Profiles in Courage: The Rush to War Endangers the US Constitution
by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV in the US Senate, October 5, 2002)
October 18, 2002

With our Constitution in shreds, The-Edge has taken a pair of scissors to Old Glory to create a new flag that is symbolic of George W. Bush’s intolerant America. As students of flag nomenclature will immediately recognize, this new flag — "Oil Glory" — is a Double Standard.
The great Roman historian, Titus Livius, 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, we are embarking on a course of action with regard to Iraq that, in its haste, is both blind and improvident.

The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, all the more so because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics.

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.

The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also 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 Branch. It would give the President blanket authority to launch a unilateral preemptive 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.

In a September 18 report, the Congressional Research Service had this to say about the preemptive use of military force:

    The historical record indicates that the US has never, to date, engaged in a "preemptive" military attack against another nation. Nor has the US ever attacked another nation militarily prior to its first having been attacked or prior to US citizens or interests first having been attacked, with the singular exception of the Spanish-American War. [See “The Reichstag Strategy” in Around the Bend on The-Edge.]
Article I, 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 in the Constitution is it written that the President has the authority to call forth the militia to preempt a perceived threat. And yet, the resolution 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 US, as Congress recognized in the joint resolution on Authorization for Use of Miliary Force" following the September 11 terrorist attack.

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 September 11 attack. Nowhere was there an implied recognition of inherent authority under the Constitution to "deter and prevent" future acts of terrorism.

Think for a moment of the precedent that this resolution will set, not just for this President but for future Presidents. From this day forward, American Presidents will be able to invoke Senate Joint Resolution 46 as justification for launching preemptive military strikes against any sovereign nations that they perceive to be a threat. Other nations will be able to hold up the US 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?

To be sure, weapons of mass destruction are a 20th century horror that the Framers of the Constitution had no way of foreseeing. But they did foresee the frailty of human nature and the inherent danger of concentrating too much power in one individual. 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 confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man...."

Congress has a responsibility to exercise with extreme care the power to declare war. There is no weightier matter to be considered. 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, under the glare of election year politics and the pressure of artificial deadlines.

The "Dean of the Congress," Senator Robert C. Byrd. "The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power." — Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (Myers v. United States, 1926)
The Senate is rushing to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq without pausing to ask 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, 33 days before a general election when a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are in the final, highly politicized, weeks of election campaigns?

As recently as Tuesday (October 1), the President said he had not yet made up his mind about whether to go to war with Iraq. And yet Congress is being exhorted to give the President open-ended authority now, to exercise whenever he pleases, in the event that he decides to invade Iraq.

The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998.... It is now October of 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 — 33 days until election day. Now we are being told that we must act immediately, before adjournment and before the elections. Why the rush?

Yes, we had September 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 September 11 attacks on the US. We have dealt with al Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it.

No one in the Administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 attack. Iraq had biological and chemical weapons long before September 11. We knew it then, and we know it now. Iraq has been an enemy of the US for more than a decade. If Saddam Hussein is such an imminent threat to the US, why hasn't he attacked us already? 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 for a thorough and informed discussion of this crucial issue.

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. It is here that debate must take place and where the full spectrum of the public's desires, concerns, and misgivings must be heard. We should not allow ourselves to be pushed into one course or another in the face of a full court publicity press from the White House. We have, rather, a duty to the nation and her sons and daughters to carefully examine all possible courses of action and to consider the long term consequences of any decision to act.

No one supports Saddam Hussein. If he were to disappear tomorrow, no one would shed a tear.... But the principle of one government deciding to eliminate another government — using force to do so, and taking that action in spite of world disapproval — is a very disquieting thing. I am concerned that it has the effect of destabilizing the world community of nations. I am concerned that it fosters a climate of suspicion and mistrust in US relations with other nations.

It is difficult to imagine that Saddam Hussein, who has been ruthless in gaining and staying in power, would give up without a fight.... Iraq is not Afghanistan, impoverished by decades of war, internal strife, and stifling religious oppression. Though its military forces are much diminished, Iraq has a strong central command and much greater governmental control over its forces and its people....

Nor do I think that the Iraqi people would necessarily rise up against Saddam Hussein in the event of a US invasion, even if there is an undercurrent of support for his overthrow. The Iraqi people have spent decades living in fear of Saddam Hussein and his network of informers and security forces. There has been no positive showing, in the form of riots or large and active internal opposition groups, that popular sentiment in Iraq supports a governmental overthrow.

A US invasion of Iraq that proved successful and which resulted in the overthrow of the government would not be a simple effort. The aftermath of that effort would require a long term occupation. The President has said that he would overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a new government that would recognize all interest groups in Iraq. This would presumably include the Kurds to the north and the Shiite Muslims to the south. Because the entire military and security apparatus of Iraq would have to be replaced, the US would have to provide interim security throughout the countryside. This kind of nation-building cannot be accomplished with the wave of a wand by some fairy godmother.

To follow through on the proposal outlined by the president would require the commitment of a large number of US forces – forces that cannot be used for other missions, such as homeland defense – for an extended period of time.

It will take time to confirm that Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction are well and truly destroyed.

It will take time to root out all elements of Saddam Hussein's government, military, and security forces and to build new government and security elements.

It will take time to establish a new and legitimate government and to conduct free and fair elections.

It will cost billions of dollars to do this as well. And the forces to carry out this mission and to pay for this mission will come from the US.

In a September 30 report, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the incremental costs – above those budgeted for routine operations – would be between $9 billion to $13 billion a month, depending on the actual force size deployed. Prosecuting a war would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion a month. Since the length of the war cannot be predicted, CBO could give no total battle estimate.

After hostilities end, the cost to return US forces to their home bases would range between $5 billion and $7 billion. And the incremental cost of an occupation following combat operations varies from about $1 billion to $4 billion a month.

There are many formulas to calculate cost in the form of dollars, but it is much more difficult to calculate cost in the form of deaths. During the Persian Gulf War, the US was able to convince Saddam Hussein that the use of weapons of mass destruction would result in his being toppled from power. This time around, the object of an invasion of Iraq is to topple Saddam Hussein, so he has no reason to exercise restraint.

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. We don't need more rhetoric. We don't need more campaign slogans or fund raising letters. We need – the American people need – information and informed debate.

Before we rush into war, we should focus on those things that pose the most direct threat to us – those facilities and weapons that form the body of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. The United Nations is the proper forum to deal with the inspection of these facilities, and the destruction of any weapons discovered.

If UN inspectors can enter the country, inspect those facilities and mark for destruction the ones that truly belong to a weapons program, then Iraq can be declawed without unnecessary risk or loss of life. That would be the best answer for Iraq, for the US, and for the world. But if Iraq again chooses to interfere with such an ongoing and admittedly intrusive inspection regime, then and only then should the US, with the support of the world, take stronger measures. This is what Congress did in 1991, before the Persian Gulf War.

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.

Robert C. Byrd represents West Virginia in the US Senate.

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