Sen. Clinton's Remarks In Iraq Hearings

CQ Transcripts
Tuesday, April 8, 2008; 1:40 PM

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: ...And Senator Clinton?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Thank you very much.

Thank you, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, for your long and distinguished service to our nation.

Before I ask you any questions, I just want to respond to some of the statements and suggestions that have been made leading up to this hearing and even during it, that it is irresponsible or demonstrates a lack of leadership to advocate withdrawing troops from Iraq in a responsible and carefully planned withdrawal.

I fundamentally disagree.

Rather, I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again at such tremendous cost to our national security and to the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.

Our troops are the best in the world, and they have performed admirably and heroically in Iraq.

However, the purpose of the surge, let's not forget, as described by the Bush administration, was to create the space for the Iraqis to engage in reconciliation and make significant political progress.

However, since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker last testified in September, even General Petraeus as recently as three and a half weeks ago has acknowledged that the Iraqi government has not made sufficient political progress.

And our current strategy in Iraq has very real costs.

We rarely talk about the opportunity costs -- the opportunities lost because of the continuation of this strategy. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we divert resources not only from Afghanistan, but other international challenges, as well.

In fact, Admiral Mullen last week said that the military would have already assigned forces to missions elsewhere in the world were it not for what he called "the pressure that's on our forces right now." And he admitted that force levels in Iraq right now do not allow us to have the force levels we need in Afghanistan.

The vice chief of staff of the Army, General Cody, testified last week that "the current demand for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies."

And, finally, the cost to our men and women in uniform is growing. Last week, the New York Times noted the stress on the mental health on our returning soldiers and Marines from multiple and extended deployments.

Among combat troops sent to Iraq for the third or fourth time, more than one in four show signs of anxiety, depression or acute stress, according to an official Army survey of soldiers' mental health.

The administration and supporters of the administration's policy often talk about the cost of leaving Iraq, yet ignore the greater cost of continuing the same failed policy.

You know, the lack of political progress over the last six months and the recent conflict in Basra reflect how tenuous the situation in Iraq really is. And for the past five years, we have continually heard from the administration that things are getting better, that we're about to turn a corner, that there is, finally, a resolution in sight. Yet each time, Iraqi leaders fail to deliver.

I think it's time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, the global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America.

I understand the very difficult dilemma that any policy with respect to Iraq poses to decision-makers. If this were easy or if there were a very clear way forward, we could all perhaps agree on the facts about how to build toward a resolution that is in the best interests of the United States, that would stabilize Iraq and would meet our other challenges around the world.

With respect to our long-term challenges, Ambassador Crocker, the administration has announced that it will negotiate an agreement with the government of Iraq by the end of July that would provide the legal authorities for U.S. troops to continue to conduct operations in Iraq.

Let me ask you: Do you anticipate that the Iraqi government would submit such an agreement to the Iraqi parliament for ratification?

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ RYAN CROCKER: The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the declaration of principles, in which it was simply read to the members of the parliament.

CLINTON: Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?

CROCKER: At this point, Senator, we do not anticipate that the agreements will have within them any elements that would require the advise-and-consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.

CLINTON: Well, Ambassador Crocker, it seems odd, I think, to Americans who are being asked to commit for an indefinite period of time the lives of our young men and women in uniform, the civilian employees, whom you rightly referenced and thanked, as well as billions of dollars of additional taxpayer dollars, if the Iraqi parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement, that the United States Congress would not.

And as you may know, I currently have legislation requiring the Congress to have an opportunity to consider such an agreement before it is signed. And I would urge you to submit such an agreement to the Congress for full consideration.

General Petraeus, you know, I know that in this March 14th interview with The Washington Post you stated that "no one," and those are your words, "no one in the United States and Iraqi governments feels there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation or in the provision of basic public services."

CLINTON: Those are exactly the concerns that my colleagues and I raised when with you testified before us in September.

I remember well, you know, you were being asked that how long would we continue to commit American lives and treasure if the Iraqis fail to make political gains.

And in response, you said that if we reached that point in a year, you'd have to think very hard about it and it would be difficult to recommend the continuation of this strategy, and there clearly are limits to the blood and treasure we can expend in an effort.

Well, we're halfway through the year. And as many of us predicted, and as you yourself stated, we still do not see sufficient progress.

What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working? And it seems apparent that you have a conditions-based analysis, as you set forth in your testimony, but the conditions are unclear, they certainly lack specificity, and the decision points, with respect to these conditions, are also vague.

So how are we to judge, General Petraeus, what the conditions are or should be and the actions that you and the administration would recommend pursuing based on them?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS (USA), COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: First of all, Senator, if I could just comment on the -- that Washington Post article, what I said was that no one was satisfied with the progress that had been made, either Iraqi or American, but I then went on and actually ticked off a number of the different areas in which there had been progress and talked about the different laws that Ambassador Crocker has rightly identified in a number of other areas in which, in fact, there's been progress, although not satisfactory progress, as I mentioned, in the eyes of either Iraqis or Americans.

And so, that was the thrust of what I was getting at there, because there has, indeed, been progress in the political arena and there actually has been progress in a variety of the other arenas, as Ambassador Crocker laid out in his opening statement.

With respect to the conditions, Senator, what we have is a number of factors that we will consider by area as we look at where we can make recommendations for further reductions beyond the reduction of the surge forces that will be complete in July. These factors are fairly clear. There's obviously an enemy situation factor, there's a friendly situation factor with respect to Iraqi forces, local governance, even economic and political dynamics, all of which are considered as the factors in making recommendations on further reductions.

PETRAEUS: Having said that, I have to say that again it's not a mathematical exercise. There's not an equation in which you have co- efficients in front of each of these factors. It's not as mechanical as that. At the end of the day, it really involves commanders sitting down, also with their Iraqi counterparts and leaders in a particular area, and assessing where it is that you can reduce your forces so you can, again, make a recommendation to make further reductions.

And that's the process, again.

There is this issue in a sense this term of battlefield geometry. As I mentioned, together with Ambassador Crocker and Iraqi political leaders, there's even sort of a political military calculus that you have to consider, again, in establishing where the conditions are met to make further reductions.

CLINTON: If I could just -- one following question, Mr. Chairman?

In response to a question by Senator Levin regarding when you knew of Prime Minister Maliki's plans to go into Basra, you said, and I was struck by it, so I wrote it down, that you learned of it in a meeting where you were planning -- where the meeting's purpose was planning to resource operations in Basra on a longer term basis.

And clearly, until relatively recently, southern Iraq has not been within our battlefield geometry. Southern Iraq was originally the responsibility of the British. They have clearly pulled back and we're not, so far as I can glean from the press reports, very actively involved in the most recent operations.

But what did you mean by the resources you were planning to deploy and over what length of time?

PETRAEUS: Senator, what we had been working on with the Iraqi national security adviser, ministers of defense and interior, was a plan that was being developed by the commander of the Basra Operational Command, General Mohan, which was a fairly deliberate process of laying out, of adding to the resources there on the military side and in other areas. And then there was a phased plan over the course of a number of months during which different actions were going to be pursued.

Prime Minister Maliki assessed that that plan was taking too long, determined that the threats that had emerged since provincial Iraqi control, in terms of the criminal elements, again connected to the militia, and so forth, were such that more immediate action was taken.

And, again, as a sovereign country's leader, commander in chief of his armed forces, he decided to direct the much more rapid deployment of forces from other locations to Basra.

And that is, in fact, what he did, very much moving up the timetable and compressing the different activities that, in fact, we had been planning to resource over time.

CLINTON: Thank you.


LEVIN: Thank you, Senator Clinton.

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