Responding to the President’s speech

Today, after President Bush’s Council on Foreign Relations speech on Iraq, Senator Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement:

I applaud the President for his candor today about the many shortcomings of reconstruction in Iraq. This was the first time the President acknowledged what the American people have known for a long time - from the outset there were not enough troops to hold territory we captured, and to secure the peace.

He also acknowledged militia infiltration of security forces, and that our reconstruction efforts have been hampered by widespread corruption. And he finally conceded that we have not placed enough emphasis on local projects that might make a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

But the President’s speech was most notable for what it didn’t say. While the President was forthcoming about mistakes, he did not share with the American people any benchmarks by which we can measure progress, or his strategy and timeline for achieving them.

For example, Iraqi electricity and oil production levels are still below pre-war levels and as many as 40% of Iraqis are unemployed. Time is running out, but we heard nothing about how progress will be achieved.

Iraqi ministries are barely functional. Prime Minister Blair proposed that individual countries “adopt” particular Iraqi ministries to build their capacity. The President should embrace the Blair proposal, but today he was silent on that idea.

The President also didn’t discuss the Provincial Reconstruction Teams that will soon be deployed to build local government capacity, nor did he say what he’s doing to recruit international partners for those teams.

Similarly, with the $20 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds nearly spoken for, he did not say what steps he will take to seek additional assistance for Iraq from our Gulf allies, who have recently enjoyed huge oil windfall profits.

Our military commanders understand better than anyone that defeating the insurgency requires an effective reconstruction program with benchmarks and timelines to measure progress, but once again they received no guidance from the commander in chief.

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