A conversation with U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer about U.S. policy on Iraq.
Senator Boxer voted against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2002 and later referred to that vote as the best vote of her career. She challenged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her confirmation hearings in January 2005, confronting alleged mistakes made by the Bush Administration in leading the United States into the 2003 Iraq invasion.
A forceful advocate for families, children, consumers, the environment, Barbara Boxer became a United States Senator in January 1993 after 10 years of service in the House of Representatives. Elected to a third term in 2004, she received more than 6.9 million votes, the highest total for any Senate candidate in American history.
The World Affairs Council was founded in 1947 out of the interest generated by the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. With over 10,000 members, they are the largest international affairs organization on the west coast.
Senator Barbara Boxer
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, Senator Barbara Boxer is now preparing for a tough race against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Ethics Committee, Boxer is the only U.S. senator to chair two committees. She also serves on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation as well as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Boxer was a strong supporter of President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus plan and co-authored the bipartisan Invest in the U.S.A. Act, to encourage companies to bring overseas profits back to the United States to create jobs here. She wrote the first-ever law to authorize federal funding for afters-chool programs.
Jane Wales is vice president of philanthropy and society at the Aspen Institute, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council, and founder of the Global Philanthropy Forum.
Previously, Wales was a special assistant to President Clinton, senior director of the National Security Council, and associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
She also chaired the international security programs at the Carnegie Corporation and the W. Alton Jones Foundation and directed the Project on World Security at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Wales is the former national executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
It's my pleasure to introduce to you our guest today, and that's Senator Barbara Boxer.She began her tenure in the US Senate in January 1993, after ten years of service in theUS House of Representatives. She was elected to her third term in 2004, received morethan 6.9 million votes, the highest total for any Senate candidate in American history.She serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce and Foreign Relations, andEnvironment and Public Works. She is Democratic Chief Deputy Whip, she serves onthe Democratic Policy's committee on Oversight and Investigations. She's been marriedto Stewart Boxer for is it 44 years now? It's 44 years. They've got two children, adaughter-in-law, and a ten-year-old grandson. Please welcome Barbara Boxer.Thank you. Thank you so much. It's good to be back. I just wanted to apologize inadvance, I'm clicking on a cough drop because it's either that or a coughing fit so I figuredyou would please forgive me if I sound a little clicky as I speak. I got "the thing," so trynot to get it, if you can help it.It is wonderful to be back at the World Affairs Council, which has fostered understandingand dialogue for almost 60 years. I know that this organization's founding was inspiredby the birth of the United Nations in San Francisco, and I wanted to mention to you,parenthetically, that I've just been confirmed as the US Senate Democratic Party'srepresentative to the United Nations. So I'm a delegate to the UN this year. And mycounter-party's Norm Coleman, so we will cancel each other out.Nine days before the first UN delegate meeting here, Harry Truman said of it, quote,"Today the entire world is looking to America for enlightened leadership, for peace andprogress. Such a leadership requires vision, courage, and tolerance. It can be providedonly by a united nation, devoted deeply to the highest of ideals."And certainly those words ring true today.The last time I spoke to you was December 16, 2002. Congress had just given thePresident the authorization to go to war in Iraq, and I had been one of 23 senators whovoted against that resolution. At the time it was a fairly lonely position, but now Iconsider it one of the best votes I've ever cast. During that speech to you I said that ourcountry had a choice. Would we pursue a go-it-alone unilateralism, or lead the worldcommunity toward a century of peace and prosperity? A few months later theAdministration made its fateful choice by evading Iraq, and we have seen the tragicconsequences ever since.Our soldiers are standing in the middle of a slow-boil civil war. Nearly 24,000 of themhave been killed or wounded. People just forget to put that "wounded" in there, but wellover 20,000 have been. The number of terrorists is growing, not falling, and America hasnever been at a lower standing in the eyes of the world.The Administration's obsession with Iraq has left it unable to deal with effectively, aseffectively as it should be able to deal with the other problems that are cropping up.Today I want to talk to you about the consequences of the Iraq war, and the opportunitywe have a month from now to change course by electing a new leadership in theCongress, which is going to push for change, of course.In recent days we've seen stories of more and more US soldiers being killed, Iraqi soldierspoisoned, piles of tortured bodies discovered, and Iraqi parents forced to keep theirchildren home for school. So what is the President's perspective on the current situation?He actually said, about two weeks ago, that Iraq will be, quote, "Just a comma," unquote,in the history books. A comma? I think it will be considered one of the greatest foreignpolicy disasters in US history.I want to share a chart with you that I made up myself before I left. It's small, and I don'tknow that you can see it right now, but-- Adrian? I'll tell you what, never mind...you'llsee it later. You'll see it later, but I'm going to use it as a prop to read off because it says everything.President Bush said, September 20th, 06, when the final history is written on Iraq, it willlook just like a comma. The US intelligence community said, in April, the Iraq conflicthas become the cause celeb for Jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvementin the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters with a global Jihadist movement?And I ask, who is paying the price. And I have a picture that reflects, to me, the tragedy.A little boy just suffering from burns and wounds, an Iraqi child. And we don't know thenumber. I didn't put a number there because, you know, it ranges. All the way from30,000 dead to 650,000 dead Iraqis. 2700+ US soldiers killed, that's an older number.There's more than reflected here. 20,000+ US soldiers wounded. And I do have anestimate of Iraqis killed, it's way off. 45,000, that was before we mutilated.And what does it costing you, us, American taxpayers? 379 billion dollars, and counting.It's 8 billion dollars a month, or 2 billion dollars a week, 11 million dollars an hour, andit's all being put on the national debt, which is up to 8.55 trillion dollars, which is adisaster for our kids and grandkids and their kids. So, this is it. You know when I spoketo you I was very fearful about this, but it's even worse than I thought it would be at the end of the day.If you visit my office in Washington, you'll see four large posters outside the door. Onthem are the names and ages of California soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thereare 665 names. You know, I've been in public life for more than 30 years, thanks to a lotof you in this room for supporting me all those years, but nothing can prepare me fortalking to family members who fear for a son or daughter, a father or a mother, a brotheror a sister, at war. And nothing can prepare me to meet with those who have actually lost a loved one.I met a dad this summer whose only child was in Iraq for a second tour of duty. He andhis wife received a letter from their son right after one of his friends and fellow soldiershad been killed. Here's what their son wrote in this letter. Quote, "His death has startedan uproar of emotions in the platoon. No one understands why we are here, and what ourmission is." Whatever your feelings are about the war in Iraq, I know that we can allagree that our troops deserve the best from us. They deserve the best equipment andtraining while they're overseas. They deserve the best physical and mental care when theygo home. And they deserve a clear mission and an exit strategy.They have accomplished every single goal we've set out for them with flying colors. Butthe goalpost keeps shifting, and the mission keeps changing. First, the mission was tofind weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And I remember sitting across theaisle from Secretary Don Rumsfeld and after the war had started, but they didn't find theweapons and they were looking for the weapons, and they kept looking. And I said tohim, "Are you sure there are weapons of mass destruction there?" And he looked at meand said, "We know exactly where they are, they're up the road, to the left, and turn right,and in the corner, and..." He was so convinced-- well, the intelligence they were usingwas completely wrong. It was off, they had a conflict of interests, they wanted Saddamoverthrown for their own purposes and they were pushing America to war, and theAdministration couldn't see through that. And I keep asking, "Who's paying the price?"And it's on this poster.So then once there were no weapons of mass destruction, the mission shifted. Let's getSaddam Hussein. Not a bad idea, since we were there. They found him. He's on trial.Then the mission was to secure Iraq for elections. They had three elections. Our militarysecured the country for elections. Then the mission was to train Iraqi forces. There are300,000 trained. And now the President says, after all this is done, that Iraq is the centralfront in the war against terror. But the truth is that Iraq, the war in Iraq, is actually fuelingterrorism. It's the cause celeb of the Jihadists. And recently, national intelligenceestimates said, quote, "It's a cause celeb for Jihadists breeding a deep resentment of USinvolvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the Jihadist movement.That's our intelligence speaking. This is not Democrats speaking. This is theAdministration's own intelligence agencies.The war is taking a major toll on our military. Our forces are stretched dangerously thin.Some members are already in their fourth deployment. A top National Guard Generalquoted in USA Today said that more than two thirds of the National Guard's 34 brigadesare not combat-ready, due largely to equipment shortfalls, and yet there is no end in sight.With U.S. resources focused on Iraq, our priorities around the world and at home are suffering.We see countries like North Korea, acting out, ignoring the will of the world.We see violence re-emerging in Afghanistan and the prospects for peacein the Middle East are at their lowest point in memory.We hear supporters of the Iranian President shouting "Death to Americans,"in the streets of Iran.And Hugo Chavez standing before the President of the U.N. calling the President of the United States a devil.as our friends and allies sit quietly in the room. How quickly we have fallen in the eyes of the world.Now you are here because you care deeply about America's place in the world and it is really hard tobelieve that only five short years ago, after 9/11 the whole world stood with us, the whole world stoodwith us. NATO declared the attacks to be an attack on all of NATO members.What secretary Rumsfeld called, "Our old Europe," our allies France and Germany were by our side.In France a newspaper headline declared in French, "We Are All American."In Germany flowers were left at the front gates of U.S. Military bases.We could have used that good will for good purpose.We could have waged a global fight on Terrorism with every country by our side,toward a better world. But the President turned away from the world.And now the world has turned away from us.The director of Pew Global Attitudes Projects, testified before the senate's foreign relations committee,that the war in Iraq "Has caused anti-Americanism to become a global phenomenon, a globalphenomenon, in the Muslim World. He went on to say that we saw anti-Americanism growtremendously in Africa and Asia, where previously there had not been the case.Even among our traditional allies the esteem for America is falling precipitatesly.You know there are those who say "who cares?"You're not in this room, you know why its important.But there are those who say "Who Cares?"The fact is we have to care, because we are in a global market place. We are in a world of masscommunication, where we can instantly be in contact with people and we are in a global war on terrorso we need to be working together. Now some of the blame lies not just only in the President's policiesbut with the arrogance which these policies are carried out. Never have I seen an administrationthat was so unwilling to admit or correct mistakes. Now I no longer hold any hopes thatwill listen to Democrats, but what about the American people, 60% of now whom oppose this war.What about the Iraqi people? Who we went to help, 70% of whom them say we ought to leave within a year.What about Senator John Warner? Respected republican chairman of the Armed Services committee,who says Iraq appears to be drifting sideways. And coming from him,who has been such a hawk, this is a huge admission.Now instead the President simply says, and he looks out at us, and he says let me tellyou one thing, as long as I'm President we will be in Iraq. As if thats a good thing. As if thats a policy.Stay the course is not a plan. Its a recipe for more death and destruction. Now we hear James Baker andLee Hamilton have a report, they're going to give to the President after the election.I just want to ask a rhetorical question, although actually I think it should be rhetorical.If you have a plan that will actually get us out of there and stop the killing oursoldiers, you're going to keep it, going to hold it for three to four weeks? I don't thinkthats particularly moral. If you've got a plan, an idea, a strategy to stop the death lets hearit now. Lets not play politics. They say they're not playing politics with it, but they'reholding it until after the, thats as if somebody had a cure for cancer, right? It's like sayingI'm going to hold it until my birthday ten months from now or something. No, no, no its amoral issue. We've got to solve this. This is killing to many people. Stay the course is nota plan. Putting things off until the election, I don't know what we've come to. We have thebook now. I understand you are going to hear from Bob Woodward, "State of Denial." Weknow the administration has just refused to listen. Colin Powell has said, stay the courseisn't good because a course has to have an end. As my kids would say, "duh!" Yes acourse has an end. You run a course, at some point it ends.It's time for this administration to admit that our strategy isn't working in Iraq and theyshould start redeploying our troops over the horizon so that the Iraqi's can begin to standup and protect their own country. Every country has to defend itself. So what are wedoing? We are just prolonging the day they have to step up to the plate. Our troops can'tforce Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds to sit down together. This is a diplomatic mission not a military mission.Iraqis themselves need to make tough political choices. We can beg them, we can cajolethem, we can tell them what's best, but at the end of the day they're going to do what'sbest for them. Now there are other steps we can take as well. One is to suggest thatvarious regions of Iraq be given greater autonomy with an equitable division of oilresources. This is something Joe Biden has been saying, James Baker has dinged theidea. But it did help in the war in Bosnia. It is certainly worth looking at, in my view.We should encourage the participation of other nations by convening an international andregional summit to work toward a comprehensive political agreement for Iraq. ThePresident had a chance to call for just such a summit when he went to the United Nationslast month, but he missed that opportunity. He didn't even talk about Iraq.And here he had a chance to do so.Now when I spoke here four years ago I spoke about the reasons I had against authorizingthe war. I noted that key questions had not been answered. Questions like, "How manytroops would be involved? What would be the projected casualties? What is the cost tore-build Iraq, how long would our troops need to stay there? Would our troops become atarget for terrorists?" These are the questions I asked. Thank you God, I asked thesequestions. "What would the impact be on our fight against terrorism?" These are thequestions I asked on the Senate floor before I voted No. The Bush Administration neverprovided the answers then, and frankly, their leadership in Congress never demanded anyanswers. When Jay Garner was named Director of the Office of Reconstruction andHumanitarian Assistance, the Administration refused to let him testify before Congress,even once. Never testified before Congress.How many times has Secretary Rice testified before Congress, exclusively about the Iraqwar, even before it began? You remember when I questioned her? That was the onlytime she ever came. That was it, once. We've asked her at other hearings, but only onceabout Iraq. The Congress is supposed to demand answers on Iraq. It's our job! Theyshould be holding tough hearings. I say "they" because the Republicans control it, I don't.They could issue subpoenas, they could carry on the long bi-partisan tradition representedhere today by Doug Bewriter, my friend from the Republican party, we travel the worldtogether, those were the good old days as we look back on them now. We just don't see that happening.We don't see the bi-partisan foreign policy, with a few exceptions. And it's sad. We can'tafford to have a rubber stamp Congress. I don't care whether it's a Democrat President, aDemocrat Congress, or a Republican President, Republican Congress. Rubber stamp isnot right. And we had the Military Commissions Bill. We had three very braveRepublicans stand up and say, "We're not for torture, we're not for re-writing the GenevaConvention." They made this much progress but basically at the end of the day they backed down.And I have to say, I think this is the most subservient Congress and one of the mostcompliant Congresses we've ever had in our history. Norm Ornstein, the Congressionalscholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, quote, "In our lifetimes, I can't recall agreater failure on the part of a Congress to do serious oversight."You know, one of the most important constitutional principles is our system of checksand balances, how many of you remember that from when you were in elementary school,high school? Checks and balances, balance of power, I mean these were the things thatwere drummed into our head, but there was a reason for it. We had a King, in thebeginning. His name was King George. And we thought, that was it for King George,but we apparently we have another one who thinks he can do whatever he wants.If Congress passes a law this King George doesn't agree with, the President issues asigning statement, saying he's going to re-interpret it or ignore the parts he doesn't like.How many of you know how many signing statements he's done? Seven hundred! Sevenhundred signing statements! And then what's very troubling is, if Americans question thewar, Secretary Rumsfeld calls a press conference and calls them Nazi Appeasers. This isnot the kind of country we've ever been or the kind of country we ever should be.Listen to what another Republican President said a long time ago, and see if you canguess who it is. And whoever guesses it gets the Barbara Boxer gold star award of theday. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are tostand by the President right or wrong, is not only un-patriotic and servile, but is morallytreasonable to the American public."No, not Lincoln. Teddy Roosevelt! The star goes right over there.So listen to this one more time. "To announce that there must be no criticism of thePresident, or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only un-patrioticand servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." We cannot be afraid tospeak out. We cannot be afraid to dissent.I had a personal experience with one of the Republican leaders who's no longer around,Tom DeLay, after 9/11. Several months after that, a few of us went down to the Senatefloor, we were very upset with the budget. And it had nothing to do with anything else,we just went down and said, "Cutting education is wrong, dipping into social security iswrong, dipping into MediCare..." And he, at a press conference, attacked us. And hesaid, "We're at war! The war on terror. And you cannot, ever, criticize a President in time of war."Well, I thought, "Let me think this thing through now. The War on Terror is going to bewith us forever, so therefore, no one can ever criticize any president for the rest of ourlives? Have we given the terrorists exactly what they want, given up our freedom, givenup our democracy?" And at that point, I decided to run for a third term in the Senatebecause I was so outraged. So thanks, Tom DeLay, he really got me going. But the pointis, when these things happen, we need to speak up and remember the bi-partisanleadership that made this country so great, that we've somehow lost along the way.Well, the President and his allies in Congress want this election to be about fear, I don'tthink it's going to work this time. Everyone did expect an October surprise, and it camein the form of a page scandal, we weren't exactly expecting that, but I think at the end ofthe day, the reason the page scandal has taken hold on the people is just one moreexample of a huge disappointment. And it's one more example of playing politics and notpaying attention to what we're supposed to be doing. You know, personally, you knowthat I never expected my Republican colleagues in the Senate, except for a few, to protecta woman's right to choose, or to protect the environment, or to protect social security. Idid expect them to protect the pages. I really did. And I'm really angry about this. And ithas clicked with a lot of parents across America, but it is one of the big disappointmentsand it could prove to be the tipping point. We really don't know.But I think the reason this election is so interesting to me, and so important to me, isbecause it's a question of whether we are going to go back to checks and balances,whether we are going to go back to the role that Congress is supposed to play accordingto our constitution. We're not there to be foot-soldiers for any president, Republican orDemocratic. We're supposed to be there for you, to be your foot soldiers, to go up againstanybody, any special interest, any elected official, who gets in the way of doing what'sright for you. That is our job. And it's about whether the entire world, once again, asPresident Truman said, "Look to American for enlightened leadership, for peace andprogress. So there's a lot at stake. Thank you so much for inviting me.Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.