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Remarks of Chairman Tom Lantos at hearing, “The Baker-Hamilton Commission Report”

Jan 19, 2007
Press Release
Verbatim, as delivered

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.” This was the most ringing and often-quoted phrase from the report that the Iraq Study Group released six weeks ago.

Today, it appears to be more serious still. We read that a Sunni insurgent group linked to al-Qaeda is asserting with evident pride that it was behind the murder of a 28-year-old Ohio woman in Baghdad. She was there to help improve the lot of everyday Iraqis by working with the National Democratic Institute. Together with three of her security aides, this brave young woman, 28 years old from Ohio, was eliminated by thugs who want nothing more than for her mission to fail.

Today our distinguished witness, the co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, is Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of this committee, by whose side I sat for some two decades, and from whom I learned a great deal. Lee Hamilton is one of the most distinguished public servants of the United States whose contributions to our national security and foreign policy are immeasurable. We are very pleased to have you, Lee.

Unfortunately, due to a sudden illness, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger could not join us today. Both Chairman Hamilton and I have known Larry Eagleburger for decades. He has provided invaluable advice and assistance and services, both abroad and in this country to presidents, Republican and Democratic, and we wish him a quick and complete recovery. He served on the Iraq Study Group as it prepared to release its milestone report.

The report generated much praise and criticism, from all sides, both within the United States and abroad. I commend Secretary Baker and Chairman Hamilton and all the authors for the realism that they injected into the national discussion on Iraq at a time when much of it had devolved into polemics and separate sets of facts.

Time has moved on since the release of this report, and we now have an official tally of some 30,000 or more Iraqi civilians killed in this last year alone. Given the relative populations of Iraq and the United States, that would be as if 400,000 Americans had died in a year. And were the conflict on our soil, we would refer to it as a civil war.

In fact, historians note that in the course of the entire U.S. Civil War, more than 600,000 soldiers from the north and south perished, most of them from disease. Figures on civilian casualties are less reliable.

Chairman Hamilton, I strongly commend your commission’s proposal to draw down our troops and withdraw virtually all combat forces by early next year. But I have reservations about the proposal to leave some of our forces embedded in the Iraqi army, down to the company level, well after the bulk of our forces have departed. I would like to feel confident that this will not leave the embedded forces more vulnerable to attacks by anti-American Iraqis, including from within a sectarian Iraqi military.

As you know, I’m a firm believer in dialogue, and I strongly support the proposal in this report to engage Iraq’s neighbors in efforts to create and maintain stability in Iraq. Unfortunately, that report has been widely interpreted to mean that we should go to the Syrians and Iranians and ask for help. I very much hope you will clarify that point. I see no reason why Damascus or Teheran, after having spent almost four years attempting to undermine our efforts would suddenly come around and be helpmates.

I am also puzzled by the implication that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem – which certainly is a very desirable goal -- is central to resolving our problems in Iraq. These two issues, both difficult to resolve, should not be artificially conflated. The status of the Palestinians does not prompt Shiites and Sunnis to engage in reciprocal mass assassinations in Iraq, as I’m sure you agree. There are countless sound reasons to encourage the continuance of serious efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian problem, but Iraq is surely not one of them. I hope you will speak to this issue and I will welcome your clarification.

I would also like to hear your evaluation of the response to your report by Iraqi officials, Chairman Hamilton including Kurdish leaders. As you know, president Talabani was scathing in his comments. He called it an “insult” to the Iraqi people and made other stunningly bitter comments, including this: “We can smell the attitude of James Baker in 1991 when he liberated Kuwait but left Saddam in power.”

I want to conclude by pointing out that the best barometer of the wisdom of the President’s new plan is the response not of his critics but of his supporters. Two of the Administration’s strongest supporters, Charles Krauthammer and Peggy Noonan, have been unrestrained in denouncing the plan in recent days. In today’s Washington Post, Mr. Krauthammer, a determined proponent of the war in Iraq, states that Maliki’s government is “hopelessly sectarian” and the President’s plan to increase our forces “will fail . . . because the Maliki government will undermine it.”

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noon wrote in The Wall Street Journal earlier:

“What a dreadful mistake the president made when he stiff-armed the Iraq Study Group report, which had bipartisan membership, an air of mutual party investment, the imprimatur of what remains of, or is understood as the American establishment, and was inherently moderate in its proposals.”

Ms. Noonan concluded, “I thought the administration would see it as a life raft. Instead they pushed it away. Like the old woman in the flood who took to the roof and implored God to send a boat to save her. A hunk of wood floated by as she prayed with fervor. A busted wooden door floated by as the waters rose and she doubled her prayers. Finally she cried, “God, I asked you to save me and you didn’t send a boat!” And the voice of God answered: “I sent you a hunk of wood and a door!” We don’t always recognize deliverance when it arrives.”

Mr. Chairman, I would also like you to comment briefly, if you would, on the various legislative proposals that have been introduced in recent days, ranging from the bipartisan Biden proposal in the Senate, some proposals here in this body, and the general negative reaction to the surge advocated by the Administration.

I now turn to the esteemed ranking member of the committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for whatever remarks that she should choose to make.