2006-09-22 / Columnists

Congressman Meeks Speaks

From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MeeKS This Monday past America and the world commemorated the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Like most people, I still have a hard time absorbing those events.

Less than a week after the attack, I was at ground zero along with colleagues from the New York congressional delegation. We were joined by the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress. Anyone who visited or worked there will tell you that nothing seen on television came remotely close to portraying the enormity of the devastation and destruction.

I remember the shock of the incident and the sight. I remember the unbelievable sadness of hearing that personal friends, particularly at the Port Authority, had perished in the collapse of the twin towers. I remember attending funerals and memorials of constituents who also lost their lives.

I remember anger swelling within me. I remember thinking that however long it takes, wherever they may be, whoever this did must be made to pay as heavy a price as the innocent people paid who went to work that bright September day wanting only to do a good job and earn a good living to take care of their families. I remember pledging to work on a bipartisan basis to ensure that the federal government would be able to do whatever it took to make our city whole and our country safe again. To a person, every Democrat, Republican, and independent in the House and Senate felt the same way. Every American expected nothing less.

The American people had rallied around President Bush. On a bipartisan basis, Congress gave him all the tools he said he needed to avenge the nearly 3,000 American who died on 9/11.

Less than a month after 9/11, we struck hard and furiously and justifiably at Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization which had openly boasted of committing the worst act of terrorism on American soil in history. We not only hit Al Qaeda but also drove from the Taliban government from power for allowing Afghanistan to become the global headquarters of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.

At one point we had cornered Osama and other top Al Qaeda leaders. We could have drawn upon the goodwill of the world to mobilize a global anti-terrorist coalition to root out and annihilate Al Qaeda. But, then came the great diversion, division, and distraction. The President redeployed thousands of our troops out of Afghanistan. Together with another 165,000 U.S. troops, and a limited number of troops the "coalition of the willing," he used these forces to invade Iraq.

We quickly toppled the Saddam Hussein regime and began an occupation that continues to this day. We went because Saddam was said to have weapons of mass destruction. He had none. We went because it was said there was a Saddam-Osama connection.

There was none. We went because "preventive war" was supposed to make America safe. Now on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, judging by public opinion polls, a whelming majority of Americans do not believe America is safer. In fact, what a majority does believe is that the Iraq war is a diversion from the fight against terrorism. Polls also tell us that the 9/11 solidarity of people all over the has been squandered. I wonder if, God forbid, we were again hit would banner headlines in other countries say, as they did the day after 9/11, "We are all Americans now."

The other night what was billed as a nonpolitical speech the President told us for the thousandth time that we must stay the course in Iraq and that "Whatever mistakes we have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone." But, as my colleague, John Murtha, says, "This is failed policy wrapped in illusion."

Bush doesn't answer the question of what happens if we stay. What if "we will stand down as the Iraqis stand up" takes another five or ten years? American combat loses are approaching 3,000 dead and 20,000 wounded. Many of the wounded have catastrophic injuries from which they will never recover and for which lifetime care will be required. Some say there have been more than 30,000 Iraqi casualties; some say more than 100,000. What we know for sure is that over the past three months 100 Iraqi were killed a day just in Baghdad. That averages out to 36,000 fatalities a year.

We are now spending $250 million a day in Iraq - that's $7.5 billion a month. How long can we afford to stay that course? Not long if we want to remain solvent.

Part of the problem is that the present leadership of Congress refuses to allow this co-equal branch of government to hold the Administration accountable. The nation's fighting forces, its international prestige, its treasury, and its security, suffer as a consequence.

Congress reconvened last week. But we will only be in session 19 days. It looks to be three weeks that the leaders of the Republican majority which controls the agenda will devote to election posturing, and above all, to questioning the patriotism of critics of the President's Iraq war policy. Leadership by diversion, distraction, and division continues. Meanwhile, Osama is still at-large. Iraq sinks deeper into sectarian violence and civil war. Afghanistan is getting out of hand. And total appropriations just for the Iraq war are catapulting toward the $325 billion mark.

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