I continue to be impressed by the professionalism and dedication of all Americans who serve in Iraq. We owe these men and women a tremendous debt of gratitude for their outstanding service under incredibly hazardous conditions. The tragic losses we have suffered underscore the challenging task of restoring order and returning the government to the people of Iraq in the wake of a brutal regime. As we have witnessed, insurgents and terrorists will use any means necessary to prevent the new Iraqi government from successfully exercising the reins of sovereignty. In my view, a failed state in Iraq would present a threat to regional and overall world peace. The long-term security interests of the United States are best served by an Iraq that can sustain, govern, defend itself, and serve as an ally in the fight against extremist groups and terrorist organizations.
In January 2007, the President proposed a surge of approximately 35,000 troops. The surge was designed to provide breathing space, through improved security, to enable the Iraqi government to make the decisions necessary to reach political reconciliation. Our men and women in uniform have done a courageous and outstanding job, meeting the security goals of the surge. However, it is my judgment that the Iraqi government has not done its part. Prime Minister Maliki has let both the Iraqi people and the members of our armed forces down by not taking the steps necessary to resolve critical and outstanding political governance matters.
For months now, President Bush has strongly encouraged the Iraqi government to reconcile the political questions hampering progress. The President has repeatedly said – “ours is not an open ended commitment.” The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has echoed these words, stating that there is “no blank check” for American involvement in Iraq. In my view, it is time to put teeth into these words. We must make clear to the government and people of Iraq that Americans cannot and will not continue to sacrifice on their behalf without an earnest, reciprocal effort to alleviate political stumbling blocks and build security across the country.
To that end, I along with Senator Carl Levin, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to determine how much of its own money Iraq had spent on reconstruction and services to its citizens. The report, released by GAO in August 2008, suggested that Iraq has billions of dollars of cash reserves but has relegated only a small portion of that funding to rebuilding the country. In fact, the GAO estimated that Iraq may have a 2008 budget surplus between $38.2 billion and $50.3 billion. Due to these figures, I believe it is important for the U.S. to carefully consider just how much foreign assistance we provide to Iraq.
As the fight in Iraq continues, I intend to remain thoroughly involved in the debate surrounding the course of the war. I am particularly concerned with the frequent and lengthy combat tours service members are experiencing. The stress this places on service members and military families cannot be underestimated. I am pleased that the President has announced that combat tours will be decreased from 15 months to 12 months, assuming that conditions in Iraq do not worsen. However, I believe we must remain mindful of the realities currently facing our military and recognize that mandating “dwell times” could negatively affect the readiness and employment of our forces world-wide as well as our forces preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Finally, I note that the Congress has provided $160 billion for continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act, which President Bush signed into law on June 30, 2008. This funding will ensure that the service members currently serving in these countries will have the food, ammunition, training, and all of the associated equipment they need to continue to take the fight to the enemy.