Council on Foreign Relations

Today, Senator Biden delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, describing how to change course in Iraq and make sure we both a) bring our troops home and b) preserve our national security interests in the region. An excerpt below:

Today, I want to talk to you about Iraq. I want to start by addressing the question on the minds of most Americans: when will we bring our troops home?

Here is my conviction: in 2006, American troops will begin to leave Iraq in large numbers. By the end of the year, I believe we will have redeployed at least 50,000 troops. In 2007, a significant number of the remaining 100,000 American soldiers will follow.

But the real question is this: as Americans start to come home, will we leave Iraq with our fundamental security interests intact or will we have traded a dictator for chaos?

By misrepresenting the facts, misunderstanding Iraq, and misleading on the war, this Administration has brought us to the verge of a national security debacle.

As a result, many Americans have already concluded that we cannot salvage Iraq. We should bring all our forces home as soon as possible.

They include some of the most respected voices on military matters in this country, like Congressman Jack Murtha. They’re mindful of the terrible consequences from withdrawing. But even worse, in their judgment, would be to leave Americans to fight — and to die — in Iraq with no strategy for success.

I share their frustration. But I’m not there yet. I still believe we can preserve our fundamental security interests in Iraq as we begin to redeploy our forces.

That will require the Administration not to stay the course, but to change course and to do it now.

And though it may not seem like it, there is actually a broad consensus on what the Administration must do.

Last week, 79 Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together and said to the President: we need a plan for Iraq.

Level with us. Give us specific goals and a timetable for achieving each one so we know exactly where we are and where we are going.

As I have been urging for some time, that will require as many changes at home as on the ground. The gap between the Administration’s rhetoric and the reality of Iraq has opened a huge credibility chasm with the American people.

The problem has been compounded by the President’s failure to explain in detail his strategy and to report regularly on both the progress and the problems.

As David Brooks reminded us in the New York Times yesterday, “Franklin Roosevelt asked Americans to spread out maps before them and he described, step by step, what was going on in World War II, where the U.S. was winning and where it was losing. Why can’t today’s president do that? Why can’t he show that he is aware that his biggest problem is not in Iraq, it’s on the home front?”

I want to see the President regain the American people’s trust. It is vital to our young men and women in Iraq today — and to our security — that we get this right. George Bush is our President — and he will be there for another three years. I want him to succeed.

Leveling with the American people is essential, but it is not enough.

The President has to be realistic about the mission and forget his grandiose goals. Iraq will not become a model democracy anytime soon.

Instead, we need to refocus our mission on preserving America’s fundamental interests in Iraq.

There are two of them: We must ensure Iraq does not become what it wasn’t before the war: a haven for terrorists. And we must do what we can to prevent a full-blown civil war that turns into a regional war.

To accomplish that more limited mission and to begin to redeploy our troops responsibly we must make significant, measurable progress toward three goals over the next six months:

One, we must help forge a political settlement that gives all of Iraq’s major groups a stake in keeping the country together.

Two, we must strengthen the capabilities of Iraq’s government and revamp the reconstruction program to deliver real benefits.

Three, we must accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces and transfer control to them.

Let me discuss each goal, one at a time.

Read the full speech here.

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