Reap Disastrous Consequences
by US Senator Robert Byrd, Senate Floor Speech,
February 12, 2003
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible
of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands
at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating
the horrors of war.
Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent
-- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion,
no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this
particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate,
paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer
turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers
is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence
of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate.
This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming
battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S.
foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history
of the world.
This nation is about to embark upon the first test
of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at
an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that
the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack
a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening
in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea
of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international
law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide
terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they
will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High
level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear
weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against
Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type
of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied
the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely
together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances,
and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide
speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation,
suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing
the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed
after September 11.
Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist
attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks
might occur. Family members are being called to active military
duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors
they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate
police and fire protection. Other essential services are also
short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is
stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.
This Administration, now in power for a little
over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that
record is dismal.
In that scant two years, this Administration has
squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over
the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the
eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many
of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores
of essential programs for our people. This Administration has
fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration
has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for
our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate
funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant
to better protect our long and porous borders.
In foreign policy, this Administration has failed
to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from
him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This
Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling,
for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United
Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question
the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned,
peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of
diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort
that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity
of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to
Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole
countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant
-- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation
no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight
a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship
of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends
whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine
will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack
on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military
manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting
support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just
sign letters cheering us on.
The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion
so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting
to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden,
and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of
terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated
Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces.
This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism
and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils
much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span
that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one
must always secure the peace?
And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war
in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife.
Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which
controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable
future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after
Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting
in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its
own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments
be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer
ties to terrorism than Iraq?
Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead
to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language
and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other
nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and
made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations
which need the income?
In only the space of two short years this reckless
and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap
disastrous consequences for years.
One can understand the anger and shock of any President
after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the
frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous,
fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.
But to turn one's frustration and anger into the
kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle
that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any
Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility
of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet.
Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration
are outrageous. There is no other word.
Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what
is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction
on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might
add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent.
On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our
own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological
warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly
be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on
Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.
We are truly "sleepwalking through history."
In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good
and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.
To engage in war is always to pick a wild card.
And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly
must question the judgment of any President who can say that a
massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50%
children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country".
This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be
having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves
in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful
way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way
if we allow more time.