Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following opening statement during today’s Full Committee hearing on trends and recent security developments in Iraq:  

      “Today the committee gathers to conduct another hearing into the ongoing war in Iraq.  This series of hearings, which we will continue through this month and into September, is designed to look at American national security interests in the Middle East and in Iraq and at what strategy might best safeguard those interests while allowing for the reset of our military to be prepared for challenges elsewhere.

       “We are fortunate to have with us three well-respected experts to share their views on Iraq and where we should go from here.  Dr. William Perry, the former Secretary of Defense and member of the Iraq Study Group; Dr. Jessica Tuchman Mathews, the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Dr. Frederick Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  Welcome to all of you, and thank you for appearing today to discuss trends and security developments in Iraq.

      “The last two weeks have seen several major developments in the political discussion about the way forward in Iraq.  Last week, the President issued the interim report on progress made by the government of Iraq towards meeting the benchmarks included in the recent Supplemental Appropriations Act.  The interim report showed little or no progress made towards reconciliation in Iraq.  The report judged “satisfactory progress” on only 8 of 18 benchmarks, even though most of the political benchmarks were approved by the Iraqi Political Committee on National Security, a body that includes the President of Iraq, Vice Presidents, and leaders of the major political blocs in Iraq, and reaffirmed by the Iraqi Presidency Council, last fall. 

       “Further, a realistic reading of the report showed that even on most of those benchmarks where it was claimed that the Iraqis were making satisfactory progress, the progress was at best incremental and could not provide a reliable indication that the underlying benchmarks would actually be achieved either by the time of the September report or in the foreseeable future.  The only exception to this conclusion were two benchmarks that were actually achieved by the Iraqis before either the President or Congress established benchmarks.
      “Last week, not long after the interim report was issued, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2956, the “Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act”.  This bill, passed by a bipartisan vote, would require the President to begin a redeployment of US forces from Iraq and would mandate that the transition to a more limited set of missions in Iraq be complete by April, 2008.  It would also require a comprehensive diplomatic, political, and economic strategy in which these limited missions would be undertaken.  I introduced this bill because I believe that we are doing real harm to our military by following a failed policy in Iraq and that by blindly pursuing the President’s latest strategy, we are accepting too much strategic risk. 

      “The third recent development was the release of the unclassified Key Judgments from the National Intelligence Estimate on the terrorist threats to the United States.  The NIE confirms what I have feared for some time now -- that while our forces have been tied down in Iraq, Al Qaeda has been rebuilding its strength in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Iraq has proven to be a distraction from the war on those who attacked us on September 11th, and I believe that we must move to a more limited presence in Iraq so that we can dedicate more resources towards finally eliminating Al Qaeda and posturing our forces to deal with future strategic threats.

      “Again, I would like to thank our witnesses for agreeing to appear before us today.  I hope that they will address their views of the current developments and trends in Iraq and share with us their thoughts on where we go from here. 

      “I now turn to the Ranking Member for any comments he would care to make.”