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
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
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
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 rcession? 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 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
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