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Patrick Leahy - On The Iraq War Resolution

Patrick Leahy Chairman Senate Judiciary Committee
Delivered on the Floor of the US Senate

On The Iraq War Resolution

Wednesday, 9 October, 2002

Mr. President, on September 26th I spoke at length in this chamber about the important issue before us. I voiced my concerns and the concerns of a great many Vermonters as well as Americans across this country, about the President's plan to send Americans into battle to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Many Senators have expressed their views on the difficult decision we face. As I prepared to speak two weeks ago, I listened to Senator Bingaman urge the Administration to seriously consider a proposal for "coerced inspections." After I finished speaking, Senator Johnson voiced his support for providing the President with the broad authority he seeks to use military force against Iraq.

The opportunity, and the responsibility, to have this debate is one of the cornerstones on which this institution, and indeed this country, is built. Some have suggested that expressing misgivings or asking questions about the President's plan to attack Iraq is somehow unpatriotic. Others have tried to make it an election year issue on bumper-stickers or in TV advertisements.

These attempts could not be more misguided. As I and others have said over and over, declaring war is the single most important responsibility given to Congress. Unfortunately, at times like this, it is a responsibility we often shirk. Too often, the Congress has abdicated its responsibility and deferred to the Executive Branch on such matters. It should not.

We in the United States Senate have a duty to the Constitution, to our consciences, and to the American people, especially our men and women in uniform, to ask questions, discuss the benefits, the risks, the costs - to have a thorough debate, and to vote to declare war - or not.

In my 28 years in the Senate, I can think of many instances when asking questions, and taking the time to study the facts, led to significant improvements in what we have done here. I can also remember times when Senators wished they had taken more time to carefully consider the issues before them, asked hard questions, or made changes to the legislation, despite public pressure to pass the first thing that came along.

I know that following the Constitution is not always the most politically expedient or popular thing to do, but there is no question that this debate, which really began some months ago, has helped move the Administration in the right direction.

Today we are considering a resolution offered by Senator Lieberman to authorize the use of force. Article I of the Constitution gives the Congress the sole power to declare war. Yet instead of exercising this responsibility and voting up or down on a declaration of war, we have chosen to delegate this authority to the Executive Branch.

This resolution, like others before it, does not declare anything. It tells the President "you decide." This resolution, when you get through the pages of whereas clauses, is nothing more than a blank check. The President can decide when to use military force, how to use it, and for how long.

Mr. President, back in August the President's advisors insisted that there was not even any need for authorization from Congress to go to war. They said past resolutions sufficed. Others in the Administration argued that the United States should attack Iraq preemptively and unilaterally, without bothering to seek the support of the United Nations, even though it is Iraq's violations of UN resolutions which is used to justify military action.

Eventually, the President listened to those who urged him to change course on both counts. He went to the United Nations and he has since come to the Congress. I commended him for it then and I do so again today.

I fully support the efforts of Secretary Powell to negotiate a strong, new Security Council resolution for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, backed up - if necessary to overcome Iraqi resistance - with force.

Two weeks ago, when the President sent Congress his proposed resolution authorizing the use of force, I said that I hoped his proposal was the beginning of a consultative, bipartisan process to produce a sensible resolution to be acted on at the appropriate time. I also said that I could envision circumstances which would cause me to support sending U.S. armed forces to Iraq. But I also made it clear that I could never support the kind of blank check resolution that the President proposed.

I commend Senator Daschle, Senator Hagel, and others who tried hard to work with the Administration to craft a bi-partisan resolution that we could all support. Their contributions have been important.

But while the resolution that we are considering today is an improvement from the version that the President first sent to Congress, it is fundamentally the same. It is still a blank check. The concerns that I outlined in my speech last week have not been addressed. I intend to vote against this resolution.

I want to explain my reasons in detail.

Mr. President, there is no dispute that Saddam Hussein is a menace to his people and to Iraq's neighbors. He is a tyrant who the world would be far better without.

Saddam Hussein has also made no secret of his hatred of the United States, and should he acquire a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, he would pose a grave threat to the lives of all Americans, as well as to our closest allies.

The question is not whether Saddam Hussein should be disarmed; it is how imminent is this threat and how should we deal with it? Do we go it alone, as some in the Administration are eager to do because they see Iraq as their first opportunity to apply the President's strategy of preemptive military force?

Do we do that, potentially jeopardizing the support of those nations we need to combat terrorism and further antagonizing Muslim populations who already deeply resent our policies in the Middle East?

Or, do we work with other nations to disarm Saddam, using force if other options fail?

The resolution now before the Senate leaves the door open to act alone, even absent an imminent threat.

It surrenders to the President authority which the Constitution explicitly reserves for the Congress.

And as I said two weeks ago, it is premature.

I have never believed, nor do I think that any Senator believes, that U.S. foreign policy should be hostage to any nation, nor to the United Nations. Ultimately, we must do what we believe is right and necessary to protect our security, whenever it is called for. But going to war alone is rarely the answer.

On Monday night, the President spoke about working with the United Nations: "To actually work, any new inspections, sanctions, or enforcement mechanisms will have to be very different. America wants the UN to be an effective organization that helps keep the peace. That is why we are urging the Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough, immediate requirements."

I could not agree more.

The status quo is unacceptable. Past UN resolutions have not worked. Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials have lied to the world over and over and over. As the President points out, an effort is underway in the UN Security Council - led by the United States - to adopt a strong resolution requiring unconditional, unimpeded access for UN weapons inspectors, backed up with force if necessary.

That effort is making steady progress. There is wide acceptance that a new resolution is necessary before the inspectors can return to Iraq, and this has put pressure on the other nations, especially Russia and France, to support our position.

If successful, it could achieve the goal of disarming Saddam without putting thousands of American and innocent Iraqi lives at risk or spending tens of billions, or hundreds of billions, of dollars at a time when the U.S. economy is weakening, the Federal deficit is growing, and the retirement savings of America's senior citizens have been decimated.

Diplomacy is often tedious. It does not usually make the headlines or the evening news, and much has been made of past diplomatic failures. But history has shown over and over that diplomatic pressure can not only protect our national interests, it can also enhance the effectiveness of military force when force becomes necessary.

The negotiations are at a sensitive stage. By authorizing the use of force today, the Congress will be saying that regardless of what the Security Council does, we have already decided to go our own way. As Chairman and sometimes Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for over a decade, I have received countless letters from Secretaries of State - from both Democratic and Republican Administrations - urging Congress not to adopt legislation because it would upset ongoing negotiations. Why is this different?

Some say the President's hand will be strengthened by Congress passing this resolution. In 1990, when the United States successfully assembled a broad coalition to fight the Gulf War, the Congress passed a resolution only after the UN had acted. The world already knows that President Bush is serious about using force against Iraq, and the votes are there in Congress to declare war if diplomatic efforts fail and war becomes unavoidable.

More importantly, the resolution now before the Senate goes well beyond what the President said on Monday about working through the United Nations. It would permit the Administration to take precipitous, unilateral action without following through at the UN.

Many respected and knowledgeable people - former senior military officers and diplomats among them - have expressed strong reservations about this resolution. They agree that if there were credible evidence that Saddam Hussein were planning to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States or one of our allies, the American people and the Congress would overwhelmingly support the use of American military power to stop him. But they have not seen that evidence, and neither have I.

We have heard a lot of bellicose rhetoric, but what are the facts? I am not asking for 100 percent proof. But the Administration is asking Congress to make a decision to go to war based on conflicting statements, angry assertions, and assumptions based on speculation.

The Administration has also been vague, evasive and contradictory about its plans. Speaking here in Washington, the President and his advisors continue to say this issue is about disarming Saddam Hussein; that he has made no decision to use force. But the President paints a different picture when he is on the campaign trail, where he often talks about regime change. The Vice President said on national television that "The President's made it clear that the goal of the United States is regime change. He said that on many occasions."

Proponents of this resolution argue that it does put diplomacy first. They point to section 3, which requires the President to determine that further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone will not adequately protect the national security, before he resorts to military force. They say that this ensures that we will act only in a deliberative way, in concert with our allies.

But they fail to point out that the resolution permits the President to use unilateral military force if he determines that reliance on diplomacy alone "is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq . . .."

Unfortunately, we have learned that the phrase "not likely" can be used to justify just about anything. So let us not pretend we are doing something we are not. This resolution permits the President to take whatever military action he wants, whenever he wants, for as long as he wants. It is a blank check.

We have the best trained, best equipped armed forces in the world, and I have no doubt that they can defeat Iraq. I hope, as we all do, that if force is used the Iraqi military surrenders quickly.

But if we have learned anything from history, it is that wars are unpredictable. They can trigger consequences that none of us would intend or expect. Is it fair to the American people, who have become accustomed to wars waged from 30,000 feet lasting a few weeks with few casualties, that we not discuss what else could happen? We could be involved in urban warfare where large numbers of our troops are killed.

And what of the critical issue of rebuilding a post-Saddam Iraq, about which the Administration has said virtually nothing? As I have said over and over again, it is one thing to topple a regime, but it is equally important, and sometimes far more difficult, to rebuild a country to prevent it from becoming engulfed by factional fighting.

If these nations cannot successfully rebuild, then they will once again become havens for terrorists. To ensure that does not happen, does the Administration foresee basing thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq after the war, and if so, for how many years and for how many billions of dollars? Are the American people prepared to spend what it will take to rebuild Iraq even when the Administration is failing to budget what is needed to rebuild Afghanistan? Or to budget what is needed here at home for homeland defense, drought aid for farmers, and other domestic priorities, for that matter.

And who will replace Saddam Hussein? The leading coalition of opposition groups, the Iraqi National Congress, is divided, has questionable support among the Iraqi people, and has made little headway in overthrowing Saddam. While Iraq has a strong civil society, in the chaos of a post-Saddam Iraq another dictator could rise to the top or the country could splinter along ethnic or religious lines.

These are the questions the American people are asking and these are the issues we should be debating. They are difficult issues of war and peace, but the Administration, and the proponents of this resolution, would rather leave them for another day. They say: Vote! And let the President decide. Don't give the UN time to do its job. Don't worry that the resolution is a blank check.

Mr. President, I can count votes, and I can see that the Senate will pass this resolution and give the President the authority to send U.S. troops to Iraq, if he chooses. But before he takes that step, I hope he will consider the questions that have been asked here. I hope he will consider the concerns raised by former Generals, senior diplomats, and intelligence officers in testimony before Congress. Above all, I hope that he will listen to the American people who are urging him to proceed cautiously, and to not act alone.

Despite disagreements on our policy toward Iraq, there is no question that if a decision is made to send troops into battle every Member of Congress will unite behind the President and our armed forces.

But that time has not come, and based on what I know today, I believe that in order to solve this problem without potentially creating more terrorists, and more enemies, we must act deliberately, not precipitously. The way the United States responds to the threat posed by Iraq will have consequences for our country and the world for years to come.

Authorizing a United States attack to overthrow another government, while negotiations at the United Nations are ongoing, and before exhausting other options, could damage our standing in the world as a country that recognizes the importance of international solutions to global problems and that respects international law. It would be, I am afraid, what the world has come to expect of a super power that seems increasingly disdainful of world opinion, or cooperation and collective diplomacy.

What a dramatic shift from just one year ago, when the world was united in its expressions of sympathy toward the United States and would have welcomed the opportunity to work with us on a wide agenda of common problems.

I remember the Star-Spangled Banner being played and sung by crowds of people outside Buckingham Palace. The leading French newspaper, Le Monde, declared "We are all Americans." And, China's President Jiang Zemin was one of the first world leaders to call Washington and express his sympathies.

Why squander this goodwill and this unity? Why not build on it?

If September 11th taught us anything, it is that protecting our security involves much more than military might. It involves cooperation with other nations to break up terrorist rings, dry up the sources of funding, and address the conditions of ignorance and despair that create breeding grounds for terrorists. We are far more likely to achieve these goals by working with the rest of the world, than by going it alone.

I am optimistic that the Administration's efforts at the UN will succeed and that the Security Council will adopt a strong resolution. If Saddam Hussein refuses to comply, then force may be justified and it may be required. But we are a great nation, with a wide range of resources available to us and with the goodwill of most of the world.

Let us proceed deliberately, moving as close to our goal as we can by working with our allies and the United Nations, rather than writing a blank check today that is premature for us to write, and which would continue the trend of abdicating our constitutional authority and responsibility.

Mr. President, that trend started many years ago, and I have gone back and read some of the speeches Senators made. For example, and I quote:

"The resolution now pending is an expression of American unity in this time of crisis."

"It is a vote of confidence . . . but is not a blank check for policies that might in the future be carried on by the executive branch of the Government . . . without full consultation by the Congress."

Those quotes were not about Iraq. They were spoken thirty-eight years ago, when I was still a prosecutor in Vermont. At the end of that debate, the Senate passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution by a vote of 88 to 2.

That resolution was used by both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations as carte blanche to wage war in Vietnam, ultimately involving more than half a million American troops, and resulting in the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans.

This is not to say that the Administration is trying to mislead the Congress about the situation in Iraq. Nor am I comparing a possible war in Iraq to the Vietnam War. They are very different countries with different histories and different military capabilities.

But the key words in the resolution we are considering today are remarkably similar to that infamous resolution of 38 years ago, which so many Senators came to regret.

Let us not make that mistake again.


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