[sixties-l] Byrd's speech against jumping into war

Date: Sat Oct 05 2002 - 01:22:34 EDT

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    Sen. Byrd may not be everyone's idea of perfect politics but in this speech
    he makes some crucial points against giving Bush unconstitutional preemptive
    strike powers--quoting A.Lincoln's arguments based on the idea kings and
    other tyrants most oppressed their people by making wars claiming to protect
    the people--and pointing out Iraq's not an imminent threat nor, as far as
    known, much related to terrorist threats to the US. Suggest passing this one
    October 4, 2002
    Following are excerpts from speeches yesterday by Senator Robert C. Byrd,
    Democrat of West Virginia

    Senator Byrd:

    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
    always stood.

    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
    repel invasions.

    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
    be then?

    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.

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