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Transcript: Democratic Response to Bush's Speech

The following transcript is the Democratic response by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., to President Bush's speech on a change of course in Iraq:

DURBIN: Good evening.

At the end of October, President Bush told the American people: Absolutely, we're winning the war in Iraq. He spoke those words near the end of the bloodiest month of 2006 for U.S. troops.

Tonight, President Bush acknowledged what most Americans know: We are not winning in Iraq, despite the courage and immense sacrifice of our military.

Indeed, the situation is grave and deteriorating.

The president's response to the challenge of Iraq is to send more American soldiers into the crossfire of the civil war that has engulfed that nation.

Escalation of this war is not the change the American people called for in the last election. Instead of a new direction, the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction.

In ordering more troops to Iraq, the president is ignoring the strong advice of most of his own top generals. General John Abizaid — until recently, the commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan — said, and I quote, "More American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future," end of quote.

Twenty thousand American soldiers are too few to end this civil war in Iraq and too many American lives to risk on top of those we've already lost.

It's time for President Bush to face the reality of Iraq. And the reality is this: America has paid a heavy price. We have paid with the lives of more than 3,000 of our soldiers. We have paid with the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. And we've paid with the hard-earned tax dollars of the families of America.

And we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own government.

We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraq when no one else would.

Now, in the fourth year of this war, it is time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation. The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.

The Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that, every time they call 911, we are not going to send 20,000 more American soldiers.

As Congress considers our future course in Iraq, we remain committed, on a bipartisan basis, to providing our soldiers every resource they need to fight effectively and come home safely.

But it's time to begin the orderly redeployment of our troops so that they can begin coming home soon.

When the Iraqis understand that America is not giving an open- ended commitment of support, when they understand that our troops indeed are coming home, then they will understand the day has come to face their own responsibility to protect and defend their nation.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Senator Durbin, when you were at White House yesterday talking to the president, did you actually use the term "civil war" with him? And, if so, did he react to you using that term?

DURBIN: I used the term. I talked to him about — I said exactly what I said here. I think 20,000 troops are not enough to end this civil war in Iraq, and they're too many lives to put at risk. He didn't address that particular issue.

I don't think very many people dispute the fact that this is a civil war; one that finds its roots in 14 centuries of sectarian strife.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) this idea? Do you think that the White House might actually change its position on it or scale it back?

DURBIN: I don't know. But I'll tell you this: I think that it's important that we finally have a voice.

It's been four years since we voted on the use-of-force resolution. If you look at the purpose of our invasion of Iraq, frankly every single element is unnecessary today. There is no Saddam Hussein. There are no weapons of mass destruction.

What we're talking about now is to really bring Congress into the debate, the American debate, about what's going to happen next in Iraq.

DURBIN: And we believe that if we can bring forward a resolution that really brings the president's policy before Congress, ask for bipartisan support, that's a debate that's long overdue.

QUESTION: Senator, isn't the argument that Democrats — you guys are making over and over again that the American people voted in November (OFF-MIKE) not just debate, not just to talk, but actually to do something? And you have the power now in some ways to actually do something.

So how will you use that — not just talk, not just debate, not just have a (OFF-MIKE) of the Congress or Senate resolution — but actually use your powers?

DURBIN: There are limited opportunities for Congress to act. A commander in chief has extraordinary authority to move troops to certain places in the world, and the president is going to use that authority.

First, we're going to bring before the Congress this question about the policy and try to have a bipartisan debate and a conclusion as to whether this policy is supported by Congress, and then watch for the reaction from the American people and from the president.

In the meantime, there will be oversight by our committees.

DURBIN: I won't rule out further action by Congress. I hope I've made it clear here — and all of us have made clear — that whatever action we take will not be at the expense of the safety of our troops who are in the field.

But there may be a way to engage the White House on a policy debate at a new level past the first resolution.

QUESTION: But as a practical point, these brigades could be (OFF-MIKE)?

DURBIN: Oh yes, yes. That's right. And it probably will happen right away. Jack Reed, who of course has some background on this, says that it's likely that several thousand troops are going to move in a few days and then, maybe a week or two, another thousand troops will move.

So that's going to happen, even while Congress is in the midst of this debate.

The thought that we could stop this in its tracks, I don't believe is practical.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: In addition to withdraw, the Iraq Study Group and said that the U.S. should talk to Iran and Syria...

DURBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: ... you know, bring them into the fold with Iraq. And President Bush said — he basically refuted that recommendation as well. How do you respond?

DURBIN: I think that's a mistake. If there's any surge that we need, it's a surge in diplomacy.

DURBIN: I won't rule out further action by Congress. I hope I've made it clear here — and all of us have made clear — that whatever action we take will not be at the expense of the safety of our troops who are in the field.

But there may be a way to engage the White House on a policy debate at a new level past the first resolution.

QUESTION: But as a practical point, these brigades could be (OFF-MIKE)?

DURBIN: Oh yes, yes. That's right. And it probably will happen right away. Jack Reed, who of course has some background on this, says that it's likely that several thousand troops are going to move in a few days and then, maybe a week or two, another thousand troops will move.

So that's going to happen, even while Congress is in the midst of this debate.

The thought that we could stop this in its tracks, I don't believe is practical.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: In addition to withdrawal, the Iraq Study Group and said that the U.S. should talk to Iran and Syria...

DURBIN: Yes.

QUESTION: ... you know, bring them into the fold with Iraq. And President Bush said — he basically refuted that recommendation as well. How do you respond?

DURBIN: I think that's a mistake. If there's any surge that we need, it's a surge in diplomacy.