Iraq and Terrorism

Yesterday, on the floor of the Senate, Senator Biden delivered a response to President Bush’s speech on terrorism and the war in Iraq. We’ve included the full statement below. Please read it and consider sharing it with others who want to know more about what’s going on in Iraq.

Senator Biden made it clear that Americans are united in their determination to fight the forces of terror and tyranny. And he praised the President for his description of the threat Americans face and for some of the course corrections the administration has finally made to address it.

But Senator Biden expressed his frustration at the President’s failure to lay out a clear plan for the way forward in Iraq or to detail a comprehensive strategy to fight radical fundamentalism that draws on the totality of America’s strength.

Statement of Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. On President Bush’s Speech to the National Endowment for Democracy October 6, 2005

Today, in his speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush gave a vivid and compelling description of the threat to America — and to freedom — from radical Islamic fundamentalism. And he made a powerful case for what’s at stake for every American.

Simply put, the radical fundamentalists seek to kill our citizens in great numbers, to disrupt our economy and to reshape the international order. They would take the world backwards, replacing freedom with fear and hope with hatred. If they were to acquire nuclear weapons, the threat they pose could literally become existential.

So the President is right that we cannot and will not retreat. We will defeat the enemies of freedom and progress.

But in order to know where to go from here, we have to understand how we got to this point in the fight. And unfortunately, the many fundamental mistakes this administration has made over the past four years have dug us into a hole that will be hard to get out of.

First, this administration took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and diverted our attention and resources to Iraq.

As a result, while we’ve made progress in Afghanistan, violence is now the worst it has been since the war; and the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the warlords are once again on the move.

Meanwhile, we’ve captured some Al Qaeda leaders, but many others have risen to take their place and the terrorist threat has metastasized to many other countries. Around the world, terrorist attacks are on the rise.

Second, this administration turned unilateral military preemption from the option it has always been into a one-size fits all doctrine in the war on terrorism. We forgot that the power of our example is as important as the example of our power… that our ideas and ideals are among our greatest assets. We forgot to draw on the totality of America’s strength.

Third, once we decided to focus on Iraq, we went to war too soon, we went without the rest of the world, and we went under false premises.

This administration told us we’d be greeted with open arms… that we had enough troops to stabilize the country… that Iraqi oil would pay for the reconstruction. They were wrong on each of these counts… and many more.

The result is a terrible irony: Iraq now risks becoming what it was not before the war — a haven for the very radical Islamic fundamentalists who would do us harm.

Today, the President seemed to recognize some of this self-inflicted damage — and that’s a good thing.

He said that “the terrorists have now set their sights on Iraq” — finally acknowledging that they had not before.

He said that in the broader fight against the radical fundamentalists and in Iraq itself, we can’t succeed alone, that we need partners — finally acknowledging what many of us have been saying for years.

He implied that while our military might is essential, it is not sufficient — finally acknowledging that we must call on the totality of America’s strength, including our economic and political might… and the power of our example.

He said that the fight for freedom is long term, and that democracy can’t be imposed by force — finally acknowledging that we can’t simply topple tyrants and leave, that we have to work day in and day out to support moderates and modernizers and build the institutions of democracy.

And he said that much more sacrifice will be required — finally acknowledging the difficulty of the challenge and the burden every American must bear.

So the President said some important things today. But there is also a lot he did not say that leaves me, and I suspect many others, feeling frustrated. He told us broadly what we have to do — but he said virtually nothing about how he plans to go about doing it and what the American people can expect.

Consider what he said — and didn’t say — about Iraq.

Yes, we have to train Iraqi security forces. But we still don’t know how many of those forces must be capable of operating on their own or with minimal U.S. support before we can begin to reduce our military presence in Iraq. And we don’t have any idea when those numbers might be reached.

Yes, we have to support the creation of a strong Iraqi political system that enjoys legitimacy with all the major groups. But we still don’t know what the plan is to overcome deep Sunni hostility to the Constitution and to reconcile the growing sectarian differences that threaten to divide Iraq, not unite it.

Yes, we have to engage the international community in the effort to stabilize Iraq. But we still don’t know what concrete actions the administration is taking to do that. We still don’t know why it won’t organize a Contact Group of leading nations to show a united international front. We still don’t know its plan for getting Iraq’s neighbors to act responsibly, as we did in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.

Yes, we have to continue to help the Iraqis rebuild. But we still don’t know what the administration is going to do to actually deliver more electricity, to clean up the sewage, to get the oil flowing. In each of these areas, Iraqis are actually worse off then they were before the war. What do we need to do to turn the tide on delivering basic services and when can we expect to succeed?

The President today was eloquent and he was determined. But eloquence and determination are not enough.

The American people need — and our troops deserve — a clear plan for the way forward in Iraq, which has now become a central front in the war against radical Islamic fundamentalists.

As I’ve said many times before, the American people need this Administration to speak openly and forthrightly about its plan for success in Iraq, for no foreign policy can succeed without the informed consent of the American people.

The American people also need — and our troops deserve — not just the assertion that we finally have a comprehensive strategy in the fight against the fundamentalists, but a detailed explanation of that strategy and the steps the administration is taking to build it.

It is precisely because all of us recognize what is at stake for our generation and those to follow that we will continue to speak out and insist that our government act not only with determination, but with effectiveness. Not only with conviction, but with wisdom.

Finally, though I continue to have differences with the President about how he has gone about prosecuting the war on terrorism, and I’ve spoken out as forcefully as I can about how “staying the course” in Iraq is the wrong approach, let our enemies make no mistake: Americans are united in the struggle for freedom. We stand together in our determination to fight the forces of tyranny and terrorism. In this fight, America will prevail.

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