If you were advising the President on Iraq, what advice would you give him?
Robert Menendez: I wish the President would listen to the advice I’d have to give him, first of all as someone who didn’t vote for the war in Iraq in the first place; and spend time to make sure that that vote, which was not a popular vote at the time, in what was then my congressional district which had lost lives on September 11th and had a whole security consciousness that made them more supportive of the President’s engagement in Iraq at the time, and therefore less supportive of my views in voting against the war. I look at that then, and I look at where we are now, and I would say, “Mr. President, not only did you obviously commit the greatest mistake that we have seen in foreign policy at least in my lifetime, but you continue to be wedded to this mistake out of what I consider to be pride. And that is not pardonable. There are too many lives . . . sons and daughters of America who are dying, and too much of the national treasury that is being spent.” And so what I’d say to him is, “The Iraqis will never ever make the hard choices, compromises and negotiations necessary for a government of national unity if they believe we are there in an open-ended commitment in the loss of lives and national treasury. And when the Chief of Staff . . . the President’s Chief of Staff . . . the Joint Chiefs of Staff said to me that, in fact, ‘We need the Iraqis to love their children more than they hate their neighbors,’ that is a powerful truism, Mr. President. But the problem is that doesn’t come at the point of a military gun. It doesn’t come at the point o military power. And so the only way we will get the possibility of achieving success in Iraq is if we transition our troops out, let the Iraqis know that they have to make the hard choices, compromises, and negotiations necessary for a government of national unity to, as we transition, help them train what’s left of the troop strength that they need, and the quality of those troops. And at the same time have a contingency left for what was created by the President’s policy in Iraq, which is Al Qaeda in Iraq that didn’t exist before our invasion . . . to try to take care of them and bring our troops home. Because at the end of the day it’s not only about finishing a policy . . . ending a policy, I should say, that ultimately is the wrong policy . . . because I believe that our men and women in uniform are creating . . . are performing, I should say, with extraordinary resilience and sacrifice. But we need them to have a policy worthy of their sacrifice. This policy is not. And not only is it about ending a policy that isn’t bringing us success and changing the course; it’s also about the national security of the Unites States. We cannot, Mr. President, continue to have 130,000 troops in Iraq, assuming that you’re bringing the surge back home . . . the surge troops back home, and at the end of the day still meet some other challenge in the world. And the Iraqis will never make those hard choices, compromises, negotiations necessary for a government of national unity. So this is about ending a bad policy; stop shedding American blood; stop shedding an enormous amount of our national treasury that is being put on as debt to the next generation of Americans. And it’s also about security of the United States.” And I think the President is actually, with these actions, making us less secure. And so therefore I would say to him, “Mr. President,” you know, “there is nothing wrong in recognizing a policy that has failed and transitioning out of it. But what is not acceptable is staying the course out of pride.”
Recorded on: 9/12/07
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