U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-WI, issued the following remarks prior to delivery this afternoon during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker:
Thank you both for coming again to testify here today.
I’d also like to thank you both for your long and distinguished service to this country. While we may not see eye to eye on the current situation in Iraq or the way forward, I have great respect for the difficult work you’re undertaking – the outcome of which will be with us for many, many years.
I hope you won’t take it personally when I say that I wish we were also hearing today from those who could help us look at Iraq from a broader perspective. The participation at this hearing of those charged with regional and global responsibilities would have given us the chance to discuss how the war in Iraq is undermining our national security. It might have helped us answer the most important question we face – not “are we winning or losing in Iraq?” but “are we winning or losing in the global fight against al Qaeda?”
Like many Americans, I am gravely concerned by how bogged down we are in Iraq. Our huge, open-ended military presence there is not only undermining our ability to respond to the global threat posed by al Qaeda, but it is also creating greater regional instability, serving as a disincentive for Iraqis to reach political reconciliation, straining our military, and piling up debt for future generations to repay.
I am pleased that violence in parts of the country has declined, but as the increase in violence in Mosul and recent events in Basra and now Baghdad indicate, long-term prospects for reconciliation appear to be just as shaky as they were before the surge. In fact, the drop in violence could have serious costs, as it is partly attributable to the deals we have struck with local militias, all of which could make national reconciliation that much more difficult.
We need to redeploy our troops from Iraq and I am disappointed that you are calling for a halt in troop reductions, General Petraeus, because the presence of about 140,000 troops in Iraq will exacerbate the conflict, not stabilize it, and it will certainly not contribute to our overall national security. Some have suggested that we should stay in Iraq until reconciliation occurs. They have it backwards -- our departure is likely to force factions to the negotiating table in an attempt to finally create a viable power-sharing agreement.
If we redeploy, Iraq will no longer be the “‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world,” as the Intelligence Community so clearly stated. Iran, as well as Turkey, Syria, and other regional actors, will have to decide if Iraqi instability is really in their interests once we are no longer on the hook. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will be able to adequately address what must be our top priority – the threat posed by al Qaeda around the globe, and particularly its safe haven in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Nothing could be clearer than the need to refocus all our instruments of national power to combat this threat.
Redeployment does not mean abandoning Iraq. We must work for a peaceful outcome in that country. But if we continue to leave our military caught up in the sectarian divisions that consume Iraq, we will be doing so at grave risk to Iraq’s progress, the region’s stability, and our own national security.
UPDATE: The NYTimes blog, The Lede, is live-blogging the hearing. Here, with a bit of background, is part of the exchange between Feingold and Petraeus:
The Elephant in the Room | 5:05 p.m. The title of this hearing is “Iraq After the Surge: What’s Next?” For several senators, the answer is Al Qaeda’s base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Unfortunately, that’s outside the purview of the two American officials sitting before the Senate today.
After several colleagues failed to get very far on the subject today, Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, aired the grievance.
“I hope you won’t take it personally when I say that I wish we were also hearing today from those who are viewing Iraq from a broader perspective,” he told them. “They would’ve helped us answer the most important question we face, which is not whether we are winning or losing in Iraq. Are we winning or losing in the global fight against Al Qaeda?”
Against his better judgment, he asked Gen. Petraeus anyway: “Do you think Al Qaeda is our top threat?” The general agreed, but his answer did not stray beyond his portfolio in Iraq. Inevitably, Mr. Feingold was served the reminder he wished to avoid: “Again, senator: I’m talking about Al Qaeda in Iraq.”