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Iraq Speech to New Hampshire Democratic State Party State Central Committee

December 16, 2006

Thank you Kathy. You are a great State Chair. I'd like to thank the State Committee for hosting me.

I hope you all take great pride in your work in this last election. The Democratic tidal wave that rushed across America last month started right here in New Hampshire.

The people in this room made NH history -- and helped change American history. As chair of the Democratic Governors Association, I was glad to play a small part in that history.

Thanks to the hard work of people like you, Democrats have become the majority party.

As you may have heard, I met with North Korean diplomats yesterday on their way to the six-party talks, and I'd be happy to take your questions. But this morning, I would like to talk to you about another issue. A quagmire which we Democrats did not create, but which we now must help resolve.

Like all of you, I am sure, I have struggled for a long time over Iraq. Like most Americans, I am saddened by the horrific violence that takes dozens, scores of innocent lives every day. And like most Americans, I believe that our country has a moral obligation to do what we can to help the Iraqis end that violence.

And because of that belief, it has not been easy for me to come to this conclusion: that the best thing we can do – for them as well as for ourselves – is to leave.

Carefully and strategically. But we must leave. And soon. Because our military has done all it can do there.

Our troops have done a magnificent job in Iraq under terrible circumstances. But our continued military presence is not helping the Iraqis create a stable order.

Our presence is not preventing a bloodbath. That bloodbath is already happening. More than three thousand civilian men, women and children are dying each month.

Eighty percent of Iraqis have said they want us to leave. Sixty percent say they think it's justifiable to kill Americans. Sunnis and Shiites alike see us as occupiers, and believe our presence there is making things worse.

There is no military solution to Iraq's political crisis. We need to end this fiasco now, and start down the hard path back to a safer future and a more realistic foreign policy.

Our safety, as much as the safety of the Iraqis, is at stake. We need to stop throwing good money after bad. We need to stop sending our soldiers to die for a tragic mistake.

The message of the mid-term election elections was clear – the American people have lost faith in President Bush and his Iraq policy.

Logically, we have only three choices: escalate the war, hunker down and stay, or stand down.

The leading advocate for escalating the war is Senator John McCain. I have served with John in Congress and I respect him. But John McCain is wrong, dead wrong to think that we can solve Iraq's political crisis through military escalation.

The fact is, every time we have sent in more troops, violence only increased. There is no military solution to Iraq's political crisis.

The second option is to hunker down and stay indefinitely but this will never stabilize Iraq.

We can stay and arm and train their police and army. But deadly militias have thoroughly infiltrated both the police and the army at all levels. Much of the sectarian violence is actually being committed by the very people we are training and arming. Only a political solution can stop that. And only the Iraqis can do it.

Our only real option is to redeploy our troops, and allow the Iraqis to take responsibility for their country.

Look, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I worked in this region. And I've negotiated with folks who are anything but diplomatic-- Sudanese rebels, North Korean Generals, Fidel Castro, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein.

Negotiating with them has helped me develop a pragmatic approach to foreign policy. I call it the New Realism�it values reality over ideology, responsibility over rhetoric, and dialogue over name-calling. I believe it is more important to BE tough, than to talk tough.

Iraq is in a state of civil war, and only they can stop it. We are at the point where we now have to choose between bad options and worse ones. We need to choose the path that will do the least damage to American national security.

I agree with Senator Levin that our leverage is the withdrawal of our troops.

Once Iraq's leaders understand that our military presence in Iraq is neither permanent nor unconditional They are far more likely to take the political steps necessary to deal with their political crisis."

We should give the Iraqi cabinet the opportunity to discuss the details of our departure with us and to make suggestions, but we need to establish a 2007 departure date.

If the Iraqi government agrees, we should announce jointly that our mission is over, and that we will leave by the specified date. If they don't agree, we should announce that date without them.

We should harbor no illusions. This withdrawal will not be pretty. People will die. But fewer will die than if we stay. There are no guarantees that our departure will end the civil war. But it is sure to continue so long as we stay.

The Iraqis might, or might not, resolve their political crisis. It is up to them. They distrust and fear one another, and this makes it very tough.

But they share one goal – they don't want to destroy their own country. To save it, they need to stop killing each other and start compromising

And we need to get out of the way. And then we have a moral obligation to help.

Once we are on our way out, I believe we can be helpful in the following ways:

First, we should encourage national reconciliation talks.

Second, we should work with the Iraqis and the UN to convene a regional conference similar to the Dayton conference that produced a settlement in Yugoslavia.

Third, the United States must lead the way on economic assistance for reconstruction. Working with the UN, the Europeans and other countries

And for our own security, we must return National Guard troops to their States, where they are needed, and redeploy troops to Afghanistan, to knock down the resurgent Taliban.

Redeployment from Iraq will help us rebuild our military, so we can negotiate from a position of strength with countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea. Diplomacy and military power are not alternatives to one another, but rather are complementary sources of strength. Because diplomacy without power is weak, and power without diplomacy is blind.

There are no quick or easy answers to the crisis in Iraq. Our choices are between bad options and worse ones.

Some prefer military escalation. Some choose staying the course. These options are illusions. The only realistic choice we have is to stand down militarily, and let the Iraqis stand up and face the political crisis which only they can resolve. Thank you.

Bill Richardson, Iraq Speech to New Hampshire Democratic State Party State Central Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285223

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