On Feb. 12 Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) chastised his colleagues for their failure to speak out against the threat of war that he called “the most horrible of human experiences.”

“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,” he said. “We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”

Byrd, first elected to the Senate in 1958, warned that the United States “is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time.” He said a preemptive war with Iraq represented “a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.”

Byrd, now the oldest sitting senator, closed by saying he sees no need for war att this time. “Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.”

An edited version of Byrd’s speech follows.

To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. 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.

And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

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 world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our – or some other nation’s – hit list.

What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, with huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances and U.S. intentions subject to damaging worldwide speculation? Anti-Americanism, based on alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders, is fracturing the alliance against global terrorism that existed after Sept. 11.

At home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising.

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 $5.6 trillion surplus over the next decade and taken us to deficits as far as the eye can see. This administration’s domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs and has fostered policies that have slowed economic growth. This administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly and has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security.

In foreign policy, this administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling for all time entities like the United Nations and NATO. This administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as a well-intentioned, peacekeeper and turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name-calling. Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant – these crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good.

We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.

This administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. Will we seize Iraq’s oil fields, becoming an occupying power that controls the price and supply of that nation’s oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns 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 governments of Jordan and Saudi Arabia be toppled by radicals? Could a disruption of the world’s oil supply lead to a worldwide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club?

In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated policies that may reap disastrous consequences for years.

One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of Sept. 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.

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. Frankly, many of the pronouncements made by this administration are outrageous.

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.”

To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. I truly must question the judgment of any president who can say that an unprovoked military attack on a nation whose population is over 50 percent children is “in the highest moral traditions of our country”.

This war is not necessary at this time. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.


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