WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today to mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Mr. Speaker, four years ago tonight, our Commander in Chief, President Bush, gave the orders that instigated Operation Iraqi Freedom. Whether they supported the President's decision or not, all patriotic Americans prayed for our success - as well as the safe return of our brave servicemen and women. And, four years later, we still do.
"However, today, our success in Iraq is as elusive as it ever has been over the past one thousand, four hundred and sixty days. More than 3,200 American soldiers have given the ultimate measure of sacrifice - and more than 24,000 have been injured. The American taxpayer has spent more than $400 billion on this war - and the President has asked for an additional $245 billion, including a $100 billion war-time supplemental spending bill that will be considered on this Floor on Thursday. And, thousands of Iraqis have been killed - while literally millions have fled to neighboring countries, triggering a refugee crisis.
"Yet, despite this sacrifice and hardship, how much progress has been made?
"Just last week, the Department of Defense reported record levels of violence and hardening sectarian violence in the fourth quarter of 2006, stating: "Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a 'civil war.'" Administration officials themselves admitted last week that political goals that were to have been met by the Iraqi government this month "will take significantly longer to achieve." The National Intelligence Estimate tells us that the war has increased the global terror threat. And, General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, has issued strong warnings about the effect of this war on America's overall military readiness and our ability to respond to emerging strategic threats.
"Meanwhile, the American people have wearied of Administration claims that are divorced from reality - "Mission Accomplished," and "The insurgency is in its last throes," to name two - as well as its egregious misjudgments.
"From the outset, the Administration refused to commit a force commensurate with the threat it articulated - and now it asks for patience while a fourth troop escalation seeks to accomplish what three others could not. It profoundly miscalculated the costs of this war. It went to war without an effective plan for the post-war period. And perhaps most egregiously, the Administration sent our troops into battle without proper equipment.
"Mr. Speaker, given the repeated miscalculations by the Administration over the last four years, and given the situation on the ground in Iraq today, it is long past time for the United States Congress - the people's representatives - to insist on accountability and a new direction in Iraq. More blank checks and unquestioning obeisance by this Congress would constitute a dereliction of our constitutional duty.
"Thus, this Congress - for the first time in four years - will have the opportunity this week to change America's course in Iraq and to insist that the Iraqis take control of their own destiny. The "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act" offers the best way forward in Iraq. And, I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to support it.
"In short, this legislation is designed to protect our troops, requiring troop deployment to adhere to the Defense Department's current standards for training, equipment and armor - with the President required to certify if he believes national security requires DoD's standards be waived.
"The bill also holds the Iraqi government accountable, measuring its performance by the benchmarks President Bush outlined in his January 10th speech. In addition, the legislation provides a responsible strategy for a phased redeployment of U.S. forces; provides greater protections for our troops and veterans; and refocuses our efforts on fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"There are those, of course, who will claim that this legislation attempts to "micro-manage" the war. To them, I simply say the only strings attached are those benchmarks and standards endorsed by the President himself. And let me add: Is there anyone who believes that Congress would be strongly asserting itself today if the President's policy were succeeding? Of course not. This legislation is the justified response of the people's representatives to a policy that is failing and a President who insists that we must continue to stay the course.
"There are others who will argue that this bill will compromise our position in the war on terror. To them, I say that this legislation goes above and beyond the President's funding request, supporting our troops deployed at the tip of the spear and reaffirming our commitment to fighting - and defeating - al Qaeda.
"And, there certainly are those who will argue that this bill doesn't go far enough - that even one more day of fighting is one too many. To them, I say that this legislation, for the first time, sets a date for the responsible redeployment of American troops from Iraq - a date that provides the Iraqis with the time they need to ready themselves for the responsibility they must assume.
"Mr. Speaker, the Iraq war is already longer than our participation in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The specter of five and one-half years in Iraq (if our troops remained deployed until August 31, 2008) can hardly be called "cut and run."
"As we enter the fifth year of this war, let us insist on a policy designed to achieve success. As we enter the fifth year of this war, let us respond to the plea of the American people for a new direction in Iraq. As we enter the fifth year of this war, let us demonstrate to the world that American strength and American wisdom are not set in opposition.
"I urge my colleagues: Vote for a new direction in Iraq. Support the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act."