Washington, DC – It was a powerful, moving journey to Iraq that I took last week. As a new member of Congress I felt it was critical to see the country and our involvement there firsthand. But it was not an easy journey.
From the moment President Bush began his saber rattling and moving our country toward war with Iraq, I alongside so many in our community strongly opposed this war. Many of us let our voices be heard and opposed this effort. And we knew that too many of our bravest men and women who wear the uniform of our Armed Forces would face great challenges while in harm’s way.
The blood and treasure we have spent in Iraq can never be returned but throughout it all, our troops and their families have shown uncommon dignity and strength that continue to inspire the nation.
When President Obama campaigned for the presidency, he made a promise that is being fulfilled: the responsible and deliberate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq following years of conflict, including an unprecedented surge of troops in the final year of George Bush’s presidency.
Though I am well informed on the ongoing events transpiring within Iraq and the region, there is nothing that can quite prepare you for visiting a war zone. There really isn’t an answer to the question, “Did you enjoy your trip?” because visiting a country tormented by brutality and bloodshed is not something meant to be enjoyed. From Baghdad to Kirkuk in the north, I could see the scars of conflict, but also the seeds of opportunity.
But there are strong flickers of hope where there was once a bleak forecast. Our troops are working to transition security responsibility to the Iraqis. The process is being carried out as we speak. The commander of the transition is General Lloyd J. Austin III, the highest ranking African American officer in the Armed Forces who is a leader of uncommon strength with the clarity of vision to undertake this massive operation It is because of leaders like General Austin, as well as the men and women under his command, that our nation’s Armed Forces remain the envy of the world. In the coming months, I look forward to introducing General Austin to you so that you can learn more about this great American.
But as soon as I returned to Washington, DC, the realities of politics in a Republican-controlled Congress quickly greeted me.
On Thursday, Congress voted for the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Authorization Bill. While the bill sought to strengthen our national security and provide our troops with the necessary equipment they need, a pay raise, increased time at home after a deployment, and allows for access to mental health assessments – the bill is filled with controversy.
The bill includes an overly broad, open-ended authorization of the use of military force against any nation, organization, or persons “who are part of, or are substantially supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.” This authorization is even broader than what was enacted in 2001. This screams of mission creep and giving any president to right to use such force is irresponsible, ripe for abuse, and straight out of the Republican playbook.
The Defense Authorization Bill also ties the President’s hands by restricting his ability to transfer detainees to the United States for trial in the Federal Court and to release detainees to countries willing to take them. A Republican-led Congress should not be allowed to have such power over President Obama on such a vital issue.
I joined the nearly 100 Democrats to say yes to our troops, and no to these unrealistic, inappropriate demands the Republican leadership and their rank and file members wanted to place on President Obama and this nation.
In Iraq I witnessed tremendous bravery and courage displayed by General Austin and the men and women under his command. They are serving their country, and we in Congress must serve our constituents too, but not play politics with our Armed Forces.