In an impassioned Oct. 4 Senate speech, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said the nation was rushing “into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what steps we might take to avert a conflict.”

Byrd said the “newly bellicose mood” permeating the White House was “clearly motivated by campaign politics” and warned that before sending U.S. armed forces into Iraq, members of Congress must “overcome the siren song of political polls” and “focus on the merits rather than the politics, of this most grave, this most serious issue.”

Byrd said Senate Joint Resolution 46 (SJR-46), authorizing Bush to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq, “is not only a product of haste, it is also a product of presidential hubris.” He said the resolution is “breathtaking” in its scope and redefines the nature of defense, reinterprets and amends the Constitution to suit the will of the executive branch and “stands the Charter of the United Nations on its head.”

He said claims by the administration that Congress gave Bush authority to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism when it authorized the use of military force following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack were a “cynical twisting of words.”

“The reality,” he said, is that Congress “granted the president specific and limited authority to use force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack. Nowhere was [there] an implied recognition of inherent authority … to deter and prevent future acts of terrorism.”

Byrd pleaded with his colleagues to “think for a moment of a precedent that this resolution will set. From the day forward American presidents will be able to invoke SJR-46 as justification for launching pre-emptive military strikes against any sovereign nation they perceive to be a threat. Other nations will be able to hold up the United States to justify their military adventures.”

Byrd pointed to the concerns of the Founding Fathers, who carefully debated the authority of the president to declare war. “To be sure, weapons of mass destruction are a 20th and 21st century horror that the framers of the Constitution had no way of foreseeing. But they did foresee the frailty of human nature. And they saw the inherent danger of concentrating too much power in one individual. That is why the framers bestowed on Congress the power to declare war.”

Byrd warned that war against Iraq “will affect thousands if not tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of lives and perhaps alter the course of history. It is not a decision to be taken in haste under the glare of election-year politics and the pressure of artificial deadlines. And yet that is precisely what Congress is proposing to do. … Fie upon some of the so-called leaders of the Congress for falling into this pit.”

Byrd said the Senate is rushing to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq without pausing to ask why. “Why is war being dealt with not as a last resort but as a first resort? Why is Congress being pressured to act now? Why, 33 days before a general election? … Where are our senses?” he asked

Byrd challenged Bush’s claim that Iraq had connections with the events of Sept. 11: “Yes, we had Sept. 11. But we must not make the mistake of looking at the resolution before us as just another offshoot of the war on terror. We have dealt with Al Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it … So where does Iraq enter into the equation? Where?

“No one in the administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attack. The fact that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States does not de facto mean that Saddam Hussein is now in a lock-and-load position and is readying an attack on these United States. Slow down. Think. Ask questions. Debate.”

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries