As Senate Prepares To Take Vote On Iraq War, Menendez Speaks On Senate Floor
As Senate Prepares To Take Vote On Iraq War, Menendez Speaks On Senate Floor
Menendez, who visited Iraq last month, says transitioning out of Iraq gives best chance for long-term peace
Washington - Today, the Senate is debating a resolution offered by Sen. Feingold that would begin transitioning American troops out of Iraq. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who voted against the war from the beginning and who visited Iraq last month, spoke on the Senate floor in favor of the resolution.
On the cost of the war:
Senator Menendez said, "With the amount of money the Secretary of Defense thinks we might spend in Iraq next year, we could have more than doubled our package to stimulate the economy this year. We can't think about economic stimulus without thinking about how we can stimulate peace. We can't heal our economy without closing the financial hemorrhage that is the war in Iraq."
On the need to transition troops out of Iraq:
Senator Menendez said, "I've seen first-hand how bravely our troops have served. But if Iraqi politicians think they can sit back and keep looking at the menu of options, and squabble over the choices, and no matter what, Americans will keep delivering everything they order, and keep picking up the tab, then they'll never feel the pressing urgency to build a functional country for themselves. It's time for that kind of service to end."
Text of Senator Menendez's remarks on the Senate floor, as prepared for delivery:
The Senate is about to have the opportunity once again to vote to transition our troops out of Iraq, and refocus our efforts on defeating Al Qaeda. It's long past time for us to make that decision.
The administration has never told us the truth about the war in Iraq. The budget they submitted to Congress was just the latest proof of that.
The budget is terrible in a lot of ways: it leaves millions of children without full access to health care, fails to wean us off our addiction to foreign oil, fails to adequately address climate change, repair our education systems or shrink the ballooning deficit-basically, it fails to make a serious effort to tackle the most pressing problems our country faces.
But beyond that, the budget is dishonest about the costs of one of the most expensive wars in this country's history.
It lists the cost of the war in Iraq for next year at $70 billion. All the other calculations in the budget, including the debt and the deficit, in some way assume that $70 billion is all the war is going to cost in the next fiscal year.
We have to wonder if whoever wrote the section of the budget on Iraq found that job after leaving their old post at the accounting department of Enron.
Recently, the Secretary of Defense took a baby-step toward honesty and estimated the true cost for next year at another $170 billion of America's money. He said that was just a rough estimate. Because when you've already spent more than half a trillion dollars, I guess you just round to the nearest 100 billion.
The carelessness in that accounting is offensive to the American people who are funding this war. This administration is so dead-set on staying in Iraq for 100 years, they just don't seem to care how much taxpayer money they spend. They don't seem to care how much money they have to borrow from the Chinese to pay the bills.
They don't seem to care how much wind gets knocked out of our economy because that money could have gone to creating jobs, stimulating the production of green energy, or helping families make ends meet.
With the amount of money the Secretary of Defense thinks we might spend in Iraq next year, we could have more than doubled our package to stimulate the economy this year.
When Americans get rebate checks in a few weeks, they should imagine them more than twice as big-that's what this year in Iraq would cost. If we want to imagine the total financial cost of the war in Iraq over almost five years-if we want to imagine $608 billion-we could divide that up and send every American a check for $2,000.
If we want to know what the war will cost over the next decade-about $2.8 trillion-every American should picture a check for more than $9,000. That's what the war costs. More than $9,000 for every man, woman and child living in the United States of America.
If there are four people in your family, that's $36,000 that potentially could have been back in your pockets. When so many hard-working families are struggling to keep their homes, when so many are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of health care and college tuition and heating oil, when so many have to care for aging parents, put food on the table and struggle to make ends meet each month, $36,000 would go a long way.
So here's how it all adds up: we can't think about economic stimulus without thinking about how we can stimulate peace. We can't heal our economy without closing the financial hemorrhage that is the war in Iraq.
For five years the administration has parroted the line that, quote, we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here. But now, more than ever, we realize what one of the biggest impacts of this war has been: We're spending our money over there, so we don't have it to spend here.
Not long ago I had the chance to make a trip to Iraq myself.
First and foremost, the trip proved something I've believed for a long time: we all should be intensely proud of the men and women in uniform who are serving over there. They don't ask whether this is the right mission, they just serve with honor and integrity, risking their lives every day. I came away extremely impressed with their commitment, and felt honored to be able to share some time with them.
Beyond that, one other thing became clear: the solutions to Iraq's problems lie in the hands of the Iraqis, and as long as they continue to be so dependent on the United States, they will never feel the need to solve the problems on their own.
When the President sent 30,000 additional troops into harm's way in Iraq last year, the purpose was to allow Iraqis to have the opportunity and the space to strengthen the federal government and achieve national reconciliation.
Not too long ago, Iraq's Parliament finally passed three laws after months of bitter squabbling. We should applaud them for that.
The Bush Administration is touting this event as an end-all, be-all political breakthrough. But as usual, they're taking a small bit of good news and trying to whitewash the bigger picture.
The agreement the Iraqi Parliament reached is basically temporary. The provincial powers arrangement is set to expire in one year-to hold the politicians over so they can have the same arguments next year.
Iraqi politicians are still a long way from permanent agreements over fundamental issues. And the reason is, as long as we continue to insist on an open-ended presence, they won't make the hard choices and compromises necessary to achieve lasting stability.
M. President, at combat post X-Ray, outside of Baghdad, I met with troops from New Jersey serving in the Air Force. An IED had just killed one of their colleagues and wounded several others.
The hardest thing I've had to do in 33 years of public life is to call a family and tell them a loved-one has been killed. That's hard enough for a parent or a wife or husband to hear when they believe their family member was fighting for freedom. It's incomprehensible when that death was about Iraqi politicians fighting for resources and power.
There is no military solution in Iraq. Everyone, including General Petraeus, has admitted that. The only way to pressure Iraqi politicians into making the choices necessary to move their country forward is to stop signing blank checks and set a timetable to transition our troops back home.
I felt truly blessed to step onto American soil after flying back from Iraq. Too many American men and women over there do not have the option right now of taking that return flight. Too many Americans never will.
I've seen first-hand how bravely our troops have served. But let's be clear about that service: American troops cannot be waiters for Iraq. They cannot be asked to serve up a functional society on a platter. They cannot be expected to be the only ones serving up a functional electric grid, sewer systems, or revenue-sharing agreements about oil.
If Iraqi politicians think they can sit back and keep looking at the menu of options, and squabble over the choices, and no matter what, Americans will keep delivering everything they order, and keep picking up the tab, then they'll never feel the pressing urgency to build a functional country for themselves. It's time for that kind of service to end.
It's time for every soldier to have the most wonderful privilege a Senator has, the privilege of booking a return ticket home.