WASHINGTON – Good morning. This is Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.
I first extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those so tragically killed and wounded this week at Virginia Tech.
Among those who died: an engineering professor and Holocaust survivor who barricaded the door to his classroom to save the lives of his students. And a 19-year-old girl who grew up in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
As a former prosecutor, I learned early on that whenever someone dies from unconscionable violence, their families and those who loved them suffer more then we can ever imagine. All of us are affected as we step back and mourn the senseless loss of so many innocent lives.
Knowing that the victims could have been anyone's children, it reminds us that ours is a country built on the simple idea that we wrap our arms around those who suffer and sacrifice in times of need — and through even the worst of tragedies, we join together — because what unites us is always stronger than what divides us.
This spirit of cooperation inspires the very best in each one of us — and it inspires the very best in our nation.
It is with this same spirit that Democrats in Congress continue to reach out to the President for a change of course in the war in Iraq.
Last month, I visited Baghdad and Fallujah and saw — firsthand — the bravery and commitment of our troops.
Three thousand of the 22,000 troops involved in the surge are Minnesota National Guard and Reserve members who were expected home many months ago.
When I met these soldiers in Iraq, they didn't talk about war policy. They didn't complain about the heat. They didn't complain about their extensions.
They only wanted answers to a few questions: who won the state hockey tournament? Did I have any more Twins baseball caps? And would I call their moms and dads and husbands and wives when I got home — and tell them they were OK.
When our soldiers signed up to serve our country, there wasn't a waiting line. When they come home, they should not be shunted to the end of the line. These are first-class soldiers — and they should be treated as first-class soldiers when they come home, with the benefits and support they deserve.
But the very best thing we can do for our troops is to get this policy right.
This means sending a clear message to the Iraqi government that we are not staying there indefinitely.
This means, as recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, that we begin the process of redeploying our troops with the goal of withdrawing combat forces by next year — while acknowledging that some troops may stay, to train the Iraqi police, to provide security for those who remain, and to conduct special operations. This means not a surge in troops but a surge in diplomacy, economy and Iraqi responsibility.
Our troops have done what you've asked them to do, Mr. President. They deposed an evil dictator. They gave the Iraqi people the opportunity to vote and establish a new government. And now the Iraqi government has the responsibility to govern.
Last week, I went to the White House and met with the President — along with three other senators, including two Republicans. I appreciated the time he took to honestly discuss our points of agreement and disagreement on the war. I told him that now is the time to forge cooperation with our Democrats in Congress.
My most enduring memory from Iraq was standing on the tarmac of the Baghdad airport. I was called over by nine firefighters, proud members of the Duluth National Guard.
They were there doing their duty — standing tall and showing their respect as six caskets, each draped in the American flag, were carried onto the plane. The firefighters didn't know the soldiers who died. But they saluted each time as, one after another, these fallen soldiers were carried off from the sands of Iraq to the arms of their grieving families, who will never be the same.
Our troops have been standing tall in Iraq. Now is the time for our leaders in Washington to stand tall.
We urge the President to work with Congress to pass a bill that — finally, after four years — begins a responsible change of course in Iraq and gives our brave soldiers the help they need when they come home.
This is Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. Thank you for listening.