“Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” That is the first of many awkward questions George W. Bush faces as the vaunted victory in Iraq unravels in chaos. Another question is: “How long will the occupation last and how much will it cost?”
Those questions come from Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, dean of the U.S. Senate, and from Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lugar shocked the White House, still preening with self-satisfaction over a short war, by warning that Iraq is in such chaos it could become “an incubator for terrorist cells and activity … I am concerned that the Bush administration and Congress have not yet faced up to the true size of the task that lies ahead or prepared the American people for it,” he said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post. Lugar said that the real cost is estimated at $100 billion, not the $2.5 billion the administration has requested in its current budget.
Lugar’s column appeared as Baghdad continued its descent into chaos. Four U.S. soldiers have been killed in recent days. The city is without electricity. Amid rising hostility, Paul Bremer, the new U.S. administrator, cancelled plans for a quick transition to self rule and announced that U.S. and British occupation forces will rule directly with no timetable for withdrawal.
In a May 21 Senate speech, Byrd focused on the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction. “No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up,” he said. “The American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of longstanding international law.”
Byrd went on to accuse Bush of “prevarication and the reckless use of power” demanding, “Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary?”
“Was the American public deliberately misled?” Byrd continued. “What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are ‘liberators’ – liberation implies the follow-up of freedom, self determination, and a better life for the common people.”
Byrd cited the lack of water and electricity, hospitals packed with the wounded and maimed, and the looting of Iraq’s historic treasures, adding, “it is becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the United States as a liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier.”
Byrd blasted the “lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and refurbish its oil industry” awarded to “administration cronies without the benefit of competitive bidding.”
How can the U.S. “afford this long-term, massive commitment, fight terrorism at home, address a serious crisis in domestic healthcare, afford behemoth military spending and give away billions in tax cuts amid a deficit that has climbed to more than $340 billion for this year alone?” Byrd demanded.
Joe Volk, Washington Representative of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) told the World lawmakers “are asking questions the peace movement urged them ask last fall before the vote to authorize war on Iraq. It is tragic they didn’t ask them before so many people died.”
The FCNL has released a statement on Iraq denouncing the “failed policy of preventive war” and calling on the U.S. to accept a leading role for the United Nations in Iraqi reconstruction and transition to democratic self-government.
Scott Lynch, spokesperson for Peace Action, told this reporter, “We warned from the beginning that Iraq would be destabilized. Unfortunately, American soldiers are paying with their lives and U.S. taxpayers will be paying for years into the future. It’s all the result of the Bush administration’s horrible foreign policy. Any idea that this war has made us safer is nonsense.”
Eric Weltman, spokesperson for Boston-based Citizens for Participation in Political Action, told the World that members of the group were delighted at the razor sharpness of Byrd’s speech. “He’s the grand-daddy of the Senate, always defending their constitutional prerogatives,” he added.
Weltman said when the group held its annual dinner with Rep. Barney Franks (D-Mass.) as guest of honor, “He was very emphatic that we all had to unite behind a Democratic candidate who can defeat Bush in 2004. Certainly some of our members will support [Sen. John] Kerry but others may support Rep. Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean.”
He said the group had built a network of fifty grassroots organizations in working class and Black communities in the past year. “We are holding a grassroots conference in Boston soon to plan our next steps on issues like budget cuts, future wars and electoral action, all with an eye to building our own base and reaching out.”
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