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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Kline Record: Report From Iraq

Warning! This will be a lengthy post. On February 1, 2005, Kline gave Congress a status report on the war in Iraq, and in order to be fair I intend to post it in its entirety. Those uninterested in Kline's report should skip to the previous post.

Kline, recently returned from a congressional visit to Iraq, gave his appraisal of the situation there and in Afghanistan. There is some back and forth between Kline and Republican Phil Gingrey of Georgia, so I've left in labels to identify who is speaking. Although it's much longer than Kline's typical speeches, it is still pretty much his standard "feel good" speech, this time expounding at length about how we should all feel good about the elections which took place in Iraq in January 2005.

And I agree with Kline here. All Americans should feel good about the fact that Iraqis have had the opportunity (twice!) to participate in free elections. I just don't think that fact alone is sufficient to conclude that the war was justified in the first place, or that we must "stay the course" as Bush and Kline insist we must. In the same way, all Americans should be ashamed by the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the fact that George Bush still refuses to abide by a law banning the use of torture in interrogations, even though I don't think this fact is sufficient to conclude that we shouldn't "stay the course" in Iraq.

Anyway. I've annotated the dialog with my own comments (((in red))).

Mr. KLINE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding to me and for his leadership on this and so many other issues. It has been a great pleasure to serve with the gentleman from Georgia, and I do have comments about what is truly a world historic event.

It was so exciting on Saturday and Sunday in the United States as we watched the results of the Iraqi elections to see the millions of Iraqis overcoming horrific intimidation to get to the polls and vote. I want to talk about some of that.

In the weeks and months leading up to the January 30 elections in Iraq, we were warned of plans for violent attacks, mass chaos surrounding polling places, and the improbability of any positive outcome. We heard it on the news. We heard it in briefings. And, indeed, we did see the loss of life of Iraqi citizens and members of the international alliance providing support, and we were pained. The reality was grim, but it served to underscore just how important it was to proceed with the January 30 date for legitimate elections in Iraq and the promise, the long-last promise of true freedom for the Iraqi people.

In that recent trip which the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) was discussing, I did have the opportunity and indeed the great pleasure and honor to lead a delegation. Four of my colleagues went with me to visit Afghanistan and Iraq, and it provided us with a better understanding of just how very important, in fact, critical, it was to hold fast to the January 30 date for Iraqi elections. The soldiers that we talked to, the Marines that we talked to, officer and enlisted, Iraqi leadership, the ambassador and his staff all insisted that the elections must go forward on January 30; and the reality of Sunday's success reflects just how true their calls were and how important that lesson was.

Prior to the election, there was a brutal, a brutal campaign of fear and intimidation waged by those who feared a strong and democratic Iraq. After decades of tyranny, a transition to democracy presented a challenge to the predatory environment in which these individuals thrived under Saddam Hussein. These anti-Iraqi forces, the AIF, sought to thwart democracy in the only way they could, through violence, and this is violence almost unimaginable to us here in the United States, violence and intimidation on a scale which is beyond really our ability to conceive it. These thugs, these insurgents were taking Iraqis and pulling them out of their cars and going to their homes and killing them and killing their families. Absolutely unbelievable.

The amazing thing is, the miraculous thing is, they did not succeed. For the vast majority of Iraqi men and women and the democratic coalition of nations that provided support, of which we are a very proud member, knew the temporary violence that they endured would pale in comparison to the freedom in which these elections offered.

We were in Afghanistan before we were in Iraq, and Afghanistan is an encouraging model despite poor conditions, and Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on earth. My notes say that they have an ailing infrastructure. That is kind. They have no infrastructure. The success of their democratic elections last fall has generated within the Afghan people a national confidence and the desire to rebuild their nation. (((This is rather a startling admission by Kline. After all, the U.S. invaded in early October, 2001, and successfully overthrew the Taliban in short order. Yet here Kline tells us that more than three years after a fairly small-scale war Afghanistan still has "no infrastructure".)))

Under the secure protection of a unified and growingly capable national army, Afghan national army, commerce is growing. We were pleased as to see, as we drove through the streets of Kabal, that vendors were lining the streets with their shops and goods were available for sale. It is not like going to a mall, and we are the proud home of the Mall of America in Minnesota, and I guarantee my colleagues that it is nothing like that. These are little ramshackle shacks. But the Iraqis are out there. They are selling goods. (((I expect Kline meant to say "the Afghans are out there".)))

Commerce is starting to open up. And that is a wonderful sign of a stable society that is on the rise.

During our discussions, President Karzai, who was very kind to give us of his time on a Friday, a holy day for the Muslims, and he came in on a Friday to meet with us and talk to us about his vision and his dreams and his hopes for his people and his confidence that his country was on the move towards more freedom and prosperity. And I want to say to my colleagues here how grateful that President Karzai was to the American people. He made a point of looking me in the eye and my colleagues and saying, "I do not think you understand that the American people know how grateful we are in Afghanistan. We know that we would not be a free country on the move to greater democracy without your help."

Mr. GINGREY: Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, so the congressman actually had the opportunity with that delegation to visit not only Iraq but also Afghanistan and to sort of compare what it looks like a year later after free elections were held and what hopefully the Iraqi people can anticipate for themselves. He might want to elaborate on that for the Members.

Mr. KLINE: Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman would continue to yield, I think that is exactly the point, that in Afghanistan, despite the abject poverty, the lack of infrastructure, the brutality that they lived under for decades, and we forget how brutal the Taliban regime really was and how oppressive, despite those things and despite 7 years of drought, which would be crippling anywhere, we know the pain that we feel in our country when we have years of drought, the country of Afghanistan is just devastated. Even with that, the tribal warlords are coming on board with the new national government. They are turning in their arms, and we saw tanks and armored personnel carriers and missile launchers and weapons of all types that were left over from their conflict with the former Soviet Union being turned in. So if we compare it with Iraq, which is comparatively modern in its infrastructure, it is not what we would accept, but compared to Afghanistan it is striking.

(((I think what Kline is trying to say with that last sentence is that the U.S. has higher goals for Iraq than for Afghanistan. That's good, because overwhelmingly the commerce which is flourishing in Afghanistan is the opium trade. In May 2005, the UN estimated that Afghanistan produces 87% of the world's opium --- and that the chief producers are former warlords. With the Taliban gone, it's in their interest to join the government and make sure the new government doesn't interfere with their commerce. What's more, U.S. officials and Afghan president Hamid Karzai --- often referred to as the 'Mayor of Kabul' due to his limited authority outside the capital city --- have squabbled publicly about who's responsible for allowing the drug trade to flourish. And Karzai is openly critical about heavy-handed U.S. interrogation methods.

So yes, let's hope that Kline and the rest of the Republicans in charge are aiming just a bit higher for Iraq.

We were flying around in Iraq. We would fly over big power lines, the same kinds that we have here. They just do not exist in Afghanistan. So Iraq with its mighty rivers, the Tigress and the Euphrates, with its extensive oil resources, with an infrastructure which is at least a start, it is in a much better position, going in position, than is in Afghanistan. So all those features and the proximity to a contemporary organized culture has really inspired the Iraqi people to step up and realize their freedom.

As the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) knows, these men and women are more than aware of the dangers that are surrounding their democratic efforts, but they believe that the promise of liberty is a worthy goal. There is a wonderful picture in the newspaper, and I saw it on television, of an Iraqi woman who is looking in the camera and raising her hand in the sign of victory with the ink, the indelible ink, on her finger that shows that she voted. We need to remember that that does not wash off. That is the purpose of the ink. And the ink on her finger identifies her as someone who defied the intimidation and went to the polls.

Mr. GINGREY: Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, I would like to share with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle the poster, exactly what he was just depicting, and I think maybe we can get that up here because this is poignant. This is something that we absolutely need to make sure that each one of us focus in on. I am so glad that the gentleman from Minnesota brought that up, and I think this is the picture to which he is referring.

Mr. KLINE: Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman would continue to yield, that is it exactly, and is that not a beautiful sight? Just her bravery and her determination and that of millions of Iraqis who went to the polls in the face of an unimaginably brutal campaign of intimidation to cast their votes and take this important step towards democracy and taking control of their own destiny.

And part of that taking control of destiny, a subject much discussed of late, is what the Iraqis are doing in taking charge of their own security. We had, as part of our visit to Iraq, the opportunity to visit with General Casey, the American commander there, and with Lieutenant General Petraeus, who is the American general who was the commanding general of the 101st Airborne in the first operation in Iraq and now is the man in charge of training the Iraqi security forces. It is very clear that he understands that they have a big job, but they are making progress, not only based on his accounts but in our discussions with American Marines and soldiers and American commanders, and their growing confidence in the ability of the Iraqi battalions and the Iraqi police who are now being well-trained and well-equipped to step up and start taking responsibility for their security.

We saw it on Election Day, did we not? The Iraqi security forces were at the polling places, and with the help of the American forces and other coalition partners who did some terrific planning going into this election, the elections were held with, yes, some brutal attacks but with an amazingly high degree of security that allowed those millions of Iraqis to go down and vote.

It is fair to say that really strict security measures were imposed for that election day. Traffic was stopped. And that led to some even more amazing stories of some Iraqis walking up to eight miles, eight miles, to vote. And, sadly, most of us are not willing to walk half a mile to vote. We want to get in the car and when we get there, if there is a line, we grumble about it. In fact, I have to admit that on our own Election Day, Vicky and I arrived at the polling place and there was a long line of people and we said, Oh, my gosh, we are going to have to wait a half hour to vote.

Mr. GINGREY: Let us come back.

Mr. KLINE: Mr. Speaker, I did have the opportunity to vote for myself, so that is encouraging to make one stay in the line. But think about what these Iraqis did, how long they waited and how far they walked and what incredible pressure they were under not to vote, and yet they did. And those some 125,000 trained and equipped Iraqi forces stepped up. They voted themselves, in some very heartwarming stories, voted and then went out and took up their positions to provide security. It really is a wonderful story of a march to freedom.

I think that if I can go back and look at a quote from President Ronald Reagan, who, as my colleague knows, I had the great honor of serving in his first administration, in thinking and talking about a kind of an obstacle to freedom, the Berlin Wall, President Reagan said, "Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor." And I think that that is what we saw in Iraq on Sunday. Freedom was the victor.

The intimidation, the resistance, was not a barrier, it was an obstacle. And it was a tough obstacle, and the Iraqis stepped up to remove that obstacle and go in incredible numbers against incredible odds and start to take charge of their own destiny. As interim Prime Minister Allawi said, their job now is to rebuild their nation and the world is watching. And we are watching, and, frankly, Mr. Speaker, I am proud of what we are watching.

I am proud of what we, the American forces, and our coalition partners and allies have been able to do in working with the Iraqis; and I am just brimming over with pride and with enthusiasm and with optimism and hope for the Iraqi people; and that picture by the gentleman's side I think epitomizes that. I wish that we would not have any partisan rancor that is associated with this. We and free nations around the world ought to be dancing in the streets with joy and moving forward to do what we can to help those people take charge of their own destiny and their own freedom. I have a great deal of optimism.


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