Good morning. This is Congressman Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, Texas, the incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
After a combat tour in Vietnam and 26 years in the United States Border Patrol, I came to Congress a decade ago to help ensure that our nation remained strong and secure.
Last month, I went to Fort Bliss, near my hometown, to say farewell to the soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division as they prepared to deploy to Iraq. Not a day goes by when I don't think about them and pray for their safety.
But, in all honesty, I am deeply concerned because December has already seen more than 30 American deaths in Iraq, following some of the bloodiest, most chaotic months since the war began nearly four years ago. We've been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II, and yet we are no closer to achieving the mission.
That is why I was gratified to receive the report this week of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Their report confirms what most of us have known for some time -- President Bush's policy of "stay the course" is not working. We need a new approach. The Iraq Study Group report provides some possible options that deserve serious consideration.
As the recent Congressional elections demonstrated, the American people agree with Democrats that we need a New Direction in Iraq. But it's not only the Democrats who are calling for this New Direction. Incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate this week that "we're not winning" in Iraq, and the Baker-Hamilton Group reported that the situation there is "grave and deteriorating."
A key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group echoes something that House and Senate Democrats have been advocating for months: in order to begin the redeployment of our troops, we must change the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq from combat to training and support. We must also demand more results from the Iraqi government, holding them accountable for their actions. And we must launch a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iraq's neighbors and the international community in the process of stabilizing Iraq and that region. President Bush has not done this, but he must -- because our nation's security and the well being of our 150,000 troops there depend on it.
In January, when the Democratic Party officially becomes the Majority Party in Congress, I will be privileged to take the gavel as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. In that role, I intend to focus on oversight, holding Administration officials accountable to the American people. Oversight need not be partisan, and under my leadership, it won't be. It will be bipartisan, focused, and serious. And it will strengthen America's intelligence capability during this dangerous time.
If the President is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible. We must end the policies that have divided this nation and come together on a new way forward.
In this holiday season, I ask you to join my family in praying for the troops and their families. And I extend to you my warmest wishes for a happy, prosperous, and peaceful New Year.
This is Congressman Silvestre Reyes of Texas. Thank you for listening.