Rumsfeld and Military Officials Testify Before Congress on Iraq Updates
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KWAME HOLMAN: The hearing began with smiles, but quickly turned serious — and at times even contentious — as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his top generals responsible for fighting the war testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In response to growing congressional calls for setting a timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, they all said that would be a bad idea.
DONALD RUMSFELD: When can the coalition leave, and should Congress establish a deadline to withdraw? Some in Congress have suggested that deadlines be set. That would be a mistake.
KWAME HOLMAN: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs:
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Leaving before the task is complete would be catastrophic, not only for Iraq, but also for the overall struggle against violent extremism and for our national security.
KWAME HOLMAN: Michigan’s Carl Levin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the administration continued to paint too rosy a picture of the situation in Iraq.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Our men and women in uniform are serving with great honor. They deserve an objective assessment of the situation in Iraq. They deserve a clear layout of the next steps there. They’re not getting either from the administration. Instead, they get a repetitious bugle that sounds, “things are going well, things are going well, stay the course, stay the course.” The vice president said on Memorial Day that the insurgency is in its “last throes.” But the fact is that the insurgency has not weakened.
DONALD RUMSFELD: You raised the question of the vice president’s remarks about the last throes. You yourself and I both have emphasized the importance of progress on the political side. The enemy knows that as well, and they know that if a democracy is established with a permanent government on their constitution, in Iraq, that they have lost a great deal.
And I don’t doubt for a minute but that they will respond to that challenge and recognize how important it is for them not to lose. And in these final months between now and that constitution drafting and the election, they may very well be in their last throes by their own view because they recognize how important it will be if they lose and, in fact, if a democracy’s established.
So, I think that those words, while I didn’t use them and I might not use them, I think it’s understandable that we can expect that kind of a response from the enemy.
KWAME HOLMAN: The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East offered his own view.
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: I believe that there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago. In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I’d say it’s about the same as it was.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: So you wouldn’t agree with the statement that it’s in its last throes?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: I don’t know if I would make any comment about that other than to say that there is a lot of work to be done against the insurgency.
KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Republican John McCain said the U.S. had to see its commitment through.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: There are some signs of progress that should be encouraging to us, and I share your view that we have to stay the course. And the worst thing we could do would be to set a time or date of withdrawal of U.S. troops until the Iraqi military is able to take over those responsibilities of ensuring the security and safety of the Iraqi people as they transition to democracy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senators from both parties directed strong words at Secretary Rumsfeld, none more blunt than those of Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Secretary Rumsfeld, as you know, we are in serious trouble in Iraq, and this war has been consistently and grossly mismanaged. And we are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire. Our troops are dying, and there really is no end in sight.
You wrongly insisted after Saddam fell that there was no guerrilla war even though our soldiers continue to be killed. In June 2003 you said the reason I don’t use the phrase “guerrilla war” is there isn’t one. You wrongly called the insurgents dead-enders. But they’re killing Americans, almost three a day, and Iraqis with alarming frequency and intensity. You wrongly sent our service members into battle without the proper armor. So you basically have mismanaged the war and created an impossible situation for military recruiters, and put our forces and our national security in danger.
Our troops deserve better, Mr. Secretary. I think the American people deserve better. They deserve competency and they deserve the facts. In baseball it’s three strikes, you’re out. What is it for the secretary of defense?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, that is quite a statement.
First let me say that there isn’t a person at this table who agrees with you that we’re in a quagmire and that there is no end in sight. From the beginning of this, we have recognized that this is a tough business. It is difficult, that it is dangerous, and that it is not predictable. Third, the issue of a guerrilla war, I mean, my goodness, I don’t think it’s a guerrilla war. You may think so. I don’t know if anyone at this table thinks so. I did call them dead-enders. I don’t know what else you’d call a suicide bomber. What is a person who straps a vest on themselves, walks into a dining hall, kills themselves and kills innocent Iraqi people or innocent coalition soldiers? I will say that the idea that what’s happening over there is a quagmire is so fundamentally inconsistent with the facts.
The reality is that they are making political progress without question. The reality is that the American forces that are training and equipping and mentoring the Iraqi security forces are doing a darn good job. So I think I must say that I think the comments you made are certainly yours to make, and I don’t agree with them.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Well, there have been a series of gross errors and mistakes. Those are on your watch. Those are on your watch. Isn’t it time for you to resign?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Senator, I’ve offered my resignation to the president twice, and he has decided that he would prefer that he not accept it, and that’s his call.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Lindsey Graham from South Carolina said he supports U.S. efforts in Iraq, but worried about overall support at home.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I’m here to tell you, sir, in the most patriotic state I can imagine, people are beginning to question, and I don’t think it’s a blip on the radar screen. I think we have a chronic problem on our hands. And if you disagree, I certainly respect that.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, that’s the time the leadership has to stand up and tell the truth, and if you’re facing a headwind you’ve got two choices: you can turn around and go downwind or you can stand there and go into the wind. And that’s what needs to be done. And we’ve got leadership capable of doing that, let there be no doubt.
And I think the American people have a good center of gravity, I think they have individually, they inner gyroscopes that may tilt from time to time but they get re-centered.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana wanted a way to measure U.S. successes in Iraq.
SEN. EVAN BAYH: In an insurgency that may go on in some form for a considerable period of time, when do we determine the country is stable enough — no longer a threat to its neighbors, not a haven for terrorist for which to threaten the rest of the world? So my first question is, how do we define success. And my second question would be what benchmarks do we look to?
DONALD RUMSFELD: If this does go on for four, eight, 10, 12, 15 years — whatever — and I agree with General Myers, we don’t know — it is going to be a problem for people of Iraq. They are going to have to cope with that insurgency over time.
The success will be if you have a single country, a moderate regime that is respectful of the various elements within it, even if there’s a low-level insurgency that continues at 300 or 500 or whatever the number may be, but that they have the people who can cope with that. And that they’re not attacking their neighbors. And they’re not using chemical weapons on their own people. And they’re not giving $25,000 to suicide bombers’ family after they go out and kill innocent men, women and children as Saddam Hussein was.
KWAME HOLMAN: After the Senate hearing ended, Secretary Rumsfeld and the generals headed to a meeting of the Armed Services Committee counterpart on the House side of the Capitol.