Sen Byrd Speech -- Losing Dollars and Sense in Iraq /09-17-03
Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
September 17, 2003
Losing Dollars and Sense in Iraq
Senator Byrd delivered the remarks below as a prelude to tonight's expected submisison to Congress of the President's $87 billion supplemental funding request for Iraq and reconstruction.
I rise today to voice my concern about the disastrous turn which the fortunes of this nation have taken. The Bush Administration, in a scant 2 ½ years, has imperiled our country in the gravest of ways, and set us up for a possible crisis of mammoth proportions.
Instead of linking arms with a world which offered its heart in sympathy after the brutality of the terrorist attack in September of 2001, this White House, through hubris and false bravado, has slapped away the hand of assistance. This Administration has insulted our allies and friends with its bullying, and go-it-alone frenzy to attack the nation of Iraq. In order to justify such an attack, it was decided somewhere in the White House to blur the images of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. Blurred images notwithstanding, what is becoming increasingly clear to many Americans is that they are going to be asked to carry a heavy, heavy load for a long, long time.
Let me be clear. We are presently engaged in not one, but two wars. There is the war begun by Osama Bin Laden who attacked this nation on the 11th of September, 2001. Then there is the war begun by George W. Bush when he directed U.S. forces to attack the city of Baghdad on March 19, 2003. The first war was thrust upon us. The bombing of Afghanistan was a just retaliation against that attack. The second war was a war of our choosing. It was an unnecessary attack upon a sovereign nation. This President and this Administration have tried mightily to convince the people of America that attacking Iraq was critical to protecting them from terrorism. The case they make is false, flimsy, and, the war, I believe, was unwise.
The war against Iraq has crippled the global effort to counter terrorism. The war in Iraq has made a peace agreement between Israel and its adversaries harder to obtain. The obsession with Iraq has served to downplay the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The focus on Saddam Hussein has diverted attention from Bin Laden, who is apparently still on the loose and threatening to attack again. The war in Iraq has alienated our traditional allies and fractured the cohesive alliance against terrorism which existed after 9-11. It has made the United States appear to the world to be a bellicose invader. It has called our motives into question. It has galvanized the worldwide terrorism movement against us. The war in Iraq has cost us lives and treasure. Yet, this President will shortly request $87 billion more for his ill-fated adventure. He says we will spend whatever it takes.
Prudence dictates that we consider the risks. This nation has suffered massive job losses amounting to 93,000 in August alone and approximately 600,000 since January of this year. Job loss of this magnitude means less money coming into the treasury and more money going out. U.S. manufacturing jobs continue to disappear overseas as companies relocate operations on other shores. There seems no end to the job hemorrhage. The manufacturing sector has lost jobs for 37 months in a row. The weak job market threatens to sap strength from our domestic economy. Should inflation begin to creep up, as some worry it will, higher energy costs and lower consumer confidence may slow the economy further. Suppose another massive al Quaeda attack were to occur here at home, killing thousands and delivering another devastating blow to the U.S. economy? Could we still afford to continue to send billions to Iraq? At best our future economic growth is uncertain. There are too many unknowns.
Our deficit is growing. When the $87 billion 2004 Iraq Supplemental is included, the deficit for 2004 alone is expected to total $535 billion. That number will only grow if we continue to experience massive job loss and the economy takes a turn for the worse. We can ill afford to finance the rebuilding of Iraq alone. Yet, President Bush steadfastly resists doing what it takes to involve the international community.
It should be obvious that we need assistance. The United States cannot even continue to supply the troops to secure Iraq without more help. A recent CBO study which I requested makes it clear that to maintain the level of troops we now have in Iraq will stretch us very thin, should something happen in Korea or elsewhere on this troubled globe. Our National Guard is being asked to stay longer and longer in Iraq to help backfill the shortage in regular troops. These are men and women with jobs and families and key roles to play in their own communities. We cannot continue to utilize their skills in Iraq without suffering the consequences at home. Even now, as a hurricane lurks off of our shores, there are worries about shortages of emergency personnel because so many national guardsmen and women are serving in Iraq.
But, the Bush Administration continues to spend our treasure and our troop strength in a single-focused obsession with the fiasco in Iraq. Are we to mortgage the future of our nation to years of financing this adventure? Surely we cannot ask American families for sacrifice indefinitely. We must come to grips with our limits. We must acknowledge risks and realities.
Yet, on last Sunday, Vice President Cheney dug his heels in at the suggestion of rethinking our policy in Iraq. In a television interview, Cheney said that he saw no reason to "think that the strategy is flawed or needs to be changed."
He went on to try to convince the American public that Iraq was "the geographic base" for the perpetrators of 9-11 - - a claim that this humble Senator has never heard before, and that flies in the face of U.S. intelligence agencies which repeatedly have said that they have found no links between the 9-11 attacks and Saddam Hussein or Iraq. We may come to rue the day when we took our eye off of Bin Laden and sapped our energies and our credibility in this quagmire in Iraq. Yet, there seems to be no soul searching in this White House about the consequences of this war.
While President Bush's aides talk of "generational commitments" and the President talks of "sacrifice," I wonder if the American people fully comprehend what they are being urged to forego. They have already sacrificed loved ones with 158 troops killed and 856 wounded just since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1. How many more families must "sacrifice" while we occupy Iraq?
A generation of "sacrifice" may also mean a slow sapping of key national priorities, including repairing the infrastructure which fuels our economic engine and funding the institutions and programs which benefit all Americans. Compare the latest request for the Iraq Supplemental with the commitment in dollars to other vital programs and the picture becomes clear. President Bush is asking for $87 billion for Iraq, but only $34.6 billion for Homeland Security. He wants $87 billion for Iraq, but only $66.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services. The President seeks $87 billion to secure Iraq, but only $52.1 billion for the Department of Education. He wants $87 billion to shore up Iraq but only $29.3 billion for America's highways and road construction.
For the State Department and foreign aid for the entire world, President Bush sees a need for only $27.4 billion, yet Iraq is worth over three times that much to this White House.
Remember that that $87 billion is just for 2004 alone. Does anyone really believe that it will be the last request for Iraq?
The President asked America for a generation of "sacrifice," but that noble sounding word does not reveal the true nature of what this President demands from the American people. He asks them to supply the fighting men and women to prosecute his war. He implores our people to sacrifice adequate health care; he asks them to settle for less than the best education for their children; he asks them to sacrifice medical research that could prolong and save lives; he asks them to put up with unsafe highways and dangerous bridges; he asks them to live with substandard housing and foul water; he asks them to forego better public transportation, and not just for now, for generations, and all of it for his folly in Iraq. Most puzzling to this Senator is this President's stubborn refusal to guard against the terror threat here at home by adequately funding Homeland Security. Is he asking us all to risk the safety of our homeland, too?
And to further insult the hard working people of this nation, George Walker Bush proposes to lay this sacrifice not only on the adult population of this great country, but on their children, by increasing the deficit with nary a thought to the consequences.
Yet not a peep can be heard from this White House about paying for some of this "sacrifice" by foregoing a portion of future tax cuts - - tax cuts that mainly benefit those citizens who don't need so many of the services government provides.
Our reputation around the globe has already been seriously damaged by this Administration. Are the dreams and hopes of millions of Americans to be "sacrificed" as well on the altar of Iraq?
I urge my colleagues to think long and hard about the growing quagmire in Iraq. I urge members of the President's own party to warn him about the quicksand he asks America to wade in. We need a long and thorough debate about the future of this country. We need a serious discussion about the kind of America we will leave to our children. We need to renew our efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Are we fighting a war in Iraq when pushing the peace might better serve our cause? We must think again about worldwide terrorism and the best ways to combat it. Let us not continue to simply wage the wrong war in Iraq.
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