Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
November 18, 2005
A Job Well Done: Start to Come Home
Senator Byrd congratulated the American troops in Iraq for a job well done, and called on the Bush Administration to begin to bring our forces home.
If we look out the window in most of our great country, we can witness the season change. The air has become crisp with autumnal chill. The leaves on the trees change color: from the exuberant, green lushness of the summer months, to the tired brown, yellow and red of autumn, much like the graying hair of a man advancing in age.
Nature can sometimes mimic human events with a subtlety that no words can quite convey. As our country heads into the season that is celebrated with the love of family and home, Americans should also look across the landscape of America and reflect upon the loss of so many young Americans in the twelve months since autumn last fell upon us. In the past year, more than 820 service members have lost their lives in Iraq.
The evening news features pictures of American troops who have perished in service to our country. I am struck by these colorful mosaics of these troops: the green and blue of their uniforms, set against the background of the bold colors of our flag. Each of these proud troops holds an expression of pride and courage, even though many of them appear to be so young -- 18 or 19 years old.
I can only imagine the grief of their loving families during this time of the year, as the somber tones of fall contrast with the joy of being with family during the upcoming holidays. I pray that God will comfort those who have suffered losses, that He will bless the fallen in their everlasting life, and that His hand will protect those who still serve in harm's way.
That so many have sacrificed during this war in Iraq is reason enough to ask questions about our government's policy in that faraway country. Our troops continue to shed their blood, and our nation continues to devote enormous sums of our national wealth, to continue that war. Whether one supported or opposed the war at its outset: no American must ever surrender the right to question the government.
The Constitution protects the American people from unjust laws that seek to stifle the patriotic duty to question those who are in power, but it is the courage of the American people that compels them to actually speak out when those in power call for silence. If anything, attacks on the patriotism of freedom-loving Americans may result in even more Americans fighting against attempts to squelch the Constitutional protections of freedom.
Since our country was sent to war on March 19, 2003, two thousand and seventy-three Americans have been killed. Nearly 16,000 troops have been wounded. Our military is straining under the repeated deployment of our troops, including the members of the National Guard. More than $214 billion has been spent in Iraq. Urban combat takes place each and every day in Baghdad. Veterans hospitals in our own country are threatened by budget shortfalls. And yet, Americans are still left to wonder, when will our brave troops be coming home?
I opposed the war in Iraq from the outset. But our troops were ordered to go to Iraq, and they went. The question is now: When will they come home? The Administration has so far laid out only a vague policy, saying our troops will come home when the Iraqi government is ready to take responsibility for its country. That sort of political doublespeak is small comfort to the mothers and fathers of our fighting men and women.
Wednesday evening, the Vice President of the United States even claimed that criticism of the Administration's war in Iraq was "dishonest and reprehensible." The Vice President's comments come on the heels of comments from President Bush, who said, "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."
The President and the Vice President need to reread the Constitution. Asking questions, seeking honesty and truth, and pressing for accountability is exactly what the Framers had in mind. Questioning policies and practices, especially ones that have cost this nation more than 2,000 of her bravest sons and daughters, is a responsibility of every American. It is also a central role of Congress. We are the elected representatives of the American people. We are the men and women who are tasked with seeking the truth. But instead of working with the Congress, instead of clearing the air, the White House falls back to the irksome practice of attack, attack, attack, obscure, obscure, obscure.
The American people are tired of these reprehensible tactics. Circling the wagons will not serve this Administration well. What the people demand are the facts. They want their elected leaders to level with them. And, when it comes to the war in Iraq, this Administration seems willing to do anything it can to avoid the truth - - a truth that I believe will reveal that the Bush Administration manipulated the facts in order to lead this nation on the road to war.
The Administration claims that the Congress had the same intelligence as the President before the war, and that independent commissions have determined that there was no misrepresentation of the intelligence. But neither claim is true.
The intelligence agencies are in the control of the White House. All information given to the Congress was cleared through the White House, and the President had access to an enormous amount of data never shared with the Congress. There was a filter over the intelligence information that the Congress received, and that filter was the Administration which was actively engaged in hyping the danger and lusting after this war in Iraq. Remember the talk of weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, and unmanned drones? The so-called proof for war was massaged before it was sent to the Congress to scare members and leaked to reporters to scare the people.
No independent commission has stated that the case for war was indisputable. Commissions have looked at how the intelligence fell short. But none have yet examined possible political manipulation.
Even the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence stalled in its examination of possible White House manipulation. My colleague from West Virginia, the Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Rockefeller, is rightly pressing for answers.
Right now, we are engaged in a mission with no definition. That is troubling, because without a clearly defined mission it is impossible to determine when our mission is truly accomplished.
This week, the United States Senate had the opportunity to establish some very basic benchmarks for progress in Iraq, benchmarks that would have clearly outlined goals and provided accountability in meeting them. The proposal, offered by the Senior Senator from Michigan, Senator Levin, was a modest, flexible approach that would have given our troops, their families, the American people, and the Iraqi people some basic guide posts. Unfortunately, the Senate could not see the wisdom of this approach.
It is vital that we have benchmarks against which to gauge our progress. That is how we can measure effectiveness and, most importantly, how we know when the job is done.
The Administration's strategy of keeping our troops in Iraq for "as long as it takes" is the wrong strategy. Who knows how long it will take for the Iraqi government to institute order in that fractured country?
Unfortunately, the questions that the American people are asking about the missteps and mistakes in the war in Iraq are not being answered by the Administration. Vice President Cheney has dismissed these important questions as "making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war."
Perhaps the Vice President should question White House aides about using war for political advantage. For example, on January 19, 2002, the Washington Post reported that Karl Rove advised Republicans to "make the president's handling of the war on terrorism the centerpiece of their strategy to win back the Senate and keep control of the House in this year's midterm elections." Does the Vice President have anything to say about that?
The Vice President also lashed out at those who might deceive our troops: "The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out." Was the Vice President trying to clarify some of his past statements on Iraq?
On March 24, 2002, the Vice President said that Iraq "is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time."
On August 26, 2002, the Vice President said, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
On March 16, 2003, the Vice President said, "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."
Are these the "pernicious falsehoods" that the Vice President believes our troops have been subjected to? That is, of course, a rhetorical question. Far from questioning his own statements about the war in Iraq, the Vice President's comments are a ham-handed attempt to squelch the questions that the American people are asking about the Administration's policies in Iraq. The American people should not be cowed by these attempts to intimidate us. The American people should not allow the subject to be changed from the war in Iraq to partisan sniping in Washington. Instead, the American people must raise their voices even louder to ask the Administration the same simple questions: What is your policy for Iraq? When will the war be over? How many more lives will this war cost? And when will our troops return home?
The holiday season is almost upon us. Americans will soon gather together to give thanks for the blessings that have been bestowed upon our families. But as we gather, there will be an empty seat at many tables. Some chairs will be empty because a service member is serving his country in a faraway land. Other seats will be empty as a silent tribute to those who will never return.
Each of these troops has fought to protect our freedoms, including the freedom of Americans to ask questions of their government ñ the people's government.
The whole picture -- the truth -- is that the continued occupation of Iraq only serves to drive that country closer to civil war. American troops are now perceived as occupiers not liberators. The longer we stay, the more dangerous Iraq becomes, and the more likely it is that we will drive the future government farther from a democratic republic and closer to religious fundamentalism and, not insignificantly, the more American and Iraqi lives will be lost.
I for one believe that it is time to say "well done" to our brave fighting men and women. May Almighty God bless them -- one and all. Let's say, job well done, and start to bring the troops home.
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