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We Must End This Catastrophic, Unspeakable and Ongoing Calamity We Call Iraq
Here we are once again - - dÃƒ©jÃƒÂ vu - - debating supplemental funding for the President's disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Now in its fifth year of occupation, the U.S. death toll in Iraq is over 3,380. The death toll of innocent Iraqis is largely unknown, but it probably numbers in the tens of thousands. The United States of America has spent over $378 billion in Iraq, and we are all familiar with the horrendous tales of waste and abuse by U.S. contractors in Iraq. The taxpayer has been ravaged by the profiteering in Iraq, but even worse, despite the billions, our brave troops have been short-changed with inadequate equipment to protect their lives, and shoddy medical care if they make it back home to treat wounds of the body and of the mind.
Now, the President has threatened to veto the House Bill which is before the Senate because it sets a date for withdrawal, provides funding until late July, and "could unreasonably burden the President's exercise of his constitutional authorities, including his authority as Commander-in-Chief . . . ." President Bush also objects to funding for rebuilding the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina, funding to improve health care for our troops and our veterans, funding for the shortfall in the States' Children's Health Insurance Program, funding for low-income heating assistance, and more funding for homeland security.
This President has a single-minded obsession with Iraq, and he appears to see no value in anything except continuing his quixotic "mission impossible." While tilting at windmills may have been a harmless enough pursuit for Don Quixote, Mr. Bush's war is turning the sands of Iraq blood red.
Mr. Bush raises constitutional concerns in his latest veto threat. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I suppose one could be encouraged that constitutional concerns exist in the Bush kingdom. After setting aside the Constitution whenever convenient to justify pre-emptive attacks, illegal searches, secret wiretapping, clandestine military tribunals, treaty violations, kidnapping, torture, and a rejection of habeas corpus, one has to wonder about the nature of these purported "constitutional concerns." If the Constitution is finally to be read, let us read it in its entirety, including the articles which give the people's Representatives the power over the purse, and the power to declare war.
In its Statement of Administrative Policy, the Administration claims that the House Bill before us ". . . Is likely to unleash chaos in Iraq . . . ." Mr. President, what do we have now if not chaos in Iraq? Securing Iraq has unaccountably morphed into securing Baghdad and even that goal eludes us. I doubt if building a wall around the green zone is going to be of much consequence in securing Baghdad, not to mention the very strange message such a wall conveys concerning our purported "liberation" of Iraq.
The President continues to miss the point. Iraq is at war with itself. America cannot create a stable democracy in Iraq at the point of a gun. While our troops succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein, it is the President's profound misunderstanding of the dynamics in Iraq that have lead to the failure of his Iraq policies. Why in the world should we now believe the claims that he makes in his veto threat?
There must be an end to this occupation of Iraq. Yes, I say occupation for it is no longer a war in which U.S. troops should be involved. Our troops won the war that they were sent to fight. They should not now be asked to serve as targets in a religious conflict between Sunni and Shiites that has raged for thousands of years. It is reported that even a majority in the Iraqi Parliament now supports legislation which demands a scheduled withdrawal and an immediate freeze on the number of foreign soldiers in Iraq.
In April, Congress set a new course for the war in Iraq. Sadly, the President, our stubborn, uncompromising President, chose to veto that bill. As we prepare to go to conference again, the President continues to close his eyes and cover his ears to the reality in Iraq, and the urgent need for a new direction. Whatever decision is made in conference will not be the last chapter in this sad story. God willing, this Senator will not close his eyes or cover his ears. Nor will I stand by in silence.
We need to conclude this terrible mistake we have made in Iraq. Anti-Americanism is more robust now than in any period in our history because of Iraq. The international community is skeptical of U.S. intentions because of Iraq. Our Constitution has been trampled because of Iraq. Thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens have lost their lives because of Iraq. Thousands more are maimed physically or mentally because of Iraq. Billions of U.S. dollars have been wasted because of Iraq. President Bush has lost all credibility because of Iraq. Terrorism is on the rise worldwide because of Iraq. May God grant this Congress the courage to come together and answer the cries of a majority of the people who sent us here. Find a way to end this catastrophe, this unspeakable, ongoing calamity called Iraq.
Robert Byrd is US Senator from West Virginia.