Good morning, I'm John Kerry from Massachusetts and I am pleased to deliver the Democratic radio address today.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of standing with four soldiers who served in Iraq. They are smart, brave, dedicated young men who volunteered for duty, followed orders, served with distinction, and believed in their mission when they deployed to Iraq.
Today, they have grown disillusioned. The war they fought to protect the world from Iraq's imagined weapons of mass destruction ended a long time ago. Saddam Hussein is dead. Now, Iraq is immersed in a bloody civil war — and too often the brave men and women who wear the uniform of our country are paying the highest price.
Men like Brian Freeman, an energetic and promising 31-year old Army captain who told me that his men struggled to carry out a mission they never trained for and weren't equipped to fight. This West Point graduate, who died in combat shortly after we met, was the kind of leader who was born to lead men in battle. Freeman, like many soldiers in Iraq, was conflicted - torn between his desire to serve and succeed and to achieve victory but frustrated with the lack of clarity in their mission.
Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and I met Captain Freeman in Baghdad right before Christmas. He was heading back to the states for a few days to see his wife and his two children - a boy and a baby girl. After a short visit, he shipped back to Iraq. Two weeks later, he was gone - killed in a frenzy of bullets and grenades while defending his fellow soldiers from insurgents who tricked their way past a checkpoint.
Captain Freeman's loss, his valor in battle and his noble service to our country remind us of the human toll in Iraq - and it reminds us of the solemn obligation we have to get the policy right in Iraq.
Make no mistake: every member of Congress supports our troops. We all honor the brave men and women who have always protected us and do so today. But the best way to pay tribute to their willingness to serve is to make sure they have everything they need both in battle and after they return. This administration isn't doing that.
We hear reports daily of troops lacking sufficient armor to protect themselves from indiscriminate roadside bombs. And numerous audits show how taxpayer reconstruction funds are being wasted on Olympic- sized swimming pools or to often on outright fraud.
Worse, many of our veterans return from war only to face new struggles; with unemployment or with a small business, which couldn't make ends meet and closed shop. Many of our veterans are coming home injured or maimed from battle, yet the budget for our VA hospitals is flat and the administration is asking veterans to pay more for prescription medications.
Our veterans shouldn't have to wait in line to get basic care. The best way to thank them for their service would be to provide adequate care and assistance when they come home. But more important, while they're in Iraq they deserve a well-defined mission that protects American interests and fights a more effective war on terror.
Another 21,000 troops sent into Iraq, with no visible end or strategy, ignores the best advice from our own generals and isn't the best way to keep faith with the courage and commitment of our soldiers. This week in Congress, a majority of Republicans prevented the Senate from holding a full and open debate on the issue of Iraq. Why? Because this so-called surge, which is nothing more than the escalation of a misguided war, is a bad idea. If there was a straight up or down, yes or no vote this week on whether the United States should keep up an indefinite presence in Iraq, it would be voted down.
Here's what ought to happen. The Congress should tell President Bush to end this open-ended commitment of American troops. We must change the American mission in Iraq to training Iraqi security forces and focusing our efforts on removing the threat posed by foreign jihadists, not patrolling Iraqi neighborhoods under the threat of roadside bombs. The United States must get tough with Iraqi politicians —- pressure them to meet tough benchmarks.
If the Iraqis know that they can't rely indefinitely on American troops as a security blanket, they will work harder to achieve a political solution to their deadly conflict. It's long past time to make it clear that we will not sacrifice American lives for the sake of squabbling Iraqi politicians. Iraqis need to stand up for Iraq. And Congress must push this administration to find not just a new way forward in Iraq, but the right way forward.
The veterans who traveled to Capitol Hill this week had the courage to step up and voice their doubts, even as some people attacked them as unpatriotic. It takes a strong heart to stand for something even when it's unpopular. These veterans remind all of us that patriotism does not belong to those who take the easy road. It belongs to those who defend their country. Sometimes loving your country demands you tell the truth in the face of authority. This is one of those times. Let's stand with the troops, not just in words but in action.