Robert C. Byrd


In the last week, two speeches have been showing up in e-mail boxes around the world. Each is a rallying cry for a different constituency. The first, an address given by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a Labor Party conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Feb. 15, is a passionate explanation of the potential need for war in Iraq. The other, a Feb. 12 speech by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) on the Senate floor, questions the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Both have been praised for their intelligence and conviction at a time when debate at the highest levels seems strangely muffled. Abridged versions of the speeches follow:


To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.

Yet, this chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events....


This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense ....And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our hit list.

High level administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise ... ?

This administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal. In that scant two years, this administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This administration’s domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, underfunding scores of essential programs for our people. This administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth....

In foreign policy, this administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden.... This administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling for all time international order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned peacekeeper. This administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name-calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders....

We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer-found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy....

We hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife.


Will we seize Iraq’s oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation’s oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reins of power after Saddam Hussein? Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq? Could a disruption of the world’s oil supply lead to a worldwide recession? In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.

One can understand the anger and shock of any president after the savage attacks of Sept. 11.... But to turn one’s frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable....

Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq ... this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.

We are truly “sleepwalking through history.” In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.