some way to share power peacefully, that fear is not going to go away and Iraq will not find stability.

Of course, when we surge American troops on a neighborhood, they do a remarkable job of stopping violence and protecting the people. I know it sounds trite to say, but I -- every one of my trips I am more impressed with the raw, sheer bravery -- I don't use the word lightly -- bravery of your troops who get in those up-armored Humvees, ride down those roads, move through those neighborhoods. It just is absolutely stunning that they do it.

But the fact is that the surge of our troops in the neighborhoods, although it has some salutary impact, when we leave, absent a political settlement, every one of the troops I spoke to believe those destructive forces are going to return.

BIDEN: Your troops. Whether I'm talking to a private or a lance corporal or a general, I've not found anybody who doesn't think that unless there's a significant political settlement, once they leave, the troops, that chaos will return.

In Anbar province, which I just visited with the ambassador, we've had success in turning Iraqi Sunni tribes against Sunni jihadists. But that's not particularly relevant to the central problem, and that is the sectarian violence of Sunnis killing Shias.

In my discussion with both the tribal leaders as well as Sunni leaders, I didn't detect any sense of any greater trust or willingness to trust or cooperate with the Shia -- the Shia government in Baghdad.

If we killed or captured every jihadist in Iraq tomorrow, we would still face a major sectarian war that is pitting Iraqis' future against our interest. The fact of the matter is that American lives remain in jeopardy and, as I said, if every single jihadi in the world was killed tomorrow, we'd still have a major, major war on our hands.

Second, in continuing the surge of forces for another six months, is that likely to change that reality? The conclusion I've reached is no. The surge, for whatever tactical or temporary security gains it might achieve, is at the service of a fundamentally flawed strategy.

And that strategy is the administration continues to believe that we can achieve political progress in Iraq by building a strong national unity government in Baghdad that secures the trust of the Iraqi people.

In my view, gentlemen, I don't think that's going to happen in the lifetime of any of us. There is no trust within that central government in Baghdad, no trust in the government by the people, and no capacity of that government to deliver security and services.

And absent an occupation we cannot sustain or a return of a dictator we cannot want, Iraq, in my view, cannot be governed from the center at this point in history.

So, without a settlement, the surge is the best a stopgap that delays, but will not prevent, chaos. Its net effect will be to put more American lives at risk, in my view, with very little prospect of success. And I don't think that is conscionable.

The majority of senators believe the time is now to start drawing down U.S. forces, not just to pre-surge levels but beyond them, and to limit the mission of those remaining to fight Al Qaida, train Iraqis and help protect the borders.

But while starting to leave Iraq is necessary, it's not enough. We also have to -- we also have to shape what we leave behind, so that we do not trade a dictator for chaos.

A number of us have offered alternatives. One of the possibilities I've offered is not a guarantee for stability of Iraq if we leave -- is to, in fact, beef up the federal concept that exists in their constitution. It's based on the reality that Sunni, Shia and Kurds are not ready to entrust their fate to one another.

Instead, we have to give the Iraqi warring faction a breathing room in regions with local control over the fabric of their daily lives -- police, education, jobs, marriage, religion, as, I might add, the Iraqi constitution calls for.

A limited central government would be in charge of common concerns, including distributing Iraqis' oil revenues. A federal decentralized Iraq, in my view, is our last, best hope for a stable Iraq.

BIDEN: And we should refocus our efforts on making federalism work for all Iraqis. At least that is the view that I strongly -- that I strongly hold.

I would initiate a diplomatic surge, not a military surge, to do just that: bringing in the United Nations, major countries, and Iraq's neighbors to help implement and oversee the political settlement that I'm proposing.

No one, as I said, with the ambassador kind enough to allow me to be with him at this conference -- this reconstruction conference in Ramadi, as I said to the Iraqis assembled around the table, we cannot possibly want peace and security in Iraq more than the Iraqi people want it. It is up to them. We can help them get there by bringing power and responsibility down to the local level and by taking fear out of Iraq's future, but that fear will only come out when there's a political settlement.

Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, the American military, as you know better than I do, cannot sustain a war in Iraq with no end in sight at the levels we're there now. And the American people will not support an infinite war whose sole remaining purpose is to prevent the situation in Iraq from becoming worse than it is today.

It's time to turn the corner, in my view, gentlemen. We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home. We should end a political strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed and begin one that can.

I believe if we make this change -- these changes, we can still leave Iraq without leaving behind a civil war that turns into a regional war, endangering America's interest not for a year or two but for a generation.

So, gentlemen, I'm anxious to hear your testimony, and I'm anxious to be able to get to answer you specific -- to ask you specific questions about the overall strategy of the administration and this surge in particular.

I now yield to the senator from Indiana, Chairman Lugar.

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