Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.: My fellow Americans, this is Max Cleland, former U.S. senator from Georgia.
This week, President Bush gave a speech comparing the ongoing war in Iraq to the Vietnam War. He used this analogy in his latest plea to the American people for yet more time to continue his war.
I know something about the Vietnam War. I know something about the price that was paid for continuing that war long after it was clear we could not succeed. I know something about years of war failing to produce a stable, secure and democratic country.
I know something about enemy attacks increasing and taking an ever higher toll on our troops. Fifty-eight thousand young Americans were killed in Vietnam; 350,000 were wounded. I was one of them.
There are similarities between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam. One of the lessons to be learned from Vietnam is that the commitment of American military strength alone cannot solve another country's political weakness. This should be a somber warning to us all to responsibly end the war in Iraq and the additional loss of precious American lives.
Congress has required the president to issue a report soon on the state of the war. This assessment gives him yet another opportunity to do the right thing and change course in Iraq.
Unfortunately, it appears he will continue to argue that, if the American people and the U.S. Congress will just be patient, things will work out. He is likely to say that, given more time, victory is just around the corner. He is likely to argue that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But like political leaders during the Vietnam era, this president has a "credibility gap." The majority of Americans see a profound difference between President Bush's optimistic rhetoric and the grim reality which lies beneath. Our history in Vietnam and the facts on the ground in Iraq today prove the American people are right.
How do I know? Because I've seen this movie before. I know how it ends. I know that all the P.R. in the world didn't change the truth on the ground in Vietnam and won't change the truth on the ground today in Iraq.
What is this truth? The truth is that more than 3,700 Americans have already lost their lives, more than 20,000 have been wounded, and nearly $500 billion in American taxpayer funds have been expended.
The truth is that, despite this enormous sacrifice, we find ourselves mired in a civil war with no end in sight and Iraqis unable or unwilling to make the political decisions necessary to end this conflict.
And the truth is President Bush's decision to go to war and stay at war has actually encouraged thousands of new recruits for Al Qaida in Iraq and around the world, has made the Middle East and other parts of the globe less safe, has alienated the Muslim world and allowed Al Qaida — the enemy that attacked this nation six years ago — a chance to rebuild and restore its terror network.
These are the facts. But the facts will not stop the president and his fellow Republicans from trying once again to sell the American people a bill of goods on the Iraq war.
The failures in Iraq are not the fault of our troops or their courage in battle. They have done everything asked of them and more. The conflict in Iraq is an Iraqi political problem, not a U.S. military problem.
We can't continue to sacrifice American lives, deplete our treasury and weaken our national security. We can't expect our soldiers to continue to risk their lives, especially when the Iraqi leaders themselves show no interest in achieving a peaceful political solution.
President Bush's report to Congress will attempt to show that his escalation has produced improved security in certain parts of Iraq. But it will ignore the stark truth in Iraq: that his overall strategy to buy time for Iraqis to make the needed political decisions has failed and, just like Vietnam, we are enmeshed now in an open-ended war for which our troops and our country will pay the price for decades to come.
That's why we must act now. This fall, Democrats in Congress will continue to stand with our troops and with the American people to remember the lessons of history and end the Iraq war.