In 1968, Martin Luther King told us: "If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess…strength without sight."
Dr. King was talking about ending the Vietnam War. But 40 years later, his warning is increasingly relevant to the Iraq war.
Strength without sight has now led us into a war based on mistaken intelligence, and down a thorny path of pain for too long.
And none of us can afford to be silent, because as Martin Luther King also said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
So we must have the courage to speak out about things that matter.
It matters that 2,158 servicemen and women have given their lives in Iraq, leaving their families grieving.
It matters that 16,155 have been wounded, many with scars that will last a lifetime.
It matters that the majority of the American people are demanding a new strategy so that we don't have a war without end.
We saw seventy-nine Senators recently back an amendment saying that the Iraqis should take the lead in providing their own security next year. That matters too.
We heard Congressman Jack Murtha's brave statement against the war, calling it a "flawed policy wrapped in illusion." He is a decorated Marine, a war hero who bled on the battlefield, the military's best friend.
And he now advocates redeploying U.S. forces at the earliest possible date, while maintaining a quick-reaction U.S. force in the region to be called upon if necessary.
So how did the Administration and its supporters respond to his thoughtful proposal? Congressman Murtha, with his two Purple Hearts and Bronze Star, was insulted by the White House Press Secretary and branded a coward by the newest Republican in the House. People who never bled on the battlefield tried to demean a war hero.
And that is what we see again and again. Instead of thoughtful dialogue about the life and death issues in Iraq, the Administration lashes out at those who dare to disagree with them.
Recently, the Republican National Committee issued a video news release attacking Democrats, including me. I'm used to being attacked, and I normally just ignore them. But this one was so incendiary that I have to respond.
The ad said Democrats were waving a white flag of surrender. And their evidence? My statement that we should start reducing our troop strength in Iraq after the Iraqi election.
Well, guess who else said that last weekend? The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, appointed by President Bush. His words were, "we can begin to draw down our forces in the aftermath of the elections." Are they going to run an ad against him now?
Democrats aren't waving any white flags. We are doing the jobs we were elected to do. We have a right—and a responsibility—to tell the truth, whether the topic is Iraq or any other policy. We have a right—and a responsibility—to wave a warning flag about a war that is making our nation less secure.
And so, regardless of how many times they attack me, I will continue to speak out, just as I am doing today. I have four points.
First: We must restore our credibility.
If we want the American people to be optimistic and if we want the nations of the world to consider us a leader to be trusted, our motives must be clear, our justifications must be sound, and our policies must reflect our ideals.
During the Cuban missile crisis, Secretary of State Dean Acheson offered to show Charles de Gaulle satellite images of Soviet missiles in Cuba as proof of their existence.
President de Gaulle responded by saying, "the word of the President of the United States is good enough for me."
Today, the word of this President and his administration has been called into question. Frankly, it is hard to believe those words any longer on Iraq.
Remember all of the false expectations that the Bush Administration peddled?
Remember when Secretary Rumsfeld said that the war "could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months?" Or that we knew exactly where to find the Weapons of Mass Destruction?
Remember when Vice President Cheney predicted, "…my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators?"
Remember when White House Budget Director, Mitch Daniels said that Iraq will be "an affordable endeavor" and reported that it "will not require sustained aid?"
Remember when the case for Weapons of Mass Destruction was called a slam dunk?
Remember Vice President Cheney's now-famous assessment that the insurgency was in its "last throes"?
Remember when the President told us about the yellow cake from Niger?
Remember when we were told "mission accomplished" and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war?
Remember when Secretary Rice said she didn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?
Remember Secretary Colin Powell's forceful presentation before the United Nations Security Council…that he now calls a blot on his record?
That is 0 for 10.
Yet, even in light of all this history, the Bush Administration refuses to do more than a perfunctory mea culpa.
In his last speech, the President took responsibility for going to war on false intelligence. The President is only two years behind the American people, who figured this one out long ago, but I'll take it. But he keeps repeating the false statement that Congress saw the same intelligence that he did even though a congressional report recently found that the Administration had access to more than they shared with us.
And he still doesn't answer the central question: Was the intelligence cherry picked or manipulated to make the case for war?
Democrats are insisting that we complete the Senate investigation into this matter. And it's not about politics. It's because if the intelligence was cherry picked or manipulated, the American people deserve to know and the Congress will need to act.
And it's because the next time we need to convince the world of an imminent threat, it will be far more difficult unless we clear the air and restore our credibility.
You know, America is more than an economic and military power. Our ideals have made us a shining light for those around the world seeking freedom, democracy and human rights.
Now that moral standing is at risk.
We all saw the horrific photos of Abu Ghraib, which were at odds with everything this country stands for. We all know that torture does not produce accurate intelligence or make us safer. Instead, as Senator McCain says, "It's killing us."
But, amazingly, banning torture was extremely controversial for this Administration. Dick Cheney even worked non-stop to exempt the CIA from the torture ban passed by the Congress.
Fortunately we won this one, but we still don't know everything about the secret prisons or secret spying on Americans, all of which chips away at our reputation as a great beacon of freedom and gives an eerie sense of a secret government. And now we face the issue of our government spying on Americans without a warrant. This is serious and must be investigated to restore our credibility.
Second and third, we must reverse the strain on our military and get our budget priorities straight.
This Administration says dissent hurts our military. But what really hurts our military is sending men and women to war without a plan and without the necessary armor and equipment. What really hurts our military is stretching it to the breaking point and deploying our soldiers for third and fourth tours of duty. What really hurts our military is a lack of candor.
Our men and women in the military serve bravely and skillfully in Iraq. They have sacrificed so much since the war began. We need to honor their sacrifices not just with words, but also with actions. That means treating their caskets and families with the respect they deserve. And that means opening our eyes to their injuries, and getting them the help they need.
Medical studies reveal that 17 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq are suffering from mental health problems including depression, anxiety and PTSD.
The VA says that 17,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been diagnosed with mental disorders through February.
Despite this huge problem, the American Legion says that mental health programs are being under funded by $500 million a year. I offered an amendment to provide these critical resources by canceling future tax cuts for millionaires. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it failed. The President says he loves our military, but he loves tax cuts for millionaires as much or more.
Let's be clear: To finance a war that has already cost $251 billion, this Administration did not ask the wealthiest in our own country to sacrifice.
Under the Bush tax cuts, millionaires got $242 billion dollars back over the past five years. In the first two years of the Iraq war, the average millionaire received $112,000 in tax cuts.
And the President did not secure enough real financial commitments from other countries.
Instead, our needs are being sacrificed and our children and senior citizens are paying the price.
Talk about waving a white flag of surrender? The Republican Congress and this administration are waving a white flag over our children, cutting their after school programs by 1.3 billion from what this President and Congress authorized. No Child Left Behind was funded at 13.1 billion less than what their own legislation asked for.
They are waving a white flag of surrender over our seniors, causing them anxiety and threatening their Social Security and Medicare by using those trust funds to finance the war and the tax cuts.
They are waving a white flag over fiscal responsibility by creating a debt which is more than $8 trillion. Of the total debt held by the public, 45% is in foreign hands. That means that approximately $92 billion is leaving this country every year to pay off the interest to foreign entities.
And, they are waving a white flag over our homeland security, instead of making it a top priority. The Administration says all the right things in public, and then shortchanges homeland security at every turn.
It's been four years since 9/11. Why are we still dangerously unprepared for another terrorist attack?
Why haven't we provided the additional $555 million needed this year to better secure our ports?
And, why in the world, haven't we provided the $14.3 billion still needed to make sure that our firefighters, police officers, and health care providers can communicate with each other in a time of crisis, whether it is a terrorist attack, a hurricane, or an earthquake?
On December 5, the 9/11 Commission released a report card on the status of the recommendations it made a year and a half ago. It was full of Ds and Fs, and showed us that we are falling short, far short. This is unacceptable.
So we must help our military and get our priorities right.
Fourth and finally, it is time to change course in Iraq
The President continues to present a false choice between leaving immediately and staying indefinitely.
He continues to just say "stay the course," despite evidence that the war is making us less, not more, safe from terrorism.
And he continues to begin almost every speech about Iraq with a reference to 9/11 even though the 9/11 Commission and his own Administration's documents have been clear: There was no link between Iraq and 9/11 and no collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
In fact, the war in Iraq was a diversion from the war against al Qaeda.
Like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the war in Iraq is helping al Qaeda recruit, radicalize, and train a new generation of terrorists.
According to National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, worldwide terror attacks increased by more than 1,200 in the last year alone.
Even the President's own Director of Central Intelligence, Porter Goss, says: "Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism."
I agree with the President about the importance of spreading democracy across the globe. But as Robert Pape of the University of Chicago has written, "…spreading democracy at the barrel of a gun in the Persian Gulf is not likely to lead to a lasting solution against suicide terrorism."
Last week's election in Iraq was an important step forward. I view each election as a landmark and I hope and pray that this one will result in a government that is able to unite the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish people.
Early next year, Iraqis will have a choice to amend the Constitution to protect the interests of the Sunni minority and this will be another defining moment.
I also view each election in Iraq as a chance to turn Iraq over to its own people, who must ultimately chart their own destiny. Reducing our presence would be a sign of success, not failure.
The fact is, as long as our presence is perceived as open-ended, there is little incentive for the Iraqis to make the necessary political compromises.
Indeed, if we want the Iraqis to move toward a political solution we must lessen their dependence on a U.S. military solution which almost everyone agrees is not the answer.
Too many Iraqis believe that the United States has no intention of leaving Iraq. And with good reason. The Bush Administration continues to answer all reasonable requests for timeframes or benchmarks with the same "as long as it takes" mantra.
This, despite the fact that General Casey made it clear to me earlier this year that our long term presence would be counter-productive. And this despite the fact that two-thirds of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. troops in their country.
We must dispel the common and dangerous perception that we are occupiers and instead articulate a clear mission for this Iraq war, with an exit strategy based on real political, military, economic benchmarks.
We need to accelerate efforts to train Iraqi troops and reduce our military footprint.
Second, the President must immediately declare that the United States has no desire to maintain permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Third, the President must work more with Iraq's neighbors and reduce our visibility in rebuilding Iraq's institutions. In fact, we should have been doing this from the beginning.
Last week, the Egyptian Ambassador lamented the fact that so few troops had been trained in his country, saying: "We have the capacity to train about 3,000 Iraqi troops in Egypt each month." How in the world can we fail to take advantage of offers like this?
It doesn't matter if you were for the war, against the war, or undecided. None of us can remain silent or on the sidelines now.
As a Senator, I feel obligated to tell the people of my state how I feel. It's time for a new policy. It's time for a new strategy that makes us more safe and secure. It's time to put to rest the notion that to speak out for a new strategy in Iraq is unpatriotic.
It's time to realize that turning Iraq over to the Iraqis is what they expect and what we should do.
It's time for a real strategy to stop the spread of terrorism and prevent the proliferation of WMDs—not preemptive wars that isolate America from the rest of the world.
It's time to remember that a strong America begins at home, and that we cannot have real security if we abandon our children and families, our fiscal responsibility or if we cannot prepare for a terrorist strike or an emergency like Katrina.
It's time for America to once again be a shining example for the rest of the world.
We can do it.
Again, let's be honest about the past and restore our credibility. Let the Administration support Congressional inquiries and not fight them—on the past use of intelligence; on the secret prisons in Europe; on the secret surveillance of Americans.
Two, let's truly honor our military by articulating a real plan for success in Iraq and taking care of our soldiers.
Three, let's get our priorities straight and get back on a solid fiscal footing.
Fourth, let's get Iraq right by working in a bipartisan way—not running ugly 30-second commercials while our soldiers die and get wounded.
We can do it. We can do better and with the wisdom of the American people, we will.