The War Debate
As I have witnessed the tides that ebb and flow on the world stage over these 50 years, all the more have I come to believe that the Constitution is the principal mast to which we should rope ourselves in order to put wax in our ears to the siren calls that will lead us astray from what the Constitution says.
The Constitution very clearly says, in a nonambiguous sentence, the Congress shall have power to declare war. I am very pained to see a Congress, most of the leaders of which say we should pass this resolution--pass it now, pass it here, get it behind us before the election. Get it behind us.
Where are we looking? We are looking at Iraq. Yet there is nothing new in the evidence. I have asked the director of the CIA on two different occasions: What is different? Do not tell me anything about policy; we will make the policy. But tell me what there is by way of intelligence where you are the expert. What is there that is new today, that you know today that you did not know three months ago or six months ago? What is it that is so new, so compelling that all of a sudden, after we heard all this business to the effect there is no plan on the president’s desk?
I asked that question of the secretary of State: What is it that is new? I have asked that question of the secretary of Defense. What does he say? The thing that is new is Sept. 11. That is not so new; that is over 365 days old. So what is there that is new that requires us to make this fateful, far-reaching decision before the election?
There is nothing new. They have known it for three months, six months. A lot of it they have known for years. This is a fateful decision, and the decision ought to be made here, and this Congress ought not turn this fateful determination, this decision, over to any president, any one man, because, as James Madison said, the trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.
Here we are today; we have rubber spines, rubber legs, and we do not have backbones. This branch of government, under the Constitution, is the branch consisting of the immediately elected representatives of the people, and under the Constitution it is to declare war.
The framers were very wise when they determined that these two matters--the decision to go to war and the making of war--should be in two different places. The decision, the determination to declare war, should flow from this branch, the people’s branch, and the matter of making war should be in the hands of a unified commander, the commander in chief.
What are we doing? In my view, if we accept this resolution as it is written, we are saying both of these vital functions would be placed in the hands of one man.
I respect the president of the United States. We should work with him, and we should support him when we can. But remember what Madison said: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.
We elected representatives of the people are not supposed to follow any president, whether he is a Democrat or Republican, meekly and without question. I do not believe there is a Republican in this body who knows me well who would believe for a moment, if we had a Democratic president today, I would not be saying exactly what I am saying right now.
There is no king in the American scheme of things. There is no place for kings in our constitutional system. But there is a place for men. When I say “men,” of course, I am speaking of men and women.
We are voting on this new Bush doctrine of preventive strikes--preemptive strikes. There is nothing in this Constitution about preemptive strikes. Yet in this rag here, this resolution, we are about to vote to put the imprimatur of the Congress on that doctrine. That is what the Bush administration wants us to do. They want Congress to put its stamp of approval on that Bush doctrine of preemptive strikes.
That is a mistake. Are we going to present the face of America as the face of a bully that is ready to go out at high noon with both guns blazing or are we going to maintain the face of America as a country which believes in justice, the rule of law, freedom and liberty and the rights of all people to work out their ultimate destiny?
What are the ramifications around the globe? What is the image of the United States then going to be? A nation that is a rogue nation, that is determined to wipe out other nations with a preemptive strike? And what will happen if we deliver a preemptive strike? Will other nations be encouraged to do the same?
I think the president is in a much better position, ultimately, if we let the United Nations speak first and not go to the United Nations and say: Now, we would love to hear what you have to say, but regardless of what you have to say, we have made up our minds, and if you don’t do it, we are going to do it.
We are committing the blood and the treasure of the American people to do what the United Nations won’t do. I say, do what the president has done thus far. Put it in the lap of the United Nations and expect them to give us an answer. Then come back to the people’s representatives and let them make a determination as to whether or not at that point we should strike.
[However], if we are going to make it a blank check, let’s make it a blank check right upfront, without all of these flowery fig leaves of “whereas” clauses, and simply say that the president has this power. Give it to him and we will put up a sign on the top of this Capitol: “Out of business.” “Gone home.” “Gone fishing.”
We are giving to the president of the United States a blank check, and Congress cannot do that. Congress should not do that. Where is the termination? Where is the deadline? Where is the sunset language that says after this happens this resolution shall no longer exist? There is nothing. This goes on to the next president of the United States.
Why shouldn’t the leadership of this Congress say that the concerns are so great, the potential is so weighty, that we, the people’s representatives, ought to go back and talk to the American people about this? Let’s hear from them before we make this final decision. Why should we be forced to make this decision now?
About This Article
These are excerpts from the remarks Friday by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), debating a measure that would give President Bush broad authority to launch an attack on Iraq.