The war in Iraq is on the minds of many of you who have written or who have called my office asking questions and expressing frustration. When the President addresses the nation tomorrow on the war, the American people want and deserve to know how we got there, why we are still there, how we have executed the war and what we should do now. In short, the President must explain his plan for the war in Iraq.
There are no quick and easy solutions to the long and drawn out conflict this Administration triggered that consumes a billion dollars a week, involves 150,000 American troops, and has cost thousands of American lives.
I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end. Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately. I believe we are at a critical point with the December 15th elections that should, if successful, allow us to start bringing home our troops in the coming year, while leaving behind a smaller contingent in safer areas with greater intelligence and quick strike capabilities. This will advance our interests, help fight terrorism and protect the interests of the Iraqi people.
In October 2002, I voted for the resolution to authorize the Administration to use force in Iraq. I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do.
Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false.
Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban.
Before I voted in 2002, the Administration publicly and privately assured me that they intended to use their authority to build international support in order to get the U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq, as articulated by the President in his Cincinnati speech on October 7th, 2002. As I said in my October 2002 floor statement, I took "the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a U.N. resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible."
Instead, the Bush Administration short-circuited the U.N. inspectors - the last line of defense against the possibility that our intelligence was false. The Administration also abandoned securing a larger international coalition, alienating many of those who had joined us in Afghanistan.
From the start of the war, I have been clear that I believed that the Administration did not have an adequate plan for what lay ahead.
I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the President and his Administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war.
Given years of assurances that the war was nearly over and that the insurgents were in their "last throes," this Administration was either not being honest with the American people or did not know what was going on in Iraq.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I heard General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, tell us that it would take several hundred thousand troops to stabilize Iraq. He was subsequently mocked and marginalized by the Bush Administration.
In October 2003, I said "In the last year, however, I have been first perplexed, then surprised, then amazed, and even outraged and always frustrated by the implementation of the authority given the President by this Congress" and "Time and time again, the Administration has had the opportunity to level with the American people. Unfortunately, they haven't been willing to do that."
I have continually raised doubts about the President's claims, lack of planning and execution of the war, while standing firmly in support of our troops.
After my first trip to Iraq in November 2003, I returned troubled by the policies of the Administration and faulted the President for failing to level with the American public. At the Council on Foreign Relations, I chided the President for failing to bring in enough international partners to quell the insurgency.
I spoke out often at the Armed Services Committee to Administration officials pointing out that the estimates they provided about the war, its length and cost lacked even basic credibility.
And I challenged Secretary Rumsfeld more than once that he had no benchmarks to measure actual progress which would lead us to believe we had a strategy that was working.
Last month, I signed a letter with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and dozens of other Democratic Senators voicing strong concerns that, without a solid plan, Iraq could become what it was not before the war: a haven for radical Islamist terrorists determined to attack America, our allies and our interests. The letter asked the Administration "to immediately provide a strategy for success in order to prevent this outcome."
Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan majority in the United States Senate in voting for an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill calling upon the President and his Administration to provide answers and a plan for the war.
It is time for the President to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor – not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war. And it is past time for the President, Vice President, or anyone else associated with them to stop impugning the patriotism of their critics.
Criticism of this Administration's policies should not in any way be confused with softness against terrorists, inadequate support for democracy or lack of patriotism. I am grateful to the men and women of our armed forces and have been honored to meet them twice in Iraq. They honor our country every day with their courage, selfless dedication, and success in battle. I am also grateful to the thousands of unknown men and women in our security forces and around the world who have been fighting the larger war against terrorism, finding terrorists’ cells, arresting them and working to prevent future attacks. And I applaud the brave people who have been risking their lives every day to bring democracy and peace to Afghanistan and Iraq.
I recently returned from visiting Israel and Jordan, seeing first hand the tragedy of spreading terrorism. As a New York Senator, I believe New York has a special bond with the victims of such terrorism, and we understand both the need to fight terrorism and the need for a clear plan in Iraq so that we can focus our resources in the right ways to prevent it from again reaching our shores.
America has a big job to do now. We must set reasonable goals to finish what we started and successfully turn over Iraqi security to Iraqis. We must deny terrorists the prize they are now seeking in Iraq. We must repair the damage done to our reputation. We must reform our intelligence system so we never go to war on false premises again. We must repair the breach with the Muslim world. And we must continue to fight terrorism wherever it exists.
Like all Americans, I hope the Iraqi elections are a true expression of democracy, one that is committed to majority rule, minority rights, women's rights, and the basic rule of law. I hope these elections will finally put the Iraqi people on the road to real security and independence.
If these elections succeed, we should be able to start drawing down our troops, but we should also plan to continue to help secure the country and the region with a smaller footprint on an as-needed basis. I call on the President both for such a plan and for a full and honest accounting of the failures of intelligence – something we owe not only to those killed and wounded and their families, but to all Americans.
We have to continue the fight against terrorism and make sure we apply America's best values and effective strategies in making our world and country a better and safer place. We have to do what is right and smart in the war against terrorists and pursuit of democracy and security. That means repudiating torture which undermines America's values. That means reforming intelligence and its use by decision makers. That means rejecting the Administration's doctrine of preemptive war and their preference to going it alone rather than building real international support.
I know when America leads with its values and fearlessly faces the facts, we make the best decisions. That is what is missing at the highest levels of our government, and what we desperately need now – answers to the questions about Iraq that only the President can provide. I hope he will level with the American people and provide us those answers in his Annapolis speech and give us the plan that has been sorely lacking.
Hillary Rodham Clinton