AFA Policy Forum
"National Security Policy and the Future of Iraq"
Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA, 3rd District)
Air & Space Conference 2004—Washington, DC
September 14, 2004
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Representative Marshall: I'm going to begin by exercising a point of personal privilege. Since I've got
the mike, you've got to listen to me.
Last year, I led a charge to try to do something about what people have been calling “concurrent receipt.” A
number of you don't even know what that is, but it's a problem that has existed in our country that has affected
military retirees for over a century. Military retirees who are disabled can't get their disability benefits.
We decided we would prohibit military retirees from getting their disability benefits back toward the end of
the last century. It's when we were suffering from deflation in the United States, the revenues of the government
were down, and the government was looking around for ways to save money and make money and one of the targets was
disabled veterans. It was a small group, they didn't have much voice, they didn't have organizations like this
representing them. As a result, they were not successful in stopping this law from being passed that essentially
prohibits retirees from getting disability benefits.
I came to Congress this past term. I signed up as one of the co-sponsors of legislation that was designed to
get rid of the problem. My name was I think the 330th name out of 435 now.
I said to somebody, “well, we're going to fix this.” The answer was, “no, we're not.” We've been trying to
fix this for 16 years. This same piece of legislation time after time after time comes up and gets shot down.
I wound up filing what's called a “discharge petition.” It's a device that is basically designed to force a
vote. All you need to do is get a majority of the Members of Congress to sign the petition and a vote is required.
I was just going to force a vote on this piece of legislation that was drafted by a senior Republican from
Florida and I'm a junior Democrat from Georgia, so it's a bipartisan effort here.
Early on, as we started working on the campaign I decided that the term, "concurrent receipt" was a terrible
term because it immediately put you on the defensive. Right away when you say “concurrent receipt,” first of all,
people don't know what you're talking about. Secondly, you're on the defensive. You're talking about double
dipping. It sounds wrong.
I was an Airborne Ranger in Vietnam, a recon platoon sergeant, got wounded. I get disability benefits. I've
been getting disability benefits since 1970. I served 21 months. I'm rated 20 percent I think. I could have
stayed in. Had I served 20 years I wouldn't get those disability benefits. It makes no sense. Serve more, get
less. There's some problem with that. People understand that.
They're also familiar with the fact that retirement benefits are different from workers comp, disability,
those sort of things. It's very common that those two are separated, but you use the term “concurrent receipt,”
immediately you're on the defensive, so we changed the name.
I'd ask everybody in the room to quit using the term concurrent receipt. What brought it to mind is this
morning's presentation. One of the folks there mentioned concurrent receipt in their remarks. Use the term
"disabled veterans tax." That's what it is. It is a tax on disabled military retirees. It's wrong. It was
wrong when we did it. It's wrong right now. It's something we can fix if you use that term. Why? You've got a
whole bunch of folks in Congress who like tax cuts. I like tax cuts. I prioritize my tax cuts. Guess what? A
tax called the disabled veterans tax is going to be right up at the top of the list for just about all of us.
In order to persuade my fellow veterans to start using that term I went around and I talked to all the
national conventions last year and this was my gimmick. I used a quarter. I got everybody to agree if you're
active duty or you're a veteran and you use the term concurrent receipt and somebody calls you on it, you owe
them a quarter. We're going to train one another at the cost of quarters.
Now what I did last time around was I had a bunch of these quarters and every time I said “concurrent receipt”
I'd throw them at the audience. I got worried about somebody suing me. [Laughter] So I'm not going to throw a
bunch of quarters at you.
But I also did this. I said anybody in the room who isn't willing to go along with this regime, in other words,
if you're not willing to cough up a quarter when you use the wrong term, stand up right now. See, nobody stood
up so you all agreed. You're going to use the term “disabled veterans tax,” and we're going to get rid of this
problem once and for all. It was wrong when it happened, it's wrong now. We've made some big improvements last
year and I'm hoping that we're going to wind up making some big improvements in the future.
That's my point of personal privilege. [Applause] Thank you gentlemen, ladies, I appreciate that.
Let me talk about Iraq and the future there. When I talk about that, I'm talking about not just Iraq but I'm
talking about these kinds of engagements—Afghanistan, as well; terror generally.
I was a Princeton student, dropped out, enlisted. I'm the son and grandson of Army generals so it was kind of
in my blood. I almost went to West Point. There weren't too many kids, in fact I can't remember any, who did the
same thing. I was just sort of out of step with my peers at that time.
I enlisted, decided I was going to go all the way. I was a Ranger, a recon platoon sergeant. In Vietnam, my
job was to find, capture, kill guerrillas. It was hard as heck to do. As aggressive as I was—and I was a smart
kid, athletic, and I'd been well trained—I was too young. You don't want to have recon staff sergeants in charge
of platoons. I was 21, a staff sergeant in just eight months. We just needed canon fodder. We were losing a
lot of people in Vietnam.
So I was too young, I didn't have great judgment, I made lots of mistakes, but boy, I tried to do as best I
I didn't know who was who. I didn't know who the good guys were, the bad guys were. I came back. I was a
university scholar for awhile at Princeton. What I was doing was studying these kinds of engagements, trying to
figure out how we do this right, where we were going wrong.
I did that for awhile, I intended to write about it. I didn't write about it. I didn't have others’ talent
or drive so I went on to other things.
I was a Mayor in the late '90s. The problems we had in some of our neighborhoods were pretty similar to the
kinds of problems that you had in Vietnam. Not as violent, but the same kind of tactical dilemma, the same kind
of strategic dilemma.
Now I'm in Congress. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. I've written a little bit about this, I've talked
a lot about it, I've made three trips to Iraq. What I'd like to do is just tell you about two things that
happened during my last trip. I just got back a couple of weeks ago. Two things that happened during my last
trip that for me really evidence the dilemma we've got. Then I'd like to throw it open for some questions. I
don't know that I'll have answers, I'll just respond.
I'm not going to talk about these two incidents in order. I'm going to talk about them in reverse order,
actually. We were in Bahrain, we met with the Crown Prince. After meeting with the Crown Prince, we got
together with the Commander of the 5th Fleet who's also CENTCOM Commander. His name's Dave Nichols. Admiral
Nichols and I traveled around together most of the day. Great conversation, very bright guy, very committed.
About 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon we're sitting around, we're having a briefing. We're in a building that
the United States has constructed at the cost of gosh knows how many millions of dollars. In that room are a
number of admirals, all, kinds of gadgets, there must have been 30 folks in the room that were captain on up.
We were briefed about a lot of different things, but we spent 20 minutes talking about six Sunnis who had been
identified as a little cell that was likely to try to do something bad in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. Six of them.
Those who were doing the presentation explained that they had gone to the Bahrainian government (the Bahrainian
government's all Sunni). The Sunnis in the Bahrainian government had a hard time believing that Sunnis would
actually do violence to Sunnis. As a result of the fact that the Bahrainian response was not so great, we had
all of the dependents go home. I don't know whether it was—there were certainly hundreds, probably thousands of
people. We evacuated thousands of people from Bahrain. We advised that the embassy dependents do the same thing,
and I don't know that the embassy decided to do that, the State Department folks. But all of the military folks,
dependents went home.
The briefing goes on for about 20 minutes. I raise my hand and I say, “guys, we can't do this. Think about
all of the tens, hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars that we spend for the 5th Fleet and for its
capacities. Think about what it's really designed to do. It is not designed, we are not set up, to find six
people somewhere in Saudi Arabia that might do some violence in Bahrain. We’re not designed to do something about
those six folks because they're popping up all over the place.”
The Bahrainians and the Saudis need to deal with folks like this. We're not set up to do it. We don't have
the resources to do it, we don't have the capability of doing it. We don't, for the most part, speak the
language, understand the street signs, etc. It's the dilemma that an awful lot of our soldiers and airmen find
themselves faced with in Iraq.
So coming away from that session I was reminded once again that for us to be successful in this kind of effort
we have got to have local help. The indigenous population ultimately is the one that has to police its own
I was also reminded that we're absolutely convinced that there's been what some call “the democratization of
war” now. You really do need to worry about six folks and the kinds of things they can get hold of. Those six
people are replicated across the Middle East and scattered around the globe. Al Qaeda is believed to be in 60
So we've got these small groups that are popping up and replicating one another. We do not have the capacity
to find them all and deal with all of them, not at the kind of cost that's associated with doing it. It's not
the way we do it. And we've got to have local help or we're in big trouble. That's everything I've read, that's
all my experience, it's the same thing in the city of Macon when you're trying to go into a neighborhood and the
neighborhood's got crack dealers or all kinds of other bad guys and you can't get the help of the neighborhood.
You've got to have the help of the neighborhood. If you don't have that help, you've got a real problem. I
think everybody here knows that.
Then we go to Pakistan (we actually were in Pakistan first). We're going to meet with the Foreign Minister.
We were originally scheduled to meet with Musharraf; he had to go out of town so we're meeting with the Foreign
Minister. I forget the guy's name right now, I apologize for that.
On the way over, we're briefed by embassy personnel in a van. We're in Islamabad, not the safest place to be
these days, and we're speeding through the streets and we're getting different pieces of information from
somebody from our embassy, from the State Department. Here's one of the pieces of information they gave us. The
approval rating of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, determined through polling, is over 70%. The President of
Pakistan, Musharraf, has an approval rating of over 60%. President Bush’s approval rating in Pakistan is two
So we get into the meeting with the Foreign Minister. The Foreign Minister talks for a while then I raise my
hand and say “well, we understand the polls show that Osama's at 70% approval, Musharraf, the President, is at
about 60% approval, and the President of the United States is down around two percent. Now we're here to talk
about collaboration with you in dealing with this terrorist threat, dealing with al Qaeda, dealing with Osama bin
Laden, and yet it sounds as if your own population is very enthusiastically behind Osama and not enthusiastically
behind us. So how are you going to strategically, tactically support us in light of that political reality?
It's a country that votes.”
The Foreign Minister essentially denied the polls. Maybe he's right. I don't know. I was just taking the
information that was given to me by the State Department person. But the Foreign minister and the poll can't be
right. And essentially, no matter how many times I tried to say, “well, assume the poll is true, or assume some
numbers like that exist that are pretty comparable … What can you guys do? How can you support us?” He wouldn't
answer that. The reason he didn't answer it is because he recognizes that folks like us who live and work in a
democracy, a political environment, every single day, know that the only answer in the long run must be we really
do have a hard time going after Osama and the terrorists.
In Iraq, the future depends on Iraqis. We have to be resolved, but we can't do this without Iraqis. I think
that's becoming more and more apparent to people. Iraqis have to police their own country. They have to identify
the bad guys. They have to go out there, capture, kill them. We can help them. We're an indispensable
ingredient right now. We can help with this process, but they have to step forward. Al Jazeera, bad poll ratings,
anti-U.S. sentiment, none of that helps. It all heads us in the wrong direction.
We are constrained by certain rules. Nobody in this room would like us to proceed by the kinds of rules that,
say, the Assad family plays by in Syria. In Syria, there was a serious underground movement directed at the
Assad family and they were having all kinds of problems. Their security forces—very good security forces, they
understand the streets, they speak the language, they know everybody—were having a hard time putting down the
The upshot was that the Syrian King Assad said, “go level Hamas.” Everybody here's heard about Hammas, right?
The Islamic group. “Go level Hamas.” And they went out there and they killed everybody in the town, about
80,000 people. I don't know the exact number. I may be wrong on that, but a huge number of people. They
leveled the town, basically turned it into a parking lot, and they said, “look, any other community that permits
this kind of problem to fester within that community is going to get the same kind of treatment. So if you've
got jerks who are terrorists, etc., whatever they're doing, they're coming after us, and you don't deal with this
problem, we're just going to take you out.”
We don't play by those rules. We play by different rules here. I think the future right now in Iraq depends
upon Iraqis. We've got to support them. This is going to be, it has been and it will be a difficult go for us.
I want to take some questions, but I'm going to make one more comment. I want to end this by reading you something
that I wrote after I returned from a trip with General Schoomaker last Christmas. Something I said to a lot of
soldiers. I didn't see airmen over there, but I saw a lot of soldiers in Iraq and started thinking about what a
guy like me with my experience should say to a young soldier and I'd like to share that with you if we've got the
time to do it.
One more observation. Those of you who haven't been there, I've spent a lot of time in helicopters flying
around in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is remarkable how precise our munitions are. I flew around all over Vietnam
and Vietnam was just pockmarked by craters. Out in the middle of nowhere, just craters, craters, craters. You
fly around Iraq, you fly around Afghanistan, and you'll see all kinds of scenes where right next to a house is a
tank that's destroyed and the house is fine. Really remarkable, the kind of technological advances that we've
made where munitions are concerned and the kind of job you all do in delivering those munitions.
I think you're great. I remember in Vietnam being so blessed to have the kind of support that I got from the
Air Force, and it's the kind of support we really, really value over in Iraq. Those guys that are on the ground,
and I know what those men and women are going through and how much they appreciate what you do.
Let me try and respond to questions.
Q: Captain Daniels, from Headquarters of Pacific Air Forces. I just want to get your thoughts on how
you feel we should counter Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs right now and in the future.
Representative Marshall: We do a couple of different things. One, we do it at the state-to-state level.
A lot of the Iranian influence is not this non-governmental entity problem that al Qaeda is with asymmetric
warfare and what-not. They're using that kind of warfare, but it is the state itself that's doing it and
prompting a lot of this. So to the extent that it's the state, we deal state-to-state. Now, we don't have a
very good relationship with Iran right now, but there are things we can do that can help them out and things we
can do that can hurt them economically and otherwise. I just leave it to the real experts to figure out how to
do that kind of state-to-state dickering.
Then it's within Iraq itself, I can tell you, I met with Allawi, the Prime Minister. You talk about a solid
character. That is a solid character. I'd love to have him backing me up in any kind of problem. He and his
government recognize the Iranian influence and to the extent that they are actually able to persuade Iraqis that
a lot of the trouble is coming from Iran, it really helps them, because there is no love lost between the peoples
of those two countries. There are exceptions, of course. Iran is Shia and a part of Iraq, a large part of Iraq
is Shia, so there's a relationship there, but for the most part there's no love lost between the two.
The great thing in Afghanistan right now is that the Taliban—the word I have is they are despised. They're
viewed as having been created by Pakistan and there's no love lost between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So it's
state-to-state, United States, Iran and all of our allies. We really need the help of the rest of the developed
world because the rest of the developed world is a target as well.
Then within Iraq itself, to the extent that this gets labeled as Iranian, Iraq actually can take advantage of
that to a certain extent in building political momentum against terrorists.
Q: Master Sergeant Ramona Mayer from Tinker. Sir, first of all, thank you for your work on the
disabled veterans tax. We appreciate that.
Representative Marshall: Thank you very much.
Q: You mentioned earlier that when you were in Pakistan that even the Pakistani government was denying
the polls. I have peers that have deployed and come back, young soldiers in my congregation at church who go and
come home and they say the same thing. What you see on the news is not what is really happening. Could you
please comment on what is really happening and why we seem to be having such a difficult time getting it on the
news and getting it reported back accurately to the American public?
Representative Marshall: I'd be delighted to. In fact I published an OpEd in the Atlanta Journal
Constitution, I want to say last September, so almost a year ago. The OpEd began like this … "Last Sunday I
traveled from Baghdad to Kuwait with Sergeant Trevor Bloomberg of Dearborn, Michigan. He was in a body bag. As
I sat in the cargo hold of a C-130 I found myself wondering to what extent our news coverage is complicit in his
death." Then I launched into a description of the kind of coverage we're getting versus the reality on the
ground and how what that tends to do in the United States is demoralize our populace, show a great deal of
divisiveness, and the upshot of that is that Iraqis see it, they wonder whether or not we're going to cave, they
remember 1991 when we encouraged the Shia to rebel. They did, we left, they were slaughtered. They know what
the consequence is of stepping forward and helping—we're referred to as the “New Crusaders,” by the way—the
Christian New Crusaders if it doesn't work out.
So it's a big step for them, and to the extent they see bad news coming out of the United States, bad polls
coming out of the United States, any indication of lack of resolve, then they don't tend to step forward. When
they don't step forward, we don't get the kind of intelligence information we need, let alone Iraqis themselves
going out and finding the bad guys, capturing and killing them.
So the bad news is a problem. The news that comes from Iraq doesn't reflect the reality. What I say to folks
is this. Think about it just as if this is your hometown news. Anybody who's looking at the news in Macon,
Georgia, at night doesn't recognize their community. What you see are the car wrecks, the burning houses. I
had an exchange with Geraldo Rivera, I was on the Geraldo Show. He said, “of course, only the burning houses
get covered. The others aren't news.”
The reality is that in a place like Iraq what's going right is news. Our news media just hasn't figured that
out. They reflexively cover the things that are going wrong. It's what we want to watch, it's where they get
I don't think there's some grand, left wing conspiracy. I think it's just the way the news behaves, but it
certainly is not good. We do as much as we possibly can in supporting all of y'all in trying to get out the good
news as well. Press is naturally suspect of the stuff that we put out and the press is going to put out what
they think is most likely to be watched, and what's most likely to be watched are the bombings and the killings
and things like that.
Q: Tech Sergeant Clayton Smith coming to you from RAF Mildenhall. You said something that's very
important to me. I served in Mazar-e-Sharif in the northern mountains of Afghanistan and saw quite a bit of what
you just described as what you've seen coming back from Vietnam. Before you, you have the purveyors and the
keepers of the faith of freedom and democracy and I believe that everyone in this room is fully aware of the task
that lies before us in the years to come. We do not have the luxury of being politicians or to be political. We
have a mission to fulfill. We're an all-volunteer force and we're ready to fulfill that obligation at whatever
cost to ourselves.
Do you get the sense that the politicians in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have that type of
stick-to-itiveness and readiness to go forward? I hear often, we hear on the ground, that while we support our
troops we do not support the war. And you said yourself just a second ago how invaluable the morale of a
nation's fighting force is. That's what wins wars, not bombs and bullets. Hope. And when we hear those sorts
of things out there, that denigrates our hope. It takes it down to a level that cannot be easily recovered. I'd
just like to have your sense if you could, sir.
Representative Marshall: There can be a wide range of opinions in Congress and I'm not going to be
able to speak for everybody who's in Congress. I know there are those in Congress who never thought we should do
this, those who thought once we did it immediately we should withdraw. I actually intervened in a press
conference that was being held to suggest that we withdraw and I used a procedural gimmick that got a lot of
people mad at me, but basically I didn't think Congress needed to be talking about withdrawal at that time.
People will have differences of opinion about how we should proceed. What's the most effective way of
proceeding? We certainly want to have that kind of discussion. There's no reason to assume that Mr. or Ms. X
necessarily has the answer and everybody else should just line up, get in line and head that way.
What I do is I encourage my colleagues to talk about how we can do this better. How we get to the end
efficiently, effectively, with total support, respect and honor for the folks who are actually out there doing it.
I encourage them to talk about that and not dwell on, “well, what if we had done something like this in the
past.” This, that, what not. Forget about it. We are where we are. We've got to move forward, and where Iraq
is concerned the main thing everybody needs to be talking about is having resolve. We're going to make mistakes,
soldiers are going to commit crimes. There's no such thing as a perfect army. Perfect armies require perfect
individuals. There are no such things as perfect individuals, no such thing as perfect armies. So we're going
to make mistakes, we're going to head in the wrong direction, bombs are going to be errant, problems are going to
occur. Don't dwell on that, focus on where do we go from here.
My message—from my personal experience, from all of the reading, the studying, the talking with all kinds of
people—is we have got to have the help of the indigenous population. We cannot act in ways that push them away.
The threat is almost like a disease and we've got to have a healthy population dealing with the disease. If we
don't have healthy populations dealing with the disease, we can be the best conventional force (we are, by far,
no question about it) with great folks like you representing us, risking your lives on our behalf. And we are
going to be very challenged to be successful given the nature of the threat.
It's these six guys here and six guys there and the democratization of violence and war and technology, with
the globalization of the Internet that really makes this a unique challenge.
If you all don't' mind, I wanted to share with this group something I wrote. I traveled with General
Schoomaker last Christmas. It turned out I had gone through Ranger School two classes before him. He is the
Chief of Staff of the Army. Great guy, SOF all of his life. Retired, brought back. He invited me to go. What
we did is we went and visited every division in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, just about all of the subunits. We
would talk with groups of soldiers from five, 20, to 400 or 500. We'd have a fairly consistent routine. I'm
just this guy in civilian clothes and General Schoomaker, the Chief, would get up there and he'd start talking
and he'd bring me up and we'd go back and forth.
I thought I'd read to you, just to close my remarks, what I said to these soldiers. I think it’s the kind of
message that any old soldier would give.
"I want to say something in my official capacity and then something personal. I'm a Member of Congress and of
the Armed Services Committee. As such, I now speak on behalf of the Congress of the United States, which
represents all of the people of the United States. Thank you. We're proud of you. No matter what your role, if
we are successful in this endeavor then you have helped to immeasurably improve the security of our country and
its future. We cannot thank you enough.
"Now let me talk with you personally, especially you young soldiers. As I look through these eyes at each of
you I see myself, but then I remember what I look like in a mirror. We are different in at least one respect.
You are much younger.
"It's been more than 30 years since I left the Army and I figure I've got another 30 or more good years ahead
of me. Most, maybe all of you, have decades ahead of you as well. But some of you may not. None of us knows
what lies ahead. We are at war and you are in harm's way on our behalf. If your time is short, it is precious
without you knowing it, so enjoy every moment of this extraordinary experience. Live it to the fullest. Make
each moment something you won't regret.
"The same is true if your time is long, because you can afford to enjoy every moment and will often think of
this defining time in your lives. There is no need to rush. I know this from my own personal experience, from
the fullness of my own life. I've traveled the same paths you now travel.
"The Chief said you are giving an extraordinary gift to our country. He's right. What he knows but did not
say is that you are also giving an extraordinary gift to yourselves. As I look back at the things I’ve done in
my life, my time in the Army, and especially my time in combat, stands out as unique. I cherish it. You will,
"When older Americans are asked what they would have done differently with their lives, they invariably say
they would have taken more risks, more chances. You will never forget what you are doing for your country right
here, right now. You are making your life's story. If you do it right, you will always look back with pride as
someone a cut above the person you might otherwise have been had you not taken this risk, this chance.
"Enjoy every precious, boring, hot, cold, lonely, scary, frustrating, sad or happy moment you have in this
place, this time. It is special. It makes you one of the privileged few.
“I cannot adequately express what an honor it is to stand here with you. I hope you survive without harm.
May God bless you and watch over you. Thank you for the risk you take on behalf of my children and others
around the globe. You are extraordinary Americans."
I'll close by saying that I stand before extraordinary Americans today as well. God bless you all.
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