Floor and Committee Statements

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 -

Floor Statement on Iraq

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Iraq
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I rise to address the issue before the Senate. I have stayed all night and listened to remarks from my colleagues on both sides. I have tremendous respect for each and every one of them.

I do have some issues, however, with some rhetorical questions that have been asked and not responded to and I think are some voices that have been referred to that have not been really answered that I would like to address in my few minutes.

First of all, the Levin-Reed amendment specifically calls for a withdrawal beginning 120 days from now and completed by the spring of next year. Unconditional, notwithstanding whatever action may be taking place on the ground, what progress may or may not have been made, a precipitous and a final withdrawal.

What I would like to talk about is something that no one has mentioned; that is, the consequences if that actually takes place. I would like to do it in the context of the rhetorical question that was asked by the Senator from New Jersey, who asked the question: How many more lives?

His reference, I know, was to the soldiers in the American and the allied forces in Iraq. But the question is meritorious as a response to the consequences of a Levin-Reed amendment passing.

I joined the Foreign Relations Committee this year, as the Presiding Officer has as well. I noted that he did what I did. He sat through almost all of the hearings we had in January and February on the question of the surge and the question of withdrawal and redeployment. We all heard the same thing. Expert after expert argued over whether the surge would or would not work, or the degree to which it would work.

But no one, no one--from former Secretary Madeline Albright or former Secretary Colin Powell to John Murtha, the representative in the Congress, to Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker, all of whom testified, and 20 others, everyone said the result of a withdrawal or redeployment at that period in January would mean countless untold loss of life in Iraq. And most of them said it would cause a great loss of life in the entire Middle East.

I have had visits from representatives of other Middle Eastern countries who have said: Please do not have a precipitous withdrawal because we will not be able to contain the sectarian violence that will certainly follow.

Now, does that mean we should remain as an occupying peacekeeper? No. But it means if we have objectives and benchmarks for victory, we should give ourselves the chance for that to take place.

In May of this year, we had the debate we are having again today. In May of this year, on the Iraqi supplemental--which was to fund the war in Iraq for our soldiers--we had this debate on whether we should withdraw. We decided not to do it. And that was the right decision. We further decided to put some benchmarks, that we should judge the merits of our progress in part by July 15, and then later on September 15. The President reported 3 days early on July 15 the progress that has been made.

Some has been made, some has not been made. But we all determined that it would be September, and the report of General Petraeus, the man we unanimously put in charge of the battle, as to whether we went forward, proceeded the way we were or changed our strategy.

I do not know what the results of the September 15 report are going to be, but I know I agree with the lady by the name of Lucy Harris. Lucy is the kind of person to whom we ought to all listen. Her son, Noah, 1LT Noah Harris, died in Iraq 2 years ago. He was an e-mail buddy with me during his tour, so I knew a little bit about why he was there and what he believed.

Noah Harris was a young man who, on September 11, 2001, was at the University of Georgia and a cheerleader. The day the incident, terrible incident took place in New York City, Noah Harris went straight to Army ROTC as a junior ROTC, applied for ROTC, studied to become a commissioned officer, solely because of the inspiration he had gotten from seeing that tragedy and knowing that he wanted to represent his country and do something to pursue terrorism.

He went in the Army in 2004, was on the ground in Iraq, became known as the Beanie Baby Soldier because in the one pocket he carried bullets, in the other he carried Beanie Babies. He befriended the Iraqi children.

Noah died tragically. I went to his funeral. I paid respect to his parents. I have listened to Lucy, and I have followed her comments in the 2 years that have passed since his tragic loss.

This week, on July 15, in the Columbus newspaper in Georgia and other newspapers in a syndicated article, Ms. Harris was interviewed regarding the current debate that we are having on the floor of the Senate. I would like to quote two quotes from that article. First quote from Lucy Harris:

"They should just defer to Petraeus,'' Lucy Harris said of GEN David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Iraq. "It's a political game.''

Mr. President, I would ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record this entire article.

 [From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, July 15, 2007]
Senators Grapple With Iraq Policy
(By Halimah Abdullah)

For Rick and Lucy Harris and the small town of Ellijay, Ga., the Iraq war isn't just some policy debate raging on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It's about the frailty of life and the power of one young man's sacrifice to spur others into action.

First Lt. Noah Harris's death two years ago while serving in Iraq brought the conflict home to that community. Now, the Iraq war dominates conversations.

"It's the discussion in classes. It's the discussion in town. Everyone is very interested in what is going on,'' said Noah's mother, Lucy Harris.

So it's with no small degree of annoyance that the Harris family has watched the back and forth in the Senate over changing Iraq war policy.

"They should just defer to Petraeus,'' Lucy Harris said of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Iraq. "It's a political game.''

Republicans leaders such as Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are in a tough position as they try to assuage the concerns of people at home, like the Harris family, while helping the GOP navigate the debate on funding an increasingly unpopular war backed by a president whose support is also on the wane.

A recent Gallup poll showed President Bush's approval rating at 29 percent, and 71 percent of Americans favoring a proposal to remove almost all U.S. troops from Iraq by April 2008. The president's job approval rating in a recent AP-Ipsos was 33 percent.

As Chambliss and Isakson consider changes to the Iraq war policy they do so amid a climate of several high ranking Senate Republican defections, Including that of Sen. Richard lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The departures have included Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the moderate-leaning Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

For Republicans, the signs of strain are starting to show.

"It is important for us to continue to pursue the goals of the surge, and have a debate not in advance of the facts but after we know the facts as they stand,'' Isakson said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The White House has urged Republican lawmakers to wait until Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, gives a report on the war's progress in September before voting on any major policy changes.

While most Republican leaders have agreed to do this, they've also acknowledged that congressional and public patience for the war effort is growing thin.

"I think what's happening is that we've come to a critical point,'' Isakson said,

Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst and managing editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, put it bluntly.

"There's just so many bullets for a lame duck president--especially an unpopular one, that (Republican leaders) can be expected to take,'' she said.

" Georgia, like most of the South is still more supportive of the war in Iraq than the rest of the nation,'' said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia and author of the book ``The New Politics of the Old South.''

The Harris family and the folks in Ellijay could not care less about the politics behind the war, or how Senate votes and defections will impact politicians. As a community that has watched their young people go off to war, they are intensely interested in seeing just how military leaders will define victory In Iraq.

"We're talking about boots on the ground, real people,'' Harris said. ``When I think about my son who could have done anything with his life, but he fought because he believed in his country. In what we were doing in Iraq ..... I just don't want it to be in vain.''

That range of emotions surrounding military sacrifice isn't lost on Chambliss and Isakson.

Recently, Chambliss made sure a measure to provide wounded soldiers better medical care was included in the defense authorization bill currently being debated by Senate.

Such efforts are welcome news to Harris, who often speaks at public events about her son.

"My son's mantra was `I do what I can,' '' she said, her voice trailing off.

Then, secondly, at the end of the article, I think a paragraph that all of us should hear: Lucy said the following:

"We're talking about boots on the ground, real people. When I think about my son who could have done anything with his life, but he fought because he believed in his country and what we are doing in Iraq. ..... I just don't want it to have been in vain."

Well, I want to say to Lucy Harris and the parents of every soldier and the loved ones of every soldier who has been deployed, and especially those whose lives have been lost, we don't want them to be in vain, nor do we want them to be deployed in an endless occupation. We have a benchmark going to September 15, a general who had the unanimous support of this body, and operating under a funding mechanism that received an 80-vote margin in May.

Let's end the quibbling at this moment on what we do and give the plan a chance to have its final merits judged and weighed by the man who is on the ground.

As I said at the outset of my remarks, I can completely respect the statements everybody made and the opinions of everybody here. But this is a very serious question. And we should vote, and will vote, tomorrow at 11. When we do, I will not vote for cloture because I want to continue the commitment that was made by this body in the middle of May on the funding of the Iraq supplemental, the timetable for reports to come back, and the conditions upon which we would change, a new way forward, if and only if, those benchmarks were not met and progress was not being weighed.

I think we owe it to Lucy Harris. We owe it to the legacy of the sacrifice her son made and the sacrifice made by the countless men and women who are in Iraq and those who have served before them.