Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences

by US Senator Robert Byrd
Senate Floor Speech - Wednesday, 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

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 come.

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 land.

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 Saddam Hussein?

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.