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October 10, 2002 (Scroll down to see excepts from his Oct. 4 remarks to the Senate)
Senator Robert C. Byrd
Senate Remarks: A Preordained Course of Action on Iraq
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
So said the Persian poet Omar Khayyam in the 11th century. So say I today. The Senate has made clear its intent on the Iraq resolution. The outcome is certain; the ending has been scripted. The Senate will vote, and the Iraq resolution will pass.
I continue to believe that the Senate, in following this preordained course of action, will be doing a grave disservice to this nation and to the Constitution on which it was founded. In the newly published National Security Strategy of the United States the document in which the President outlines the unprecedented policy of pre-emptive deterrence which the Iraq resolution will implement he asserts that the Constitution has served us well, as though it were some dusty relic of the past that needs to be eulogized before it is retired. He is wrong. The Constitution is no more dated in the principles it established than is the Bible. The Constitution continues to serve us well, if only we will take the time to heed it.
I am deeply disappointed that the Senate is not heeding the imperatives of the Constitution and is instead poised to hand off to the President the exclusive power of Congress to determine matters of war and peace.
I do not, in my heart of hearts, believe that this is what the American people expect of the Senate. I have heard from tens of thousands of Americans people from all across this country of ours who have urged me to keep up the fight. I am only one Senator from a small state, yet in the past week I have received nearly 20,000 telephone calls and nearly 50,000 e-mails supporting my position.
I want all of those people across America who took the time to contact me to know how their words have heartened me and sustained me in my efforts to turn the tide of opinion in the Senate. They are my heroes, and I will never forget the remarkable courage and patriotism that reverberated in the fervor of their messages.
As the apostle Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." There are Americans all across this country who have joined in spirit with me and a small band of like-minded Senators in fighting the good fight. We could stay here on the floor and continue to fight, and it is certainly a fight worth the effort. But there is also a point at which it becomes time to accept reality and to regroup. It is clear that we have lost the battle in the Senate, but we have not yet lost the war.
The next front is the White House, and I urge all those people who are following this debate, and who have encouraged me in my efforts, to turn their attention to the President. Call him, write him, e-mail him. Urge him to heed the Constitution and not short-circuit it by exercising the broad grant of authority that the Iraq resolution provides.
The President has said on many occasions that he has not yet made up his mind to go to war. When he does make up his mind if he does then he should come back to Congress and seek formal authorization. Let him use this Iraq resolution as leverage with the United Nations, if that is what he wants it for, but when it comes time for the United States to undertake military action, let him come back to the Congress for authorization.
I continue to have faith in our system of government. I continue to have faith in the basic values that shaped this nation. Those values do not include striking first against other nations. Those values do not include using our position as the strongest and most formidable nation in the world to bully and intimidate other nations. Those values do not include putting other nations on an enemies list so that we can justify pre-emptive military action.
Were I not to believe in the inherent ability of the Constitution to withstand the folly of such actions as the Senate is about to take, I would not stop fighting. I would fight with every fiber of my body, every ounce of my energy, with every parliamentary tool at my disposal. But I do believe that the Constitution will weather this storm. The Senate will weather the storm as well, but I only hope that when this tempest passes, Senators will reflect on the ramifications of what they have done and understand the damage that has been inflicted on the Constitution.
In this debate, the American people seem to have a better understanding of the Constitution than those who are elected to represent them. Perhaps it is that their understanding of the Constitution is not filtered through the prism of election year politics. For whatever reason, I believe that the American people have a better understanding of what the Senate is about to do, a greater respect for the inherent powers of the Constitution, and a greater comprehension of the far-reaching consequences of this resolution than do most of their leaders.
I thank my colleagues who have allowed me to express at length my reasons for opposing this resolution. I thank those Senators who have stood with me, supported me, and encouraged me. I thank those Senators who have engaged in thoughtful debate with me. I do not believe that the Senate has given enough time or enough consideration to the question of handing the President unchecked authority to usurp the Constitution and declare war on Iraq. But I accept the futility of continuing to fight on this front.
I say to the people of America, to those who have encouraged me and others to uphold the principles of the Constitution, keep up the fight. Keep fighting for what is right. Let your voices be heard. I will always listen to you, and I hope that the President will begin to listen to you. May God bless you in your endeavors.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
October 4, 2002
Following are excerpts from speeches yesterday by Senator Robert C. Byrd,
Democrat of West Virginia
Titus Livius, one of the greatest of Roman historians, said all things will
be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry. Haste is blind and
improvident. Blind and improvident, Mr. President, blind and improvident.
Congress would be wise to heed those words today. For as sure as the sun
rises in the east, this country is embarking on a course of action with
regard to Iraq that in its haste is both blind and improvident. We are
rushing into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly
considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what
steps we might take to avert a conflict.
The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate,
all the more so because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics.
Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq.
Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the
subject to domestic economic problems.
Before risking the lives, I say to you the people out there who are
watching through those electronic lenses, before risking the lives of your
sons and daughters, American fighting men and women, all members of
Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, must overcome the siren song of
political polls and focus strictly on the merits, not the politics, of this
most grave, this most serious undertaking, this most grave, this most
serious issue that is before us.
Mr. President, the resolution S.J. Resolution 46, which will be before this
Senate, is not only a product of haste, it is also a product of
presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking, breathtaking in its
scope. It redefines the nature of defense. It reinterprets the Constitution
to suit the will of the executive branch. This Constitution, which I hold
in my hand, is amended without going through the constitutional process of
amending this Constitution.
S.J. Resolution 46 would give the president blanket authority to launch a
unilateral, pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to
be a threat to the United States. A unilateral, pre-emptive attack on a
sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States.
This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the president's
authority under the Constitution of the United States, not to mention the
fact that it stands the Charter of the United Nations on its head.
Representative Abraham Lincoln in a letter to William H. Herndon stated:
"Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem
it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he
may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose. When you allow
him to make war at pleasure, study to see if you can fix any limit to his
power and disrespect. After you have given him so much as you propose, if
today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to
prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say
to him I see no probability of the British invading us. But he would say to
you be silent. I see it if you don't."
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress
was dictated as I understand it, said Abraham Lincoln, by the following
reason: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in
wars pretending generally if not always that the good of the people was the
object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all
kingly oppressions. And they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no
one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your
view destroys the whole matter and places our president where kings have
Mr. President, if he could speak to us today, what would Abraham Lincoln
say of the Bush doctrine concerning pre-emptive strikes? In a Sept. 18
report the Congressional Research Service had this to say about the
pre-emptive use of military force: the historical record indicates that the
United States has never to date engaged in a pre-emptive military attack
against another nation. Nor has the United States ever attacked another
nation militarily prior to its first having been attacked or prior to U.S.
citizens or interests first having been attacked, with the singular
exception of the Spanish-American War. The Spanish-American War is unique
in that the principle goal of United States military action was to compel
Spain to grant Cuba its political independence.
The Congressional Research Service also noted that the Cuban Missile Crisis
of 1962 represents a threat situation, which some may argue had elements
more parallel to those presented by Iraq today, but it was resolved without
a pre-emptive military attack by the United States. Article 1, Section 8 of
the Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and to call forth
the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and
Nowhere, nowhere in this Constitution which I hold in my hand, nowhere in
the Constitution is it written that the president has the authority to call
forth the militia to pre-empt a perceived threat. And yet the resolution
which will be before the Senate avers that the president "has authority
under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of
international terrorism against the United States as Congress recognized in
the joint resolution, on authorization for use of military force following
the Sept. 11 terrorist attack." What a cynical twisting of words. What a
cynical twisting of words.
The reality is that Congress, exercising the authority granted to it under
the Constitution, granted the president specific and limited authority to
use force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack. Nowhere, nowhere
was an implied recognition of inherent authority under the Constitution to
deter and prevent future acts of terrorism. It's not in there. It's not in
that Constitution. There's no inference of it. There's no implication of it
for that purpose.
Think for a moment of a precedent that this resolution will set not just
for this president - hear me now, you on the other side of the aisle - not
just for this president, but for future presidents. From the day forward
American presidents will be able to invoke Senate Joint Resolution 46 as
justification for launching pre-emptive military strikes against any
sovereign nations that they perceive to be a threat.
You'd better pay attention. You're not always going to have a president of
your party in the White House. How will you feel about it then? How will it
Other nations will be able to hold up the United States, hold up the U.S.A.
as the model to justify their military adventures. Do you not think, Mr.
President, that India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, Russia and Georgia
are closely watching the outcome of this debate? Do you not think that
future adversaries will look to this moment to rationalize the use of
military force to achieve who knows what ends?
Perhaps a case can be made that Iraq poses such a clear, immediate danger
to the United States that pre-emptive military action is the only way to
deal with that threat. To be sure, weapons of mass destruction are a 20th
century and 21st century horror that the framers of the Constitution had no
way of foreseeing. But they did foresee the frailty of human nature. And
they saw the inherent danger of concentrating too much power in one
individual. They saw that. That is why the framers bestowed on Congress not
the president the power to declare war.
As James Madison wrote in 1793, in no part of the Constitution is more
wisdom to be found than in the clause which confines the question of war or
peace to the legislature and not to the executive department. Beside the
objection to such a mixture of heterogeneous powers the trust and the
temptation, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one
man. That was James Madison. The trust and the temptation would be too
great for any one man.
Mr. President, Congress has a responsibility to exercise with extreme care
the power to declare war. A war against Iraq will affect thousands if not
tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of lives and perhaps alter
the course of history. It will surely affect the balance of power in the
Middle East. It is not a decision to be taken in haste as we are being
pushed today, as we are being stampeded today to act in haste. Put it
behind us they say before the election. It will surely affect the balance
of power in the Middle East.
It is not a decision to be taken in haste under the glare of election-year
politics and the pressure of artificial deadlines. And yet any observers
can see that that is exactly, that is precisely what the Senate is
proposing to do, the Senate and the House. What a shame. Fie upon the
Congress. Fie upon some of the so-called leaders of the Congress for
falling into this pit.
Mr. President, the Senate is rushing to vote on whether to declare war on
Iraq without pausing to ask why. We don't have time to ask why. We don't
have time to get the answers to that question why. Why is war being dealt
with not as a last resort but as a first resort? Why is Congress being
pressured to act now? As of today, I believe 33 days before a general
election when a third of the United States Senate and the entire House of
Representatives are in the final highly politicized weeks of election
Why, as recently as Tuesday, Oct. 1, this past Tuesday, the president said
he had not yet made up his mind. As late as last Tuesday he had not yet
made up his mind about whether to go to war with Iraq. And yet Congress is
being exhorted, is being importuned, is being adjured to give the president
open-ended authority now. Give it to him now to exercise whenever he
pleases in the event that he decides to invade Iraq. Where are we? Where
are our senses?
Why is Congress elbowing past the president to authorize a military
campaign that the president may or may not even decide to pursue? Aren't we
getting a little ahead of ourselves? The last U.N. weapons inspectors left
Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retained some
stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that he has since
embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare
capability. Intelligence reports also indicate that he is seeking nuclear
weapons, but has not yet achieved nuclear capability.
It is now October of this year of our Lord 2002. Four years have gone by in
which neither this administration nor the previous one felt compelled to
invade Iraq to protect against the imminent threat of weapons of mass
destruction until today, until now, until 33 days before Election Day. Now
we're being asked, now we're being told that we must act immediately. We
must put this issue behind us. We must put this question behind us. We must
act immediately we are told before adjournment and before the elections.
Why the rush? Why the rush?
Is it our precious blood which will spew forth from our feeble veins? No.
Those of you who have children, those of you who have grandchildren, those
of you who have great-grandchildren should be thinking. It's the precious
blood of the men and women who wear the uniform of these United States,
that blood may flow in the streets of Iraq.
Yes, we had Sept. 11. But we must not make the mistake of looking at the
resolution before us as just another offshoot of the war on terror. We know
who was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. We know it was
Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network. We have dealt with Al
Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it. We have routed
them from Afghanistan. We are continuing to pursue them in hiding. So where
does Iraq enter into the equation? Where?
No one in the administration has been able to produce any solid evidence
linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attack. Iraq had biological and chemical
weapons long before Sept. 11. We knew it then. We helped to give Iraq the
building blocks for biological weapons. We know it now. Iraq has been an
enemy of the United States for more than a decade. If Saddam Hussein is
such an imminent threat to the United States why hasn't he attacked us
The fact that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States does not de facto
mean that Saddam Hussein is now in a lock and load position and is readying
an attack on these United States. Slow down. Think. Ask questions. Debate.
In truth, there is nothing in the deluge of administration rhetoric over
Iraq that is of such moment that it would preclude the Senate from setting
its own timetable and taking the time, taking the time for a thorough and
informed discussion of this crucial issue.