US Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) delivered a powerful speech on the floor of the Senate last week. Here are some excerpts. It is really great stuff and probably summarizes a lot about how I’m feeling these days, too.
When we came to the vote on Iraq, it was an issue of great moment for me. No issue is more difficult to vote on than war and peace, because it involves the lives of our soldiers, our young men and women. It involves the expenditure of our treasure, putting on the line the prestige of our country. It is not a vote taken lightly. I have tried to be a good soldier in this Chamber. I have tried to support our President, believing at the time of the vote on the war in Iraq that we had been given good intelligence and knowing that Saddam Hussein was a menace to the world, a brutal dictator, a tyrant by any standard, and one who threatened our country in many different ways, through the financing and fomenting of terrorism. For those reasons and believing that we would find weapons of mass destruction, I voted aye.
I have been rather silent on this question ever since. I have been rather quiet because, when I was visiting Oregon troops in Kirkuk in the Kurdish area, the soldiers said to me: Senator, don’t tell me you support the troops and not our mission. That gave me pause. But since that time, there have been 2,899 American casualties. There have been over 22,000 American men and women wounded. There has been an expenditure of $290 billion a figure that approaches the expenditure we have every year on an issue as important as Medicare. We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation by my estimation.
Now, as I witness the slow undoing of our efforts there, I rise to speak from my heart.
Many things have been attributed to George Bush. I have heard him on this floor blamed for every ill, even the weather. But I do not believe him to be a liar. I do not believe him to be a traitor, nor do I believe all the bravado and the statements and the accusations made against him. I believe him to be a very idealistic man. I believe him to have a stubborn backbone. He is not guilty of perfidy, but I do believe he is guilty of believing bad intelligence and giving us the same.
I can’t tell you how devastated I was to learn that in fact we were not going to find weapons of mass destruction. But remembering the words of the soldier–don’t tell me you support the troops but you don’t support my mission–I felt the duty to continue my support. Yet I believe the President is guilty of trying to win a short war and not understanding fully the nature of the ancient hatreds of the Middle East. Iraq is a European creation. At the Treaty of Versailles, the victorious powers put together Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia tribes that had been killing each other for time immemorial. I would like to think there is an Iraqi identity. I would like to remember the purple fingers raised high. But we can not want democracy for Iraq more than they want it for themselves. And what I find now is that our tactics there have failed.
Again, I am not a soldier, but I do know something about military history. And what that tells me is when you are engaged in a war of insurgency, you can’t clear and leave. With few exceptions, throughout Iraq that is what we have done. To fight an insurgency often takes a decade or more. It takes more troops than we have committed. It takes clearing, holding, and building so that the people there see the value of what we are doing. They become the source of intelligence, and they weed out the insurgents. But we have not cleared and held and built. We have cleared and left, and the insurgents have come back.
I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore. I believe we need to figure out how to fight the war on terror and to do it right. So either we clear and hold and build, or let’s go home.
What will continue to guide the way I vote is simply this: I do not believe we can retreat from the greater war on terror. Iraq is a battlefield in that larger war. But I do believe we need a presence there on the near horizon at least that allows us to provide intelligence, interdiction, logistics, but mostly a presence to say to the murderers that come across the border: We are here, and we will deal with you. But we have no business being a policeman in someone else’s civil war.
We were not prepared to win the peace by clearing, holding, and building. You don’t do that fast and you don’t do it with too few troops. I believe now that we must either determine to do that, or we must redeploy in a way that allows us to continue to prosecute the larger war on terror. It will not be pretty. We will pay a price in world opinion. But I, for one, am tired of paying the price of 10 or more of our troops dying a day. So let’s cut and run, or cut and walk, or let us fight the war on terror more intelligently than we have, because we have fought this war in a very lamentable way.
The only thing I would add is that no one knows how to fight the War on Terror in the civilized world. We value life, our enemy celebrates death — and our media infrastructure is siding with the enemy. Until we work out the basics of how the US fights this war, I’m afraid we are definitely in for more Iraq-like situations rather than D-Day triumphs.