“Mr. President, today, the President traveled to Fort Bragg, North
Carolina, to mark the end of the war in Iraq, and to pay tribute to the
more than 1.5 million men and women of our armed forces who have served
and fought there since 2003.
“Those Americans deserve all of the praise and recognition they receive.
For they have given up their comfort and safety. They have given up less
demanding and more lucrative jobs. They have given parts of their bodies
and cherished parts of their lives. They have given the quiet little
sacrifices that often go unmentioned, but often hurt the most -- the
anniversaries spent alone, the birth of a child missed, the first steps
not seen and the first words not heard. They have given all of that, and
always they are prepared to give more. They deserve to be honored by us
“I know that the President’s words of praise and appreciation for our
troops today were sincere and heartfelt. And I have every reason to
believe that he will do all in his power to keep his promises to take
care of our troops and their families here at home, and to never forget
how those noble Americans have done far more than their fair share for
the betterment of our nation. The President is a patriot and a good
American, and I know that his heart swells with the same pride and sense
of awe that all of us feel when we are in the presence of our men and
women in uniform. These are humbling feelings, feelings of wonderment
and gratitude, and they unite all Americans, whether you supported the
war in Iraq or not.
“But let me point out a fact that the President did not acknowledge
today, which is this: Our men and women in uniform have been able to
come home from Iraq by the tens of thousands over the past three years
-- and not just come home, but come home with honor, having succeeded in
their mission -- for the simple reason that the surge worked. All of
this is possible because in 2007, with the war nearly lost, we changed
our strategy, changed our leaders in the field, and sent more troops.
This policy was vehemently opposed at the time by the President and his
senior leaders, often right here on the floor of the Senate.
“On January 10, 2007 -- the day the surge strategy was announced --
then-Senator Obama said: ‘I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional
troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact,
I think it will do the reverse.’ On November 15, 2007, when it was clear
to General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and many of us
that the surge was working, then-Senator Obama said this: ‘The overall
strategy is failed because we have not seen any change in behavior among
Iraq’s political leaders.’ Finally, on January 28, 2008, when it was
undeniable the surge was succeeding, he had this to say: ‘President Bush
said that the surge in Iraq is working, when we know that’s just not
“At the time, the President’s preferred alternative was to begin an
immediate withdrawal and have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of
2009. I will let future historians be the judges of that proposed
policy. All I will say is that, for three years, the President has been
harvesting the successes of the very strategy that he consistently
dismissed as a failure. I imagine this irony was not lost on a few of
our troops at Fort Bragg today, most of whom deployed and fought as part
of the surge.
“The fact is, the President has consistently called for a complete
withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq at the earliest possible date,
and he has never deviated from this position as President. Indeed, he
has always reaffirmed his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and
withdraw all of our troops. So perhaps it should not have come as a
surprise when the President announced in October that he was ending
negotiations with the Iraqi government over whether to maintain a small
number of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year to continue assisting
Iraq’s security forces.
“I continue to believe that this decision represents a failure of
leadership, both Iraqi and American … that it was a sad case of
political expediency triumphing over military necessity, both in Baghdad
and in Washington … and that it will have serious negative consequences
for Iraq’s stability and our national security interests. I sincerely
hope that I am wrong, but I fear that General Jack Keane, who was one of
the main architects of the surge, could be correct again when he said
recently: ‘We won the war in Iraq, and we’re now losing the peace.’
“Let me be clear: Like all Americans, I too am eager to bring our troops
home. I do not want them to remain in Iraq or anywhere else for a day
longer than necessary. But I also agree with our military commanders in
Iraq, who were nearly unanimous in their belief that some U.S. forces --
about 20,000 -- should remain for a period of time to help the Iraqis
secure the hard-won gains we had made together. All of our top
commanders in Iraq -- General Petraeus, General Odierno, General Austin
-- all of them believed that we needed to maintain a presence of U.S.
troops there, and they consistently made that clear to many of us during
our repeated visits to Iraq.
“On February 3, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, General Lloyd
Austin, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, testified to the
Committee on Armed Services that, for all of the progress the Iraqi
Security Forces have made in recent years, and it has been substantial,
they still have critical gaps in their capabilities that will endure
beyond this year. Those shortcomings include enabling functions for
counterterrorism operations, the control of Iraq’s airspace and other
external security missions, intelligence collection and fusion, and
training and sustainment of the force. Our commanders wanted U.S. troops
to remain in Iraq beyond this year to continue assisting Iraqi forces in
filling these gaps in their capabilities.
“Indeed, Iraqi commanders believed the exact same thing. In August, the
Chief of Staff of Iraq’s armed forces could not have been any clearer.
‘The problem will start after 2011,’ he said, ‘The politicians must find
other ways to fill the void after 2011. If I were asked about the
withdrawal,’ he stated, ‘I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must
stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.’
“During repeated travels to Iraq with my colleagues, I met with all of
the leaders of Iraq’s major political blocs, and they too said they
would support keeping a presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. So let’s be
clear: This is what our commanders recommended. It is what Iraqi
commanders recommended. And it is what all of Iraq’s key political
leaders said privately that they were prepared to support.
“So what happened?
“Advocates of withdrawal are quick to point out that the current
security agreement, which requires all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by
the end of this year, was concluded by the Bush Administration. That is
true, but it is beside the point. The authors of that agreement always
intended for it to be renegotiated at a later date to allow some U.S.
forces to remain in Iraq. As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
whose State Department team negotiated the security agreement, has said:
‘There was an expectation that we would negotiate something that looked
like a residual force for our training with the Iraqis,’ she stated.
‘Everybody believed it would be better if there was some kind of
“So if that is not the reason, I ask again, what happened?
“The prevailing narrative is that U.S. and Iraqi leaders could not reach
agreement over the legal protections needed to keep our troops in Iraq.
To be sure, this was a matter of vital importance. But while this may
have been a reason for our failure, the privileges and immunities issue
is less a cause than a symptom of the larger reason why we could not
reach agreement with the Iraqis: Because of his political promise to
fully withdraw from Iraq, the President never brought the full weight of
his office to bear in shaping the politics and the events on the ground
in Iraq so as to secure a residual presence of U.S. troops. That left
our commanders and our negotiators in Baghdad mostly trying to respond
to events in Iraq -- trying to shape events without the full influence
of the American President behind them.
“Last May, I traveled to Iraq with the Senator from South Carolina,
Senator Graham. We met with all of the major Iraqi leaders, and all of
them were ready to come to an agreement on a future presence of U.S.
troops in Iraq. But as Prime Minister Maliki explained to us, the
Administration at that time still -- and for the foreseeable future --
had not given the Iraqi government a number of troops that it would
propose to keep in Iraq. For weeks after, the Administration failed to
make a proposal to the Iraqis. And when Iraqis finally united together
in August and publicly asked the Administration to begin negotiations,
the response from Washington was again characterized by delay. This
ensured that a serious negotiation could not begin, much less succeed.
“I know Iraq is a sovereign country. I know it has an elected government
that must answer to public opinion. And I know there could be no
agreement over a future U.S. military presence in Iraq if Iraqis did not
agree to it and build support for it. So this is as much a failure of
Iraqi leadership as it is of American leadership. But to blame this on
the Iraqis does not excuse the fact that we had an enormous amount of
influence with Iraq’s leaders, and we did not exercise it to the fullest
extent possible to achieve an outcome that was in our national security
interest. In fact, in the view of many, they deliberately refused to
come up with a number -- they deliberately refused to engage in serious
negotiations with the Iraqis, with the ultimate purpose of fulfilling
the President’s campaign pledge that he would get all United States
troops out of Iraq.
“That is not a violation of sovereignty. That is diplomacy. That is
leadership. Leaders must shape events and public opinion, not just
respond to them. And starting in early 2009, from their desire to
accelerate our withdrawal from Iraq faster than our commanders
recommended, to their hands-off approach to the Iraqi process of
government formation last year, to their record of delay and passivity
on the question of maintaining a presence of U.S. troops beyond this
year, this Administration has consistently failed at the highest level
to lead on Iraq.
say again, perhaps this outcome should not have been a surprise. It is
what the President has consistently promised to do -- and that decision
makes good political sense for this President. But such decisions should
not be determined by domestic politics. The brave Americans who have
fought so valiantly and given so much did so not for political reasons,
but for the safety and security of their fellow citizens -- for their
friends, for their families, for their children’s’ futures, and for us.
“This is a decisive moment in the history of America’s relationship with
Iraq, and with all of the countries of the broader Middle East. This is
a moment when the substantial influence that we have long enjoyed in
that part of the world could be receding -- in fact, is receding. We
cannot allow that to be our nation’s future. We must continue to lead.
We must not let short-term political gains dictate our longer-term
goals. We must continue working to shape a freer, more just, and more
secure future both for Iraq and for peoples across the Middle East --
for it is in our own national security interest to do so.
“Over 4,000 brave young Americans gave their lives in this conflict. I
pray that their sacrifice is not in vain. I hope that their families
will not mourn the day that their sons and daughters went out to fight
for freedom for the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, it is clear that this
decision of a complete pullout of United States troops from Iraq was
dictated by politics, and not our national security interests. I believe
that history will judge this President’s leadership with the scorn and
disdain it deserves.”