The Iraq Accountability Project: A Wrap-Up of This Week's Senate Oversight on Iraq

This week, the standing committees of the Senate held the most serious

oversight hearings on the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war in

six years. As the 110th Congress moves forward, the Senate will continue to

Jan 12, 2007, 00:00 ET from Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

exercise its constitutionally mandated oversight role. The testimony from
 members of the Bush administration this week demonstrates why congressional
 oversight is of such fundamental importance. In question after question,
 members of the administration failed to provide Americans with the clear
 answers they demand on President Bush's Iraq doctrine. The nation's
 secretary of defense went so far as to plead in testimony before the House
 that he is not an expert on Iraq. The American people demanded a change of
 course in Iraq. The Congress intends to press President Bush to provide it.
     Friday, January 12
     Senate Armed Services Committee:
     -- The administration has promised the Iraqis an open-ended commitment:
     LEVIN: The president said a few weeks ago that the United States,
 quote, "will be in Iraq so long as the Iraqi government asks us to be in
 Iraq." Is that still our policy?
     SECRETARY GATES: Yes, sir.
     LEVIN: ... Isn't that kind of open-ended statement, exactly the wrong
 message to the Iraqis?
     GATES: Well, sir, I think -- I mean, what I think the president had in
 mind was that we would probably have to be in Iraq to provide help of one
 kind or another to the Iraqis for quite some time. And obviously we're
 interested in a longer-term strategic relationship with them, interested in
 talking to them about that. We don't want permanent bases in Iraq. I think
 that what the president was describing was over time a dramatically reduced
 American presence, but the fact that we would continue to be there and help
 them in some respects for as long as they wanted us.
     -- The Iraqis face no clear consequence for failing to meet their
     LEVIN: Well, if [the Iraqis] don't keep their commitments?
     GATES: Oh. And I think if, at that time, we conclude that, at a
 government level and on a broad level, they have not fulfilled their
 commitments, then I think we have to re-evaluate our strategy.
     LEVIN: But just saying, "We're going to re-evaluate our strategy" is
 the definition of an open-ended commitment.
     GATES:  Well...
     -- There is no timetable for disarming the militias:
     LEVIN: And in terms of saying to the militias that they're going to
 disarm those militias and they're going to take them on with robust rules
 of engagement, do we have a specific timetable for that?
     GATES: Not that I know of. But we will move immediately -- I mean, the
 first targets will be the mixed neighborhoods, but it is clear that that
 includes neighborhoods that are majority Shia. So they will be moving on
 those -- there will be no safe havens in this, but I think it's fair to say
 that they will start with the mixed neighborhoods first.
     LEVIN:  But without a timetable?
     GATES:  I'm not aware -- General?
     PACE:  Sir, the secretary's right.
     -- Further escalation remains a possibility if the current escalation
     REED: Let me ask the other question. If the violence doesn't abate,
 will you commit more U.S. troops to Baghdad?
     GATES: I would have to wait and see what the recommendations of the
 field commanders would be, sir.
     -- The President does not believe he needs congressional approval of
 his plans to escalate the war, and will do so even without popular support:
     KENNEDY: Why not come back to the Congress? Why not come back and
 permit us to have a vote on this surge? Let the American people speak
 through their elected representatives to find out whether the American
 people would be -- kind of, took the president now two months to make this
 judgment. Let us have 10 days to try and make a judgment and a decision
 whether the American people are behind this. If they find out that they
 are, it's going to, at least, enhance, from the administration's point of
 view, your view. And if it's found out at this time that they are not, it's
 going to be of value in terms of policy-makers.
     GATES: Senator Kennedy, I take your point. I will certainly pass the
 message to the president. I think he feels that he has the authority that
 he needs to proceed. And I think, quite honestly, that he believes that the
 -- that sometimes a president has to take actions that contemporaneously
 don't have broad support of the American people because he has a longer
     -- Secretary Gates believes there are now four distinct conflicts in
     GATES: I think, in reality, there are four wars going on in Iraq right
 now simultaneously: a Shia-on-Shia conflict in the south, sectarian
 violence particularly in Baghdad but also in Diyala and a couple of other
 provinces, an insurgency, and Al Qaida.
     Thursday, January 11
     Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Securing America's Interests in
 Iraq: The Remaining Options. The Administration's Plan for Iraq:
     -- Secretary Rice would not provide a timetable for how long the Bush
 administration's escalation could last.
     SENATOR BIDEN: How long do you estimate American forces will be going
 door to door with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad before they can -- I
 believe the phrase is -- secure -- or clear, hold and build? What is the
 estimate of how long will it take to clear? And how long are we prepared to
 hold with American forces in Baghdad that are being surged?
     SECRETARY RICE: Well, I can't give you an exact timetable on how long
 operations might take.
     -- Secretary Rice refused to clarify what the administration's "Plan B"
 is should the Iraqi government fail in its commitment to quell the
     SECRETARY RICE: [W]e will have an opportunity as this policy unfolds --
 it's not going to happen overnight -- as it unfolds to see whether or not,
 in fact, the Iraqis are living up to the assurances that they gave us.
     SENATOR KERRY: And what if they don't?
     SECRETARY RICE: Senator, I don't think you go to plan B. You work with
 plan A.
     SENATOR KERRY: But that's not a plan B. That's a very critical issue.
     SECRETARY RICE: You work with plan A and you give it the possibility of
 success, the best possibility of success.
     -- The administration failed to provide Senator Sununu with a good
 explanation of the new methodology for Iraqi oil distribution.
     SENATOR SUNUNU: On Friday, senior National Security Council staff was
 able to tell me and others in the room nothing about distribution
 methodology. So either the right information isn't being put into the hands
 of the president's national security adviser and his senior intelligence
 official for the Middle East or there's a refusal to share information.
     SECRETARY RICE: Well, Senator, let me just say that I will tell you
 what we know of the draft law. I will send you a note about that.
     -- No coalition partner will increase its troop presence in Iraq:
     SENATOR BOXER: So I want to ask you, since this administration has been
 so clear about how this has been a coalition -- a coalition -- you've
 already said that we don't have anybody else escalating their presence at
 this time; is that correct?
     -- Secretary Rice refused to answer whether the president has the
 authority to engage Iran in hostilities without further Congressional
     SENATOR BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the
 constitutional authority to pursue, across the border into Iran or Syria,
 the networks in those countries?
     SECRETARY RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to
 speculate on the president's constitutional authority, or to try and say
 anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which
 is broad as commander in chief. I do think that everyone will understand
 that the American people -- and I assume, the Congress -- expects the
 president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.
     SENATOR WEBB: And this is a question that can be answered either very
 briefly or through written testimony, but my question is: Is it the
 position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take
 unilateral action against Iran in the absence of a direct threat without
 congressional approval?
     SECRETARY RICE: Senator, I'm really loathe to get into questions of the
 president's authorities without a rather more clear understanding of what
 we are actually talking about. So let me answer you, in fact, in writing. I
 think that would be the best thing to do.
     SENATOR WEBB:  I would appreciate that.
     Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Annual Threat Assessment
     -- Senator Rockefeller believes that the administration promoted false
 intelligence to sell the war in Iraq, and will complete the committee's
 investigation into that intelligence:
     SENATOR ROCKEFELLER: I believe our actions in Iraq have placed our
 Nation more at risk to terrorist attack than before the invasion. Based on
 the findings of the Committee's Iraq investigation, I have concluded that
 the Administration promoted non-existent links between Iraq and al-Qaeda in
 an effort to sell a war that was fundamentally about regime change, not
 about an imminent threat to America.
     We must also complete the Committee's two-and-a-half year investigation
 of prewar intelligence on Iraq in a prompt but thorough and objective
 manner. We should have, and could have, completed this effort long ago.
     Wednesday, January 10
     Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Securing America's Interests in
 Iraq: The Remaining Options. Where We Are: The Current Situation in Iraq
     -- According to Yahia Khairi Said, of the London School of Economics,
 the administration's plan is unlikely to bring peace to Iraq, and could
 fuel greater violence:
     SAID: Neither the current proposal for a 'surge' nor the proposal to
 withdraw coalition forces are likely to bring peace. What is needed is a
 comprehensive and long term approach based on an open and inclusive
 dialogue at national and international levels, in which the fair
 distribution of Iraqi oil revenues is used as an incentive for uniting
 Iraqis ... A military offensive - especially if it fails to protect
 civilians on all sides - is liable to inflame the sectarian conflict and
 make a peaceful settlement even less likely. The U.S. forces can find
 themselves embroiled as a party in the sectarian conflict.
     -- This Week, Republican Senators Rejected the President's Plan for
     Sen. Sam Brownback - from Baghdad -- Says Escalation Is Not the Answer.
 "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer. Iraq
 requires a political rather than a military solution." [AP, 1/10/07]
     Sen. Jim Bunning Is Skeptical of Adding More Troops. "You bet I'm
 skeptical ... I would rather see us maintain our current level and get them
 out of harm's way and put Iraqi security forces in harm's way." [Cincinnati
 Enquirer, 1/10/07]
     Sen. Norm Coleman Opposes President Bush's Escalation Plan. "And to put
 the lives of Americans soldiers -- more, in the center of that, without
 first having something that's substantial, something we can point to, other
 than this sense of trust, other than looking someone in the eye, having a
 conversation. I'm not prepared, at this time, to support that. It's -- the
 cost is too great." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony, 1/11/07]
     Sen. Susan Collins Says an Increase in Troop Levels Is a Mistake.
 "Based on the trip I took to Iraq last month, I concluded it would be a
 mistake to increase the overall level of troops in Iraq." [Chicago Tribune,
     Sen. Chuck Hagel Calls the President's Speech the Most Dangerous
 Foreign Policy Blunder since Vietnam. "I think this speech given last night
 by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in
 this country since Vietnam -- if it's carried out. I will resist it."
 [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony, 1/11/07]
     Sen. Lisa Murkowski Not Convinced by the President's Plan. "I would
 agree with Senator Hagel that, given the American lives that have been lost
 in Iraq, we want to make sure that we have a policy that is worthy of their
 sacrifices. And those are his words. And I think they're very well spoken.
 But I'm not convinced, as I look to the plan that the president presented
 yesterday, that what we're seeing is that much different than what we have
 been doing in the past." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony,
     Sen. Richard Shelby Is Not Enthusiastic of President's Plan. "I'm not
 enthusiastic ... It seems to me that Iraq is bursting at the seams, that
 it's chaotic. You have all these people fighting each other and we're in
 between. I don't know if 20,000 troops is going to do it. I don't know if
 it's too late." [AP, 1/11/07]
     Sen. Gordon Smith Opposes the Escalation. "We are extending an
 ineffective tactic to further the status quo. Iraqis must be the ones to
 settle their own peace." [AP, 1/10/07]
     Sen. Olympia Snowe Is Skeptical That an Escalation Will Address the
 Problem. "I have deep skepticism about it, about a surge addressing the
 root causes of the mistrust and hatred that sects have for each other.
 That's what I expressed. The fact of the matter is that the American people
 don't support this war and the way it has evolved because they see the
 Iraqis fighting among themselves instead of for themselves." [Irish Times,
     Sen. Arlen Specter Remains Skeptical. "After listening to the
 President's speech, I remain skeptical that an additional 20,000 troops
 will produce victory because the professional military advisers have said
 those troops will not win the war, and the record shows that the Iraqis can
 not be relied upon to uphold their obligations under the plan." [Centre
 Daily Times (State College, PA), 1/11/07]
     Sen. John Sununu Expressed His Concerns about President Bush's
 Escalation Plan. "There were some areas where I have a little bit more
 concern, such as whether or not the use of the troops discussed will really
 be appropriate in dealing with sectarian violence in Baghdad ... " [Senate
 Foreign Relations Committee Testimony, 1/11/07]
     Sen. George Voinovich Is Skeptical of the Plan for Escalation. "I think
 you should know that I am skeptical that a surge of troops will bring an
 end to the escalation of violence and the insurgency in Iraq. Many of the
 generals that have served there have said they don't believe additional
 troops will be helpful in Baghdad particularly. And, Madam Secretary, my
 faith in Prime Minister Maliki's ability to make the hard choices necessary
 to bring about political solutions has to be restored. What we need is a
 political solution between the Sunnis and the Shiite." [Senate Foreign
 Relations Committee Testimony, 1/11/07]
     Sen. David Vitter Is Concerned the President's Plan is Too Little Too
 Late. "And so that does lead to a concern of mine that we may commit the
 same mistake I think we clearly have in the past, which is too little,
 maybe too late." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony, 1/11/07]

SOURCE Office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid