By Senator Robert C. Byrd
US Senate Floor Remarks
09/13/06 "Information Clearing House" -- --
September 11 has come and gone, and as we remember those lost on that fateful day, and contemplate events since the horrific attack, one truth stands out.
The war in Iraq has backfired, producing more recruits for terrorism, and deep divisions within our own country. It is a war we should never have begun. The detour from our attack on Bin Laden and his minions, hiding in the cracks and crevices of the rough terrain of Afghanistan, to the unwise and unprovoked attack on Iraq has been a disastrous one. Mr. Bush’s war has damaged the country because he drove our blessed land into an unnecessary conflict, utterly misreading the consequences, with the result now being a daily display of America’s vulnerabilities to those who wish us ill. The United States is a weaker power now, especially in the Middle East, but also in the court of world opinion. Where is the America of restraint, of peace and of inspiration to millions? Where is the America respected not only for her military might, but also for her powerful ideas and her reasonable diplomacy?
Our country may have deviated occasionally from its positive global image in the past, but Abu Ghraib, the body snatching for torture, euphemistically called rendition, Presidential directives which unilaterally alter conditions of the Geneva Convention -- these are not the stuff of mere slight deviations from the America of peacefulness, fairness, and goodwill. These are major policy and attitudinal changes of Tsunami-sized proportions. Our friends shake their heads in disbelief. Our enemies nod wisely and claim they knew all the while. I cannot remember a time in our history when our elected leaders have failed the people so completely, and yet, so far, are not held accountable for costly misjudgments and outright deceptions.
Take our Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, for example. He misread the Iraqi situation entirely. He adamantly dismisses suggestions for a larger force in Iraq. He failed to object when the White House’s Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi army, only to have them go underground and provide fodder for the insurgency. He insisted that the Iraqi people would view our soldiers as liberators not occupiers, and even failed to properly anticipate the equipment needs of our men and women in harm’s way.
Secretary Rumsfeld continues to insist that we are not facing a civil war in Iraq despite convincing evidence to the contrary, and yet he sits comfortably in his office as the echo of his errors in judgment and strategy continues to cost thousands of lives.
Then there is President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. These men continue to try to make the American public swallow whole the line that the war in Iraq is the front line of a global war on terror, which must be continued at all costs. Stay the course, they say, despite three years of discouragingly little progress in Iraq. The body count is approaching 2,700 for our side, tens of thousands for the beleaguered Iraqi people, and billions of American tax dollars, of which an embarrassingly large chunk has been wasted by irresponsible contractors, and government officials who lack the proper respect for the public purse. Many of our allies have left the field, recognizing the truth that the Administration fails to see: namely, we had the weapons to win the war, but not the wisdom to secure the peace.
Yet, too many in the public are complacent about the numerous violations of their trust and the continuing loss of life in Iraq. Some of our citizens have apparently been convinced that it is unpatriotic to criticize one’s country when that country is engaged in an armed conflict. In fact, in our land today, there is a troubling tolerance for government overreaching on fronts at home as well as abroad. This Administration has repeatedly used fear and flag-waving to blunt the traditional American insistence on the Bill of Rights, personal freedom of thought and action, privacy, and one’s right to speak and write as one pleases. Such a cynical exercise on the part of high officials of our government is unconscionable. It is shameful behavior for which there is no excuse.
The Congress, under the control of the President’s party has been submissive, a lap dog wagging its tail in appreciation of White House secrecy and deception. Even the vast majority of the opposition party has been too quiet for too long -- unable to find its voice, stunted by the demand to “support the troops.” We forget, too often, that there is a very real difference between support for the troops and support for an unnecessary war. The men and women of our military did not ask to go to those faraway places, but they were willing. They answered their country’s call. We have an obligation to support them, but we do not need to follow blindly the unthinking policies that keep them mired in the middle of a civil war.
The American public is our last best hope now. Our people must demand more from their representatives in the Congress and from their leaders in the White House. Donald Rumsfeld should be replaced by the President because he has made so many grievous errors in judgement on Iraq and because a new voice at the helm of the Department of Defense could be a breath of fresh air for our policies in Iraq. His replacement would be good for our country. Yet even a sense of the Senate vote of “no confidence” in Mr. Rumsfeld’s leadership has been blocked by the President’s party in the Senate. Personal accountability has been long absent from this Administration, and this Senator would like to see it return.
One would hope that men and women who rise to positions of awesome responsibility would have the grace, dignity, and honor to know in their own hearts when a well-timed resignation would advance patriotic goals. But, too often, the selfish love of power or some misguided show of toughness wins the days to the detriment of our country’s fortunes. Donald Rumsfeld ought to step down or his President ought to ask him to. There is too much at stake for any other course. Personally, I believe the President is derelict in his duties when he does not ask for Mr. Rumsfeld’s latchkey. The bungling and loss of life attendant to this tragic three-year long debacle in Iraq have hurt this country, its public image, and its ability to achieve numerous other national and international goals. That kind of dangerous ineptitude cannot be excused.
But like so many things when it comes to Iraq and the Middle East in general, the United States of America is stuck in neutral, with the only thing showing vigorous movement the ever spiraling price of gasoline. We have destabilized the Middle East, and handed the mullahs a way to affect the daily lives and livelihood of every American, and the efficacy of our military might -- the oil supply lines upon which our economy and our military depend.
Now that oil supply is a favorite target for terrorists who have learned the joys of bombing pipelines, and listening to America bite its nails about the high cost of gasoline, while it laments its lack of foresight in developing alternative fuels.
Now, we have passed yet another anniversary of the bloody attacks which precipitated the disastrous situation in which our country finds itself today. Yet, while we mourn, there are hard truths to confront.
Our attention has been shifted, by design and deception, too quickly from the war in Afghanistan -- a war that we needed to fight and win. Now the Taliban is on the rise in that country. Al Qaeda continues to find sanctuary in the mountains. Violence is on the rise, and peace and stability are in jeopardy.
North Korea, probably reacting to our doctrine of preemption and our newfound bellicosity, has increased its nuclear capability. Iran has been emboldened by our inability to stop the violence in Iraq, and by the lukewarm support we have garnered from traditional allies. Even the people of Turkey, one of the United States’ staunchest allies with Turkey a member of NATO, and a model of secular Muslim democracy, have turned against us. A survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States indicates that Iran has become one of the most popular countries in Turkey, and that there is a growing willingness to identify with radical Islam. A display of ineptitude and spectacular miscalculation in Iraq has cost us dearly. Disenchantment at home with the dismal results in Iraq will have reverberations for years, much like the failure in Vietnam did in the 1960's.
President Bush insists that his war must go on. He defends warrantless wiretapping of our own citizens as essential to his cause, despite a court decision that the President has no such authority under our Constitution. He defends torture and rendition, and says that they have produced valuable evidence which has subverted several terror attacks on our country. But, his credibility is so damaged that it is difficult to believe him. He demands the authority to hold terror suspects indefinitely, and then to try them using military tribunals which deny basic rights, also in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. He seems convinced that he can “win” a global war on terror despite the demonstrated failure of his policies of unilateralism, militarism, overheated rhetoric, and a pathological dislike of diplomacy. It is up to the Congress to change course and to stop the heinous raiding of constitutionally protected liberties by a White House which does not fully appreciate the true meaning of the word freedom. I hope that we may find the courage.