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Rep. Skelton Delivers Opening Remarks at House Hearing on Iraq
Addresses the House Armed Services Committee

CQ Transcripts
Wednesday, April 9, 2008 10:57 AM

SPEAKERS: REP. IKE SKELTON, D-MO. CHAIRMAN REP. JOHN M. SPRATT JR., D-S.C. REP. SOLOMON P. ORTIZ, D-TEXAS REP. GENE TAYLOR, D-MISS. REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE, D-HAWAII REP. SILVESTRE REYES, D-TEXAS REP. VIC SNYDER, D-ARK. REP. ADAM SMITH, D-WASH. REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ, D-CALIF. REP. MIKE MCINTYRE, D-N.C. REP. ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, D-CALIF. REP. ROBERT A. BRADY, D-PA. REP. ROBERT E. ANDREWS, D-N.J. REP. SUSAN A. DAVIS, D-CALIF. REP. RICK LARSEN, D-WASH. REP. JIM COOPER, D-TENN. REP. JIM MARSHALL, D-GA. DEL. MADELEINE Z. BORDALLO, D-GUAM REP. MARK UDALL, D-COLO. REP. DAN BOREN, D-OKLA. REP. BRAD ELLSWORTH, D-IND. REP. NANCY BOYDA, D-KAN. REP. PATRICK J. MURPHY, D-PA. REP. HANK JOHNSON, D-GA. REP. CAROL SHEA-PORTER, D-N.H. REP. JOE COURTNEY, D-CONN. REP. DAVE LOEBSACK, D-IOWA REP. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y. REP. JOE SESTAK, D-PA. REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, D-ARIZ. REP. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, D-MD. REP. KENDRICK B. MEEK, D-FLA. REP. KATHY CASTOR, D-FLA. REP. NIKI TSONGAS, D-MASS.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, R-CALIF. RANKING MEMBER REP. H. JAMES SAXTON, R-N.J. REP. JOHN M. MCHUGH, R-N.Y. REP. TERRY EVERETT, R-ALA. REP. ROSCOE G. BARTLETT, R-MD. REP. HOWARD P. "BUCK" MCKEON, R-CALIF. REP. WILLIAM M. "MAC" THORNBERRY, R-TEXAS REP. WALTER B. JONES, R-N.C. REP. ROBIN HAYES, R-N.C. REP. TODD AKIN, R-MO. REP. J. RANDY FORBES, R-VA. REP. JEFF MILLER, R-FLA. REP. JOE WILSON, R-S.C. REP. FRANK A. LOBIONDO, R-N.J. REP. TOM COLE, R-OKLA. REP. ROB BISHOP, R-UTAH REP. MICHAEL R. TURNER, R-OHIO REP. JOHN KLINE, R-MINN. REP. PHIL GINGREY, R-GA. REP. MIKE D. ROGERS, R-ALA. REP. TRENT FRANKS, R-ARIZ. REP. BILL SHUSTER, R-PA. REP. THELMA DRAKE, R-VA. REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, R-WASH. REP. K. MICHAEL CONAWAY, R-TEXAS REP. GEOFF DAVIS, R-KY. REP. DOUG LAMBORN, R-COLO. REP. ROB WITTMAN, R-VA.

WITNESSES: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS (USA), COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ RYAN CROCKER

[*] SKELTON: Ladies and gentlemen, before we start, General, Ambassador, I have a quick housekeeping announcement. The ranking member and I have agreed that for our second hearing today, which begins at 1 o'clock, we'll deviate from the regular process for questioning.

And for this afternoon's hearing, we'll start the questioning with members who are here for this hearing, but did not get to ask a question and are present at the gavel for the second hearing. And we will then proceed in the usual order, beginning with them.

We also want to announce we will take a very short break this morning at 11 o'clock. And if you have any questions regarding this, ask the staff.

Today, the House Armed Services Committee meets in open session to hear an update on Iraq from two of America's finest, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Gentlemen, we thank you for appearing. I'm glad to see you both and believe that our nation is well served by your leadership.

This committee does not forget all the personnel who serve valiantly under General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and who work day and night on our behalf. They and their families have sacrificed tremendously in an effort to carry out a most challenging mission. Where there's been progress, it's due to their efforts, and we thank them.

We should not begin this hearing without recalling how we got here. Iraq was invaded on incorrect information. The turbulent aftermath following the initial military victory was not considered, despite warnings of the aftermath, including two such warnings from me. Now we're in our sixth year of attempting to quell this horrendous aftermath.

Preparing for this hearing, I went back and read my opening statement from our last hearing with you in September. And I think I could have delivered the same statement today as I did then, which means I either repeat myself or thing haven't changed that much in Iraq.

One thing I do think is worth repeating here is to remind members and everyone watching the hearing that all of us, everyone, desires to bring the war in Iraq to a close in a way that will best preserve our national security in this country. We must approach Iraq by considering our overall national security. Iraq is clearly an important piece of that puzzle, but only one piece. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General Hayden, the director of the CIA, have both said publicly that the next attack on our homeland will likely come from the Afghanistan- Pakistan border, where Osama bin Laden is hiding.

Troops in Iraq or those in units recovering from being in Iraq cannot be sent to Afghanistan to hunt down bin Laden. Protecting this nation from direct attack is job number one, yet our allocation of forces does not match this imperative.

Yes, Senator Warner asked whether our efforts in Iraq are making this nation safer. When looking at the needs in Afghanistan, the effort in Iraq, however as important, is putting at risk our ability to decisively defeat those most likely to attack us. Iraq is also preventing us from effectively preparing for the next conflict.

We've had 12 military contingencies in the last 31 years, some of them major, and most of them unexpected. The Army will face a steep climb in trying to respond to another contingency. Readiness for most non-deployed units has fallen to unprecedented levels and nearly all training is focused on counterinsurgency operations.

Those contingencies have come on average about every five years. We're due for another. And in my view, we're not doing what we must to prepare.

Turning back to Iraq itself, we should all recall that the surge is just the latest in a line of plans, and we're in our sixth year of war in Iraq. We've seen just about everything, from Secretary Rumsfeld's denial that there was an insurgency to Ambassador Bremer's throwing fuel on the fire by firing every Baathist and member of the Iraqi army.

We tried assaulting Fallujah twice. We tried rushing the Iraqi army into combat, only to watch it fail. We tried pretty much everything before we got to trying counterinsurgency doctrine backed by increased forces. That worked tactically. Our forces have helped reduce violence.

But in my view, we cannot call the surge a strategic success without political reconciliation. The objective of the surge was to create the political space for the Iraqis to reconcile. Our troops have created that space, but the Iraqis have yet to step up.

There have been some local gains and some legislative accomplishments, but those mostly haven't been implemented. So we don't know if those will really help or not.

And reconciliation based on a sharing of resources, a guarantee of political participation, equal treatment under the law, and protection from violence regardless of sect simply hasn't happened. The United States has poured billions of dollars into Iraqi reconstruction, and yet our senior military leadership considers an Iraqi commitment of a mere $300 million for the reconstruction as a big deal.

This nation's facing record deficits, and the Iraqis have translated their oil revenues into budget surpluses rather than effective services. Under these circumstances and with a strategic risk to our nation and our military readiness, we and the American people must ask: Why should we stay in Iraq in large numbers?

So if our witnesses want to argue for keeping large numbers in Iraq, I hope you can also explain the next strategy. The counterinsurgency strategy worked tactically, but the surge forces are going home. Political reconciliation hasn't happened, and violence has leveled off and may be creeping back.

So how can we encourage and not force the intransigent political leaders of Iraq to forge a real nation out of the base sectarian instincts? So what is the new strategy?

Last time you were here, General, you spoke of speeding up the Baghdad clock while putting more time on the Washington clock. You've succeeded in putting more time on the Washington clock, but the strategic failure is that the Iraqi politicians don't seem to have picked up a sense of urgency.

In my view, that sense of urgency will only come when we take the training wheels off and let the Iraqis begin to stand on their own two feet. While we hold them up, there's no real incentive for them to find their balance.

In closing my comments in the September hearing, I quoted Tom Friedman, the journalist, saying that he would be convinced of progress in Iraq by the various sectarian leaders stepping forward, declaring their willingness to work out their differences on a set timeline, and asking us to stay until they do. They hadn't done that by last September, and I don't see a lot of change on that front.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I now turn to my good friend and ranking member Mr. Duncan Hunter for any comments that he might have.

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