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Jack Reed: Key Democratic Player on Iraq

The man delivering the Democratic response to President Bush's speech on Iraq tonight is a behind-the-scenes force in Senate Democratic politics: Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Diminutive in stature and in political profile, the second-term, 57-year-old senator has become one of the most important voices on military policy in his party. He enjoys an extraordinarily close alliance with two of the most important players in Democratic politics: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has given Reed a prominent role in his unofficial war council, a group of Senate veterans who advice Reid on Iraq policy; and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination with whom Reed has traveled to Iraq.

A 1971 graduate of West Point, Reed left the Army as a captain in 1979. He served three terms in the House in the early 1990s and won his Senate seat in 1996. Reed's popularity in the Ocean State is strong, and he is expected to cruise to re-election in 2008.

Respected enough by his party leaders, Reed has been given the rare distinction of serving on two preeminent committees -- Armed Services and Appropriations -- the sort of perk only given to elders such as Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

One thing stands in the way of Reed's career in the Senate: a possible promotion. His name is actively being floated by Democrats as a potential secretary of Defense. But with a Republican governor in place through 2010, it's unclear whether a President Clinton (or President Obama, or President Edwards and so on) would be willing to take Reed out of that seat unless and until a Democrat wins the governor's mansion.

If he remains in the Senate, Reed's long-term goal would be the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, where the gavel is currently in the hands of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). The only lawmakers ahead of Reed in seniority are Byrd, 89, who already chairs the Appropriations Committee, and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), 75, who already chairs the Health, Education, Labor, Pensions Committee. Reed would seem to be next in line to take over Armed Services when Levin, 73, steps aside.

Here is the prepared transcript of Reed's address following Bush's remarks:

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MR: REED: Good evening.

I'm Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island, and I was privileged to serve in the United States Army for 12 years.

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. It was a flawed strategy that diverted attention and resources away from hunting down Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. And since then, too often, the President's Iraq policies have worsened America's security. Hundreds of billions have been spent. Our military is strained. Over 27,000 Americans have been wounded, and over 3,700 of our best and brightest have been killed.

Tonight, a nation eager for change in Iraq heard the President speak about his plans for the future. But once again, the President failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it. The President rightfully invoked the valor of our troops in his speech, but his plan does not amount to real change. Soldiers take a solemn oath to protect our nation, and we have a solemn responsibility to send them into battle only with clear and achievable missions.

Tonight, the President provided neither.

As a former Army officer, I know the great sacrifices our soldiers and their families make. Our military can defeat any foe on the battlefield. Yet, as General Petraeus has repeatedly stated, Iraq's fundamental problems are not military, they are political. The only way to create a lasting peace in Iraq is for Iraqi leaders to negotiate a settlement of their long-standing differences.

When the President launched the "surge" in January, he told us that its purpose was to provide Iraqi leaders with the time to make that political progress. But now, nine months into the surge, the President's own advisers tell us that Iraq's leaders have not, and are not likely to do so. Meanwhile, thousands of brave Americans remain in the crossfire of another country's civil war.

So tonight, we find ourselves at a critical moment.

Do we continue to heed the President's call that all Iraq needs is more time, more money, and the indefinite presence of 130,000 American troops -- the same number as nine months ago? Or do we follow what is in our nation's best interest and redefine our mission in Iraq?

Democrats believe it is time to change course. We think it's wrong that the President tells us there's not enough money for our veterans and children's health care because he is spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. We have put forth a plan to responsibly and rapidly begin a reduction of our troops. Our proposal can not erase the mistakes of the last four and a half years, but we can chart a better way forward.

That is why our plan focuses on counter-terrorism and training the Iraqi army. It engages in diplomacy to bring warring factions to the table and addresses regional issues that inflame the situation. It begins a responsible and rapid redeployment of our troops out of Iraq. And it returns our focus to those who seek to do us harm: Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option. Democrats and Republicans in Congress and throughout the nation can not and must not stand idly by while our interests throughout the world are undermined and our Armed Forces are stretched toward the breaking point.

We intend to exercise our Constitutional duties and profoundly change our military involvement in Iraq. We ask Americans of good will of whatever party to join with us in this historic effort to restore the strength and security of the United States. I urge the President to listen to the American people and work with Congress to start bringing our troops home and develop a new policy that is truly worthy of their sacrifices.

Thank you.

By Paul Kane  |  September 13, 2007; 8:51 PM ET
Categories:  Iraq  
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