Remarks of Chairman Tom Lantos at Full Committee Briefing on Iraq
Verbatim, as delivered
Thank you very much, Madame Secretary. Let me begin where you left off, with the President’s speech last night. Both last November and in every subsequent public expression of their leaders’ views, what the American people are looking for is a responsible plan for de-escalation and not escalation.
The President last night provided a plan of escalation. And the reason that there is such broad disappointment and disapproval with his presentation has much less to do with the details of the plan, but with the general direction of the plan. The American people, overwhelmingly — and you know the figures as well as I do – by 80, 85 percent are in favor of a gradual redeployment, de-escalation and not an escalation of our military presence.
One of the things which is so disappointing, Madame Secretary – and you recall that two days ago at the White House I raised this issue with the President – is that there is really no indication that the countries in the region, like Egypt or Saudi Arabia, are showing any willingness to participate in setting Iraq’s strength. Egypt has a huge military force. I raised the issue, and I am raising it now publicly.
Have we asked the Egyptians to provide a significant number of police and military for stabilizing Baghdad? Have the Saudis, who have obtained hundreds of billions of dollars of unanticipated surplus oil revenues, have they stepped forward to carry some of the financial burden? We have by now spent some 400 billion dollars on this enterprise, which is not much money for the Saudis, but they have not participated at all in any of this. Now, if these regimes – which claim to want to see a stable and peaceful and prosperous Iraq, being so near, facing the possibility of disaster for themselves, if the civil war escalates to the point of becoming a regional war – are unwilling to do really anything except in the most minimal fashion no wonder that the American people feel that we have done our share and it is now up to Iraq, to, as you said at the outset, to provide for their own security.
Civil wars end – all civil wars end – and it is not our responsibility to end the particular civil war that we see in Iraq. It is not the function of the American military to play the role of the referee between the Sunni and the Shia. And I would be grateful if you could, at the outset, Madame Secretary, you could deal with this fundamental issue.
The American people are asking for a program of de-escalation and the President is giving us a program of escalation.
The American people are asking what do the neighbors, who have so much to lose, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, what are they doing to help and on what do we base our optimism, or the President’s optimism, that a government which has been so pathetically non-national in its orientation, been so sectarian in its orientation, will suddenly see the light?
Before you answer, and I know there are a million quotes running around, I would just like to take as my point of departure, General Abizad’s comments. He has been there now for four years, he is a brilliant, Arabic-speaking officer, who has done his utmost to bring about a favorable result. And you know, this is what he said. And I quote:
““I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is, because we want the Iraqis to do more. It's easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”
One of the things which was disappointing in last night’s speech was the lack of any substantive placing of responsibility on the Iraqis except in an oratorical sense. There is no mechanism whereby this Iraqi government will be held responsible, or can be held responsible, to do what they, in their own best interest, should do. You know better than I do that last time they promised to bring in a certain number of Iraqi divisions, they brought in only a fraction of them. What is the performance of the Prime Minister of Iraq that suddenly give us, or gives the President, so much confidence?