McConnell: America’s Security Interests

‘Republicans will remind the American people about the dangers of closing Guantanamo without a safe alternative — and prod the Administration to rethink its strategy in the same way the President has rethought his campaign proposals on Iraq’

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Monday regarding the War Funding Bill and the possible release of detainees now held in Guantanamo:

“Toward the end of 2006, President Bush concluded that America’s security interests in the Persian Gulf were not being advanced by the military strategy that was then in place in Iraq. He directed a review of military plans and decided to accept the recommendation of General David Petraeus and other advisors to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy that would involve a surge of ground forces to secure the Iraqi population.

“In the face of growing sectarian violence in Iraq, President Bush announced this strategy in early 2007, and the success of this strategy is now so widely acknowledged it’s hard to believe that just two years ago some in Washington wanted to cut off funding for our forces on the battlefield and establish arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal without consideration of conditions on the ground.

“Over the past two years, the American people have witnessed a gradual maturation of the Iraqi government. Iraqi Security Forces working with Coalition forces took control of Basra and Sadr City. General Petraeus’ efforts to shift responsibility to the Iraqi Army took place in front of a pessimistic audience that included Iran. But it worked. During the recess, I visited with General Odierno in Baghdad and despite ongoing challenges in some provinces, and the continuing need of the Iraqi Security Forces for Coalition support, he is optimistic that the security gains made in Iraq are sustainable.

“That’s why I was encouraged when President Obama moved away from his campaign promise to withdraw all United States forces from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration. Instead, he accepted the advice of Generals Petraeus and Odierno to drawdown forces at a pace that will recognize conditions on the ground, the challenges associated with Iraqi elections, and the need to maintain a presence to conduct training, force protection, and counterterrorism.

“To those of us who ignored the calls for arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal and efforts to cut off funding for our forces in combat, it is likewise encouraging to see that President Obama has accepted the recommendations of General David McKiernan and General Petraeus to order a surge of additional forces in Afghanistan to succeed there.

“I visited with General McKiernan in Kabul last week and he explained his plans to deploy these additional forces. He is mindful of the challenges associated with the Afghan national elections, the need to continue expanding the Afghan National Army and Police, and the need to combat corruption within the Afghan ministries. Nonetheless, he is confident of military success. With the lives and the security of so many at stake, it’s important that the Obama Administration follow the best military advice. So far on Afghanistan, this is precisely what they’ve done. And they deserve a lot of credit for it.

“During the recess, President Obama submitted a supplemental appropriations request to fund the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Republicans will aggressively support our combat forces, just as we did in the last Congress.

“In the coming months and years, Congress will continue to play an essential role in preserving and extending the security gains our servicemen and women have made in Iraq and in fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. By approving President Obama’s requests for war funding, we will provide our men and women in uniform with the resources they need to complete their missions and return home in honor. This is a solemn duty, and members of Congress should resist the temptation to use these war funding requests as an opportunity to fund unrelated projects. The President’s war funding request should be used for its intended purpose: the national defense.

GUANTANAMO BAY

“In that vein, this war spending bill falls short in one important respect: It requests up to $80 million for the purpose of shuttering the secure detention facility at Guantanamo Bay before the Administration has a place to put the roughly 240 inmates who live there.

“The Administration has sought to mollify critics overseas by saying that it will transfer the inmates at Guantanamo in a matter of months. The Administration should instead be assuring the American people that these inmates won’t be transferred to American soil or allowed to return to the battlefield — an assurance that, so far, the new Administration hasn’t been able to give.

“This is an extremely important issue. As the clock runs out on the Administration’s plans to shut down Guantanamo within the next nine months, Americans are paying closer and closer attention to what this means for them.

“It’s one thing to announce the goal of closing this facility. It’s quite another to set an arbitrary date for closure before anyone has even come up with a safe alternative. The Administration hasn’t even been able to assure us that these 240 detainees won’t be scattered across the U.S. Indeed, when it comes to Guantanamo, the Administration doesn’t seem to have any plan at all for dealing with men whom many consider to be the most dangerous terrorists alive.

“Meanwhile, Guantanamo has provided Americans with a high degree of safety and certainty: of the 800 terrorists who’ve been held there over the years, not a single one has ever escaped to harm anyone.

“In the days ahead, Republicans will remind the American people about the dangers of closing Guantanamo without a safe alternative — and prod the Administration to rethink its strategy in the same way the President has rethought his campaign proposals on Iraq. In the end, the safety of the American people is a far more important concern than pleasing our foreign critics — many of whom have been far quicker to criticize our detention policies than they have been in offering a hand in adjusting them. On Guantanamo, it’s increasingly important that we get the policy right and put the politics aside. If it does so, the Administration can expect strong bipartisan support.”