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Byrd challenges Bush’s ideas on war
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., gave a major speech Friday, urging the Senate to play a central role in determining whether the nation will initiate military action against Iraq or any other nation.
Byrd criticized the Bush administration for “saber-rattling” and “unwise and dangerous effort to keep the public and Congress largely in the dark. ...”
“Shrouded in ambiguity and cloaked in deep secrecy, this administration continues to suddenly, and sometimes unexpectedly, drop its decisions upon the public and Congress, and expect obedient approval, without question, without debate, and without opposition.”
Byrd left no doubt he would like to see Saddam Hussein removed from power. “He has promoted the starvation of Iraqi children so that he and his cabal can live in palaces. Saddam Hussein is a scourge on the people of Iraq and a menace to peace.”
But as a student of Senate history, Byrd referred to past tragedies in arguing for Senate debate and public participation in major policy decisions.
“As we learned all too well in Korea, Vietnam and Somalia, it is dangerous to present Congress and the American people with a fait accompli on important matters of foreign affairs.”
Byrd mentioned Sens. Ernst Gruening, D-Alaska, and Wayne Morse, D-Ore., the only two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on Aug. 7, 1964.
“As Senator Gruening pointed out, it is the role of the Senate to advise and consent in foreign policy,” Byrd said. “As the War Powers Resolution points out, it is the role of Congress to be active participants in foreign policy.
“As the Constitution demands, it is the role of Congress to declare war. When the president is ready to present his case to Congress, I am ready to listen. But I am tired of trying to connect dots in the dark. ...
“I have not seen such executive arrogance and secrecy since the Nixon administration, and we all know what happened to that group.”
Byrd criticized foreign policy under Ronald Reagan for the “arrogance and extreme secrecy that led to the Iran-Contra scandal.”
“Selling weapons to a terrorist nation in exchange for hostages, and using that money to finance an illegal war in Central America. What a great plan that was! I guess I can understand why the Reagan administration did not want to tell Congress about that foreign policy adventure.”
Byrd repeatedly spoke of the war in Southeast Asia.
“I recall all too well the nightmare of Vietnam,” Byrd said. “I recall too well the antiwar protests and demonstrations, the campus riots, and the tragic deaths at Kent State, as well as the resignation of a president. And I remember all too well the gruesome daily body counts in Vietnam. The United States was a deeply divided country.”
Morse failed to convince Congress to hold hearings.
“Morse expressed his concern that the Pentagon and the executive branch were perpetrating a ‘snow job’ upon Congress and the American people. If the Senate approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Senator Morse warned, the ‘senators who vote for it will live to regret it.’ ”
Byrd himself was one of those senators.
Byrd mentioned January’s State of the State Address in which Bush included Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and warned he would “not wait on events while dangers gather.”
Byrd said the president added “another dimension to our national security policy” when Bush told West Point graduates on June 1 that Americans must “be ready for pre-emptive action when necessary” against “rogue nations” and terrorists.
“This saber-rattling prompted many questions for the American public, members of Congress and our allies. Will we invade Iraq? When will it happen? Will the United States go it alone?” Byrd asked.
“Military action against Iraq will be a serious undertaking. ... The American people deserve to hear why we may need to be an aggressor, risk the lives of their sons and daughters or to take pre-emptive action against Iraq.”
Passed after the carnage of Vietnam, the War Powers Resolution requires the president to “consult with Congress before” sending US military forces into combat.
“This administration refuses to consult with anyone outside its own inner circle about what appears to be its plan for imminent hostilities. This administration convenes meetings of its trusted few in little underground rooms. ...
“We must consider and debate whether we should use military force against Saddam Hussein. And, barring the most exceptional of circumstances, Congress must vote to authorize the president to use military force against Iraq prior to the outbreak of hostilities.”
Byrd concluded, “I am determined to do everything in my power to prevent this country from becoming involved in another Vietnam nightmare. This determination begins with Congress being fully and sufficiently informed on the undertakings of our government, especially if it involves a commitment to military action.”
Copyright © The Charleston Gazette Online, 2002. For fair use only
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