Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences

A Floor Speech by US Senator Robert Byrd
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 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 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.