In one of his most impassioned speeches during his 50 years in Congress, Sen.
Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., pleaded with fellow senators on Thursday not to issue
a “blank check” to President George W. Bush.
“The president is using the Oval Office as a bully pulpit to sound the call
to arms. But it is from Capitol Hill that such orders must flow. The people, through
their elected representatives, must make that decision,” Byrd said.
Quoting Roman historian Titus Livius, Byrd called Bush “blind and improvident....
“As sure as the sun rises in the east, we are 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 conflict.”
The “bellicose stance” taken in Bush’s resolution, sent to the Senate 33 days
before Election Day, is motivated by campaign politics, Byrd argued.
“Before risking the lives of American troops, 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 serious issue.”
Immediately after Byrd sat down, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, “He has
been a voice of sanity and reason. He has been a voice the American people wanted
“When our president didn’t want to come to Congress, Sen. Byrd stood up and
said, ‘Just a moment. Read the Constitution. The Congress shall have the power
to declare war,’” Boxer said. “I cannot support a blank check. It would be an
affront to the people of this country to do that.”
Bush defended himself Thursday, saying his resolution would affirm his right
to use pre-emptive military strikes only as a last resort.
Byrd called the Bush resolution “a product of haste ... a product of presidential
hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in its scope. It redefines the nature
of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution to suit the will of the Executive
“It 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.
This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the president’s authority
under the Constitution, not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of
the United Nations on its head,” Byrd said.
Last month, the Congressional Research Service issued a report noting the 1962
Cuban Missile Crisis “represented 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.”
Bush argues the Joint Resolution on Authorization for Use of Military Force,
passed in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, authorizes him to initiate military
actions on his own.
Byrd called Bush’s argument “a cynical twisting of words.... Nowhere was there
an implied recognition of inherent authority under the Constitution to ‘deter
and prevent’ future acts of terrorism.
“Other nations will be able to hold up the United States as the model to justify
their military adventures. Do you not think that India and Pakistan, China and
Taiwan, Russia and Georgia are closely watching the outcome of this debate?” Byrd
“A war against Iraq will affect thousands if not tens 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,” Byrd said.
“Yet that is exactly what the Senate is proposing to do.”
Byrd said the White House failed to establish any concrete ties between Iraq
“We know who was behind the Sept. 11 attacks,” Byrd said. “We know it was Osama
bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network. We have dealt with al-Qaida and
with the Taliban government that sheltered it. We have routed them from Afghanistan
and we are continuing to pursue them in hiding....
“No one in the administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking
Iraq to the Sept. 11 attack,” Byrd said.
Byrd also warned that Saddam, “ruthless in gaining and staying in power,” is
likely to use all weapons at his disposal if attacked.
“Iraq is not Afghanistan, impoverished by decades of war, internal strife,
and stifling religious oppression. Though its military forces are much diminished,...
it is a large country that has spent years on a wartime footing, and it still
has some wealth.”
And even a successful attack could lead to a long-term, expensive occupation
of a nation so religiously and ethnically divided.
“If the Congress authorizes such a mission, we must be prepared for what will
follow,” Byrd said. “Nation-building cannot be accomplished with the wave of a
wand by some fairy godmother.”
Byrd criticized Bush for providing no detailed estimates of the costs of war,
including the cost in human lives.
“The questions surrounding the wisdom of declaring war on Iraq are many and
serious. The answers are too few and too glib. This is no way to embark on war.”
Byrd again said the United Nations is the “proper forum” to search for and
destroy Iraq’s weapons. “If Iraq again chooses to interfere with such an ongoing
and admittedly intrusive inspection regime, then and only then should the United
States, with the support of the world, take stronger measures....
“Let us guard against the perils of haste, lest the Senate fall prey to the
dangers of taking action that is both blind and improvident.”
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail
or call 348-5164.
© Copyright 2002 The Charleston Gazette