Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences
By Senator Robert C. Byrd
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 U.N.
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 reins 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 worldwide 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
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
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 fifteen — 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.