Mr. President, we have nearly finished this little exhibition, which was staged, I assume, for the benefit of a briefly amused press corps and in deference to political activists opposed to the war who have come to expect from Congress such gestures, empty though they may be, as proof that the majority in the Senate has heard their demands for action to end the war in Iraq. The outcome of this debate, the vote we are about to take, has never been in doubt to a single member of this body. And to state the obvious, nothing we have done for the last twenty-four hours will have changed any facts on the ground in Iraq or made the outcome of the war any more or less important to the security of our country. The stakes in this war remain as high today as they were yesterday; the consequences of an American defeat are just as grave; the costs of success just as dear. No battle will have been won or lost, no enemy will have been captured or killed, no ground will have been taken or surrendered, no soldier will have survived or been wounded, died or come home because we spent an entire night delivering our poll-tested message points, spinning our soundbites, arguing with each other, and substituting our amateur theatrics for statesmanship. All we have achieved are remarkably similar newspaper accounts of our inflated sense of the drama of this display and our own temporary physical fatigue. Tomorrow the press will move on to other things and we will be better rested. But nothing else will have changed.
In Iraq, American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are still fighting bravely and tenaciously in battles that are as dangerous, difficult and consequential as the great battles of our armed forces’ storied past. Our enemies will still be intent on defeating us, and using our defeat to encourage their followers in the jihad they wage against us, a war which will become a greater threat to us should we quit the central battlefield in defeat. The Middle East will still be a tinderbox, which our defeat could ignite in a regional war that will imperil our vital interests at risk there and draw us into a longer and far more costly war. The prospect of genocide in Iraq, in which we will be morally complicit, is still as real a consequence of our withdrawal today as it was yesterday.
During our extended debate over the last few days, I have heard senators repeat certain arguments over and over again. My friends on the other side of this argument accuse those of us who oppose this amendment with advocating “staying the course,” which is intended to suggest that we are intent on continuing the mistakes that have put the outcome of the war in doubt. Yet we all know that with the arrival of General Petraeus we have changed course. We are now fighting a counterinsurgency strategy, which some of us have argued we should have been following from the beginning, and which makes the most effective use of our strength and does not strengthen the tactics of our enemy. This new battle plan is succeeding where our previous tactics have failed, although the outcome remains far from certain. The tactics proposed in the amendment offered by my friends, Senators Levin and Reed – a smaller force, confined to bases distant from the battlefield, from where they will launch occasional search and destroy missions and train the Iraqi military – are precisely the tactics employed for most of this war and which have, by anyone’s account, failed miserably. Now, that, Mr. President, is staying the course, and it is a course that inevitably leads to our defeat and the catastrophic consequences for Iraq, the region and the security of the United States our defeat would entail.
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