by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter
America is at a crossroads. Congress has sent President Bush a bill calling for him to end the war in Iraq. The President has threatened to veto the bill and to continue the war without restrictions or apparent end.
Four years ago, Mr. Bush stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln and declared "Mission Accomplished." Since then, more than 3,300 American soldiers have died and 25,000 have been maimed or injured. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have perished.
From the beginning, the President has hidden the true cost of the war by failing to include it in his budget. Every year, he has come to Congress asking for "emergency" supplemental spending. Every year, Congress has provided the money with no strings attached - even as the situation in Iraqhas spiraled out of control.
We have now borrowed and spent hundreds of billions to pay for the President's war. Our children and grandchildren will have to repay this debt to foreign lenders like Communist China. There is no end in sight -and no accountability.
Now there is a chance for all that to change.
This week, the House and Senate passed the final version of a supplemental spending bill that would effectively begin the end of the President's war in Iraq. It fully provides for the needs of our soldiers while they are on the ground and creates a responsible plan for bringing them home.
The legislation will force the President to prove that his escalation has been effective. If he cannot show that Iraq is making meaningful progress toward achieving military and political goals, he must begin redeploying troops by July 1st. At the latest, redeployment must begin by October 1st, with a goal of completion within six months.
The President may say that a timetable is unnecessary - but after four long years I don't think the American people would agree.
The bill provides substantial increases in funding to protect and care for our soldiers. It includes money for the purchase of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which - had they been available earlier - might have saved the lives and limbs of many of our soldiers. It also provides special funding for soldiers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and from brain injuries.
The President can call this "pork" - but I don't think our soldiers would agree.
In addition, the legislation requires the President to honor the terms of our soldiers' enlistments. It forces him to guarantee that they are healthy and adequately trained before they are sent into the field. It requires that the Department of Defense follow its own guidelines regarding the length of rotations and the rest period before redeployment.
The President may say that this ties his hands - but I don't think our military families would agree.
The legislation adds $1.8 billion for veterans' health care. It allocates $20 million to address the problems at Walter Reed Army MedicalCenter. It provides additional money for treatment of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The President may say that this funding is unnecessary - but I don't think most veterans would agree.
Mr. Bush says to "stay the course." Yet General Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S.troops in the Middle East, says that "the course has been a total failure," and that it "is headed over Niagara Falls." General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO Forces in Europe, says that the war has been a "hopeless spiraling failure."
Our soldiers have served bravely and honorably in Iraq. Theywere given a mission and they achieved it - over four years ago. Now they are trapped in the middle of a religious and civil war. It will be manyyears before America truly realizes the magnitude of their sacrifice. Their families know already.
While they serve, our soldiers cannot speak for themselves. But we can speak up for them. That is our duty.
Congress has taken a bold step to protect our soldiers and our country. This legislation reflects the will of the American people - to begin the end of the tragic war in Iraq. With his signature, the President can help move us in a new direction.
It is now up to him to do what is right.