Senator Boxer’s Recent Senate Floor Speech on Iraq   

Friday, February 9, 2007  

I recently spoke on the floor of the Senate in opposition to President Bush’s pending escalation of the war in Iraq.  I wanted to share these comments with you.

When General William Sherman said “war is hell,” he certainly knew what he was talking about. After nearly four years in Iraq, I know of no one today who would argue with that statement. As Members of Congress, we have an awesome responsibility to decide whether to send America's sons and daughters into war. I voted against the resolution authorizing the President to go to war in Iraq because I didn't believe we should have been rushing to say to the President: Go it alone, you have a blank check.

This is what I said at the time, October 10, 2002, which is just before this Senate voted to give the President authority to go to war:

“I never have seen a situation where the President of the United States asked for the ability to go to war alone and yet has not told the American people what that would mean. How many troops would be involved? How many casualties would there be? Would the U.S. have to foot the entire cost of using force against Iraq? If not, which nations are ready to provide financial support? Troop support? What will the cost be to rebuild Iraq? How long would our troops have to stay there? What if our troops become a target for terrorists?”

Obviously, I didn't know the answers to those questions that weighed on my heart that day, but today I know that there are more than 138,000 troops serving in Iraq, with a big escalation to come, an escalation that the Republicans would not allow us to vote on. I know that 3,098 soldiers have been killed and more than 23,000 have been wounded. I know we have spent $379 billion and that doesn't include the President's latest request. And I know, as we all do, that our troops are targets for terrorism and that 61 percent of Iraqis think it is OK to shoot an American soldier. How can this President send more of our troops into a country he says he is trying to help when 61 percent of the Iraqi people say it is OK to shoot and kill an American soldier, and 71 percent of Iraqis want us out of Iraq within a year? We now have answers to the questions I raised that bleak day--terrible answers. Yet my Republican colleagues wouldn't allow us to vote on a resolution opposing an escalation of this war, an escalation of over 40,000 troops, when you consider the support troops.

We know that a majority of Senators oppose this escalation. We know the majority of the American people oppose this escalation. Yet we can't vote on it. Many of us have gone further. We have proposed resolutions and bills to start redeploying our troops out of Iraq. We have called on the Iraqis--a majority of us last year--to shoulder the burden of defending their own country.

It seems like yesterday when we passed the 1,000 dead mark and then 1,500 dead mark and then the 2,000 dead mark and then the 2,500 dead mark. Now it is more than 3,000 dead. I remember when we hit the 2,500 dead mark last June. A reporter at the White House press briefing asked Mr. Bush's press secretary, Tony Snow, if the President had any reaction. Mr. Snow said: ``It's a number, and every time there's one of those 500 benchmarks, people want something.''

What does that even mean? He calls 500 American dead benchmarks? That was a low point even for this administration that keeps on saying, if you don't support the war, you don't support the troops. That is hogwash. How do you support the troops when you send them into the middle of a civil war where they don't even know who is shooting at them? How do you support the troops? Three thousand ninety-eight soldiers dead is not just a number; those are people. That is 3,098 families who are forever changed. To put more of them in harm's way, to escalate our involvement does not say to me we love them. It says to me we have not thought this through. We are not listening or this administration is not listening to the Iraq Study Group. It is not listening to the military generals who came before us to say this is wrong. It is not listening to the American people.

Again and again this White House closes its eyes on the reality of this war. I know they don't want to see the tragic truth. But if you are going to make a decision to send our soldiers to war, you better be able to look at the consequences of that decision. They would not even let us vote on this escalation. The White House doesn't want that vote. They don't want to be second-guessed. They don't want to be embarrassed. They don't want to hear what this Democratic Congress has to say. And guess what. Elections have consequences--how many times has the President told us that--and this election had consequences. It means we have to take off the rose-colored glasses.

Let's look at the events of Sunday, January 28, in Iraq, as told by two Los Angeles Times reporters, Louise Rough and Borzou Daragahi. That Sunday in America happened to be my wedding anniversary, a day of rest for many, a day of relaxation, a day for religion, a day for football, a day for basketball, a day for movies, a day for fun, a day for family; in Iraq, a day of hell.

The headline of the LA Times, the following Monday, reads: “Hundreds Die in Clash near Iraq Holy City.” Here is the article. I don't know if this can be seen on the television, but it is a beautiful young girl, an Iraqi teenage girl. It could be your daughter; it could be mine. She is leaving school. She is stepping down steps that are bloodied by the blood of her schoolmates. She is barely looking around, and no one is helping her. This is a sight that is too often the reality in Iraq. The child has seen what no child should ever see, what we would do anything in the world to stop our children from seeing. And she appears numb.

The reporters write about fighting erupting near the holy city of Najaf on the Shiite holiday of Ashura. There were conflicting reports as to whether the fighters causing the trouble were Shiite or Sunni militia, but we know that our soldiers, working with Iraqis, killed several hundred gunmen in a fierce fight and a helicopter went down, our helicopter, and we lost our people.

The reporters point out that our forces are fighting “a complex patchwork of elusive enemies,” and the deaths outside of Najaf would constitute the highest daily casualty toll inflicted by U.S. and Iraqi forces since U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad shortly after the March 2003 invasion.

This group we wound up fighting, because the Iraqi soldiers couldn't handle it and they called us in, call themselves Heaven's Army, a messianic cult who believes in the imminent return of Imam Mahdi, the last in the line of Shiite saints who disappeared more than 1,000 years ago.

Nomas, who is a spokesperson for the Iraqis, went on to lament to the reporters that many Shiites believe the end days are coming, due to all of the violence. This is what he said:

“There's nothing bizarre in Iraq anymore. We've seen the most incredible things.”

People think the end is near, and that is what this President is sending more troops into.

Our troops have seen things we can hardly imagine, things that may haunt them throughout their lives. I have worked hard with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try and fashion some legislation so we have a commission that is set up to look at the mental health problems of our soldiers. They are deep, the signature wounds of this war, brain damage and posttraumatic stress.

In other parts of Iraq that Sunday, in addition to that school I showed and in addition to the fight with Heaven's Army, the messianic cult, we lost two U.S. soldiers and a marine. In Kirkuk, violence raged. In Babil Province, mortar rounds killed 10, and 5 bodies were found in the Tigris River. There was an assassination in Kut, a deadly car bombing in Fallujah. In western Baghdad, explosives hidden in a wooden cart killed 4 and injured 18, and an Industry Ministry advisor and his daughter were shot to death.

On the east side of the Tigris, a bomb exploded on a bus, killing one. Two other bombs exploded, killing seven. A bank clerk was killed by gunmen in a car near her home. This was all in this one article. This is one day, January 28, one day. Fifty-four bodies were found, including a woman kidnapped 2 days prior.

And finally, in Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad, 1,500 policemen, Iraqis, were charged with absenteeism and fleeing fighting. And this is what the President is sending more of our American soldiers into, and they wouldn't let us vote on it here. It is absolutely outrageous. It is immoral that we cannot vote on whether we agree with this escalation. Our soldiers gave the Iraqis their freedom, their Government, a sovereign nation, and now it is the Iraqis' turn to decide their future.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who knew a thing or two about being at war said:

“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.”

The Iraqis must achieve it. We cannot want it for them more than they are willing to fight for it themselves. All we are doing by sending more troops to Iraq is feeding an already out-of-control dependence. So I believe we must not only speak out against the escalation, but we should do everything in our power to stop it. We need to convene an international conference, as the Iraq Study Group called for. We need to call for a cease-fire. I haven't heard the word out of the Malaki's lips, “cease-fire.” It is his country. His people are killing each other. “Cease-fire” would be a term of art to give people hope that there can be peace. At this international conference, we can look at the long-term solutions. Right now our troops have mission impossible, acting as a police force in the middle of what is, by most accounts, a civil war.

Nowhere in the resolution this Senate voted on authorizing force is it stated our soldiers’ mission is being in the middle of a shooting civil war. We ought to ask this President to come back with a new authorization, if that is what he wants to do.

Senator Warner has said that in the past. He said:

“I think we have to examine very carefully what Congress authorized the president to do in the context of a situation, if we're faced with all-out civil war.”

Well, that time has come. This President should, A, send a signal that he wants to see us vote on this escalation of his and, B, be willing to come back with a new authorization that says clearly that it is fine for our troops to be in the middle of a civil war. Enough is enough.

Enough is enough. We have to end the paralysis of “stay the course.” This is a time of great challenge for the U.S. Congress. I have been very proud these past few weeks to see my colleagues on both sides of the aisle begin to speak out forcefully against this. For me, it is easy to oppose the President on this war because, as I said, I voted against it, as did the occupant of the chair at that time. We didn't have our questions answered. I understand it is harder for others. But I believe everybody--at least a majority of the Senate--wants to vote on this escalation. They want to be heard on behalf of their constituents.

So it is times like these that I recall the words of one of my heroes, the great Martin Luther King, who said:  “The ultimate measure of a man” -- and I suspect he meant woman, also -- “is not where they stand in the moments of comfort, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

He also said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Well, this escalation matters. We ought to be heard on it.

I commend my leader, Senator Reid, for holding firm on this issue. There ought to be an up-or-down vote on this escalation.

I yield the floor.


Barbara Boxer, US Senator, California
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer