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Sen Byrd Speech -- Regain Focus on War on Terrorism / 09-10-03

Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

September 10, 2003

Regain the Focus on the War on Terrorism

Tomorrow, Americans will bow our heads in prayer as we remember those who perished two years ago. As we close our eyes to remember those who lost their lives in the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and the quiet field in Pennsylvania, we cannot help but recall the graphic images of the attacks that shocked the American psyche. The smoke, the fire, the pain, and the courage displayed on television sets on September 11, 2001, brought all Americans to the scenes of those attacks. Our nation united to fight those who were responsible for those terrible acts.

In the days following the attacks, Congress acted swiftly to provide essential funds for this military response, but also for increased homeland security, and the reconstruction of New York City and the Pentagon. Since then, our armed forces swept through the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, deposing a government that directly aided Osama bin Laden in his mission to attack America by any means at hand.

But today, our fight against terrorism has lost its focus. Our homeland security efforts are underfunded. The Department of Homeland Security is a bureaucratic catastrophe. The White House has prioritized tax cuts over protecting our airliners and securing our ports. Through carefully worded rhetoric, the Administration has morphed the image of America's most wanted man from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein.

It is as if the President has forgotten the name of the mastermind of the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the attacks that killed 17 sailors on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, and the attacks that killed 224 U.S. and foreign nationals in bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. The name of that man is not Saddam Hussein. It is Osama bin Laden -- the elusive terrorist who this Administration so rarely bothers to mention by name anymore.

The President has now stated that the war in Iraq is the central front on the war against terrorism. But it was our invasion of Iraq which has turned that nation into a staging ground for daily terrorist attacks against our occupation forces. If we are serious about protecting our country from terrorism, shouldn't the central front be the war on al Qaeda? For that matter, isn't the violence between Israelis and Palestinians actually the root of much of the terrorism in the world? Why isn't reaching a lasting peace agreement between those two peoples the central front on fighting international terror?

But at the White House, the subject of terrorism now means the subject of our invasion of Iraq. The President waves the bloody shirt of 9-11 and then subtly shifts the conversation to Iraq. The only problem is that the President's attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9-11 attacks have no basis in fact. By speaking of al Qaeda in one breath, and Iraq in the next, he has devised a construct for confusing the American people about the real threat to our country. And his strategy has worked: according to a recent Washington Post poll, seven in ten Americans believe that Saddam Hussein is behind the September 11 attacks.

Amidst the confusion of the American people, it was the stated policy of White House advisor Karl Rove to use the war against terrorism for partisan electoral advantage. The White House rode that political bandwagon right through Congress in October 2002, securing a war resolution in the weeks just before a major election. The bandwagon then bypassed the United Nations, alienating our friends and allies, and charged into Baghdad, powered by a national security strategy that brought the first use of pre-emptive war in the history of our nation.

And soon Congress will be formally presented with a request for $87 billion in additional funding for that war. The White House would prefer to call this massive spending bill the "terrorism supplemental." The American people should not be misled by these word games. This spending has little to do with protecting them from terrorism. There are no appreciable amounts in this proposal to address our urgent homeland security needs.

This request should be called what it is: the second Iraq supplemental appropriations bill in less than six months. It is a budget-busting, deficit-enhancing $87 billion on top of the $103.3 billion in additional funds that Congress has already provided to the Pentagon since September 11, 2001. Including this new spending for Iraq, the budget deficit for next year can be expected to exceed $550 billion. How are we going to pay for this mistake that we have made in the Middle East?

I will support the funds that are needed for the safety of our troops, but I will not rubberstamp every spending request that comes down the pike. This $87 billion package needs to be carefully examined. Congress is not an A-T-M that will spit out cash on a moment's notice.

I have questions about the $20 billion in nation-building funds that are contained in the President's request. Initial indications show that the Administration intends to go beyond repairing the damage to Iraq's infrastructure and attempt to build a modernized country from the ground up. Congress needs to ask questions about this plan. There has never been a debate in Congress about post-war Iraq. Before we approve this spending, we must know how long this nation-building plan will take, and how the costs will be shared among our allies.

I also have questions about the funds that are requested for our military. The Administration announced this week that it is extending the deployments of our National Guard and our Reserves in Iraq. Many of these citizen-soldiers are already exhausted from back-to-back foreign deployments. The National Guard cannot perform its important homeland security missions if it is half a world away. We are headed toward serious problems with recruiting and retention if this Administration thinks that it can keep the men and women of the Guard and Reserve away from their families and their jobs for 12 months, 15 months, or even 18 months on each deployment.

Most importantly, this $87 billion Iraq supplemental could be the first installment in what the President's advisors describe as a "generational commitment" to building democracy in the Middle East. I do not recall a single word in the President's case for war in which he said that the war in Iraq would be the beginning of a decades-long engagement in that volatile part of the world. The American people ought to hear an explanation of what it means to have a "generational commitment" to nation-building, and perhaps regime change, in the Middle East.

Tomorrow the American people will pause to remember those who lost their lives two years ago. I will long remember that fateful day. I cannot forget the toll exacted on America in those attacks. Nor will I forget the courage of the firefighters and police who rushed into burning buildings, or those ordinary people on that airliner who fought back against its hijackers. The people very likely saved this Capitol from another terrible attack.

But when Members of Congress return from the memorial services, we have serious work to do in addressing the crisis in Iraq and our fight against terrorism, at home and abroad. We will soon be presented with a request for $87 billion to carry out the Administration's occupation and nation-building plans in Iraq. Let us not act with the same haste and impatience that led our country to begin that war nearly six months ago.


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