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Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd

October 01, 2003

Fundamental Flaws in the Bush Plan for Iraq

Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks as the Senate started debate on the President's $87 billion bill for the military and for Iraqi reconstruction.

Today the Senate takes up the President's $87 billion Iraq war supplemental. This is a massive spending bill that holds vast implications for America's long term foreign policy objectives and will have an enormous impact on American taxpayers for years to come. It is a measure that deserves our full attention, thoughtful consideration, and thorough scrutiny. This is not an issue to be measured by the standard of party loyalty. This is a matter that cries out for solemn deliberation, personal integrity, and intellectual honesty.

I remain concerned that the Senate is acting with unnecessary haste in calling up this bill today, less than 24 hours since it was reported out of committee, but I compliment the leaders and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Stevens, for responding to concerns that I and others have raised. In fact, there is no need for the Senate to act so quickly. The House has not yet even taken up its version of the supplemental. Senators are being asked to legislate on this massive spending bill without even the benefit of a Committee report.

There are many aspects of this bill that trouble me, but what concerns me most is the fundamental reason that this measure is before the Senate today. American taxpayers have been presented with an $87 billion dollar bill for the military occupation and reconstruction of Iraq because the President decided six months ago to launch a preemptive strike on Iraq in the face of shaky evidence and worldwide opposition. We have seen the lengths to which some in this Administration will go. Now we learn of retribution efforts aimed at those who tried to correct the zealous propaganda which drove this nation into war. Now the taxpayer is asked to pay the piper. It is a steep price, indeed, in treasure and in blood.

Much has been made of the fact that we must pass this bill quickly and without question to show our support for the troops. I do not agree. Support the troops is a bumper sticker. It is not a foreign policy.

Rubber stamping this bill is not an expression of support for our troops except in the most simplistic of ways. Rubber stamping this bill merely means that thousands of American soldiers will be sentenced to another year in Iraq, without the Senate's even demanding to know why so many U.S. soldiers need to remain there, how long they are going to be there, or why this President has failed to persuade more nations to send troops to help. Are we to ask our troops to shoulder this burden alone for decades? When is this Administration going to face the fact that we need international help?

We are certainly not serving the long term interests of the military by rushing to embrace this bill. The headline in yesterday's USA Today newspaper summed up the situation succinctly: "Army Reserve Fears Troop Exodus." According to the article, the chief of the Army Reserves is concerned that the excessive demands on the Guard and Reserve as a result of the war in Iraq could wreak havoc with military retention rates. Last week, another report documented a sharp drop in National Guard recruiting rates. The military decisions that this Administration is making in Iraq today will have serious long term consequences on the viability of America's all-volunteer Armed Forces in the future, not to mention our ability to counter future threats to our national security.

It is time to face the facts. We are stretched thin and a long U.S. occupation in Iraq is not wise. Moreover, how are we to exercise proper oversight of $87 billion dollars? The Wall Street Journal of September 26 points out: "Without a United Nations imprimatur, the Administration has constructed its so called coalition of the willing in piecemeal fashion, cutting open-ended, individual deals with each country that is willing to send troops - - save Britain, which is picking up its own tab. Officials who have seen these agreements acknowledge the deals are notably short on specifics. In most cases, the U.S. will foot the bill for transporting, equipping and feeding troops during their service in Iraq, with no dollar figures mentioned and no cap on costs."

It is not in our nation's interest to rush this bill through the Senate. By rushing to war based on inadequate, incorrect, or unsubstantiated intelligence, without developing an international consensus, the President has undermined the credibility of our nation. We need to make sure that we do not compound that error by hustling this bill through the Senate without adequate scrutiny and consideration.

The $20.3 billion contained in the spending bill for Iraq reconstruction is equally troubling. For months, top Administration officials assured the American people that Iraq, sitting atop the second largest supply of oil in the world, could finance its own reconstruction. Only now do we learn how woefully off the mark the Administration was on this count. Only now do we learn that $20.3 billion is just a down payment, and that the reconstruction of Iraq will cost as much as $60 billion or $70 billion or more.

Last week, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that Iraq could not finance its own reconstruction because it was overburdened with Saddam Hussein's debt to France, Germany, Russia, and Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. He conveniently ignored the debt the United States is incurring in this spending package. The President is insisting that we pay for the war in Iraq and the reconstruction of that nation by plunging our own nation deeper into debt. Every dollar that we spend in Iraq, to avoid increasing Iraq's debt, is an I.O.U. that we are passing on to our children to pay. Think of it! We are writing a $20.3 billion I.O.U. for this year alone for building a massive new infrastructure in Iraq.

The money that the President wants to borrow for Iraq will come directly out of American taxpayers' wallets, in the form of Medicare and Social Security surplus receipts. We have collected that money from the pockets of American workers. No one told them they were paying to rebuild Iraq.

We don't even know how much of the $20 billion in reconstruction funds will flow to government contractors in Iraq. Estimates range from one-third of the reconstruction funds to almost all of them. Whatever the amount is, we know that the size and scope of the profits being made will be enormous. Former Bush Administration officials are even setting up consulting firms to act as middlemen for contractors hoping to take part in the bonanza.

Are we turning the U.S. Treasury into a grab bag for favorite campaign contributors to be financed at taxpayer expense? Is that why the Administration is so reluctant to make concessions that would bring other countries on board?

Instead of redoubling our efforts to spread the burden of rebuilding Iraq among the international community, the President appears content to simply present the bill to the American taxpayers, and to their children. The stability of Iraq is of concern to nations other than the United States. Could they be resisting helping out because they resent the President's high-handed decision to spurn the United Nations and attack Iraq on his own terms with only meager international support? There is a donor's conference in Madrid later this month. Could we be over billing the American taxpayers by rushing this package through the Senate now and signing up for $20.3 billion in debt before we even try to make the real accommodations which would encourage other nations to reach into their own pockets?

The package before us goes far beyond asking the Senate to write a check on the taxpayers' account for $87 billion. The package before us asks the Senate to underwrite the long term democratization of Iraq as some sort of catalyst for triggering the democratization of the entire Middle East.. One cannot help but wonder how the United States can single-handedly precipitate the democratization of the entire Middle East when, with all our will and might, we cannot even budge the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

I expect that there will be a number of amendments offered to this supplemental package. I have several that I intend to offer. If they are adopted, they will, in my opinion, improve this bill. Whether they will improve it enough to win my endorsement remains to be seen. I was opposed to the President's war in Iraq before it began. I am strongly opposed to the doctrine of preemption on which the war on Iraq was predicated. I support unconditionally the men and women in uniform, and their families, who are bearing the most direct burden of the war in Iraq, but I remain unconvinced that this bill is the best way to offer those troops our support. I frankly think that our most meaningful support would be to take the diplomatic steps needed to get help from other nations which will result in getting our troops out of the quicksands of Iraq. This bill does not do that. This bill, in my opinion, sets the United States up for what could well be a prolonged military and financial investment in Iraq. It ignores the hard realities of democratization of totally different cultures. It ignores the religious divisions which inflame the Middle East.

Again, I thank Senator Stevens for his willingness to accommodate me and others who have concerns with this bill. I appreciate the difficult conditions under which he is working. I look forward to a full and robust debate. I encourage all Senators to focus closely on this bill, to listen carefully to the debate, and to draw their own conclusions in the fullness of time based on a dispassionate evaluation of the merits of individual amendments.

Mr. President, I will have more to say at a later time. For now, I ask my colleagues to consider carefully the implications of the policies implied in the funding of the bill before us and to give this measure the full time and attention that it deserves.

MORE by Senator Byrd

 
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