Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd
January 24, 2007
Senator Byrd Presses President to Seek Congress OK Before War With Iran
WASHINGTON, D.C.... U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is introducing
non-binding legislation which makes clear that, before President Bush launches an
offensive military action against any Iran, Syria, or any other nation, he must seek the
approval of the Congress.
- The Byrd resolution underlines the plain fact that the Constitution vests the power
to declare war in the Congress.
- The Byrd resolution makes clear that President Bush must seek and receive the
approval of Congress before he launches any offensive military action against Iran
- Senator Byrd's resolution would restore the balance of power which an
overzealous Executive Branch has sought to tip in its favor, and would make clear
the Constitutional responsibilities of both the President and Congress before
American troops are committed to any new war.
- The Byrd resolution recognizes a President's authority to repel an attack on the
United States. However, it also recognizes the Congress' Constitutional role to
ensure that offensive military action be in the best interest of the nation.
Below is the text of Senator Byrd's remarks as he introduced his legislation.
To many Americans the word "Vietnam" has become a painful reminder of a bloody
quagmire, of a never-ending war without an exit strategy. And certainly Vietnam is a
reminder of failed leadership and two destroyed presidencies.
Like the Johnson and Nixon Administrations during the Vietnam era, when its war
policies are attacked, the Bush Administration wraps itself in the American flag and often
engages in tactics of impugning not only the integrity, but the patriotism of its critics.
President Bush has even said that those who compared Iraq to Vietnam send "the wrong
message" to our troops. Such a comparison, he suggests, harms our troops.
But I continue to be alarmed that the war in Iraq shows all the signs of degenerating into
an equally calamitous debacle as was Vietnam, and that is the point. The war in Vietnam
lasted more than 10 years and took more than 58,000 American lives. That long, painful
war could have been avoided. Thousands of American lives could have been saved. That
is why references to Vietnam are being made when talking about the war in Iraq.
I make the comparison, Mr. President, because I am furious that this government, after
the bitter and bloody experience of Vietnam, has failed to heed the lessons of Vietnam.
How could we have failed to consider the lessons of Vietnam before stumbling into Iraq?
The American public has a right to ask this question! As a U.S. Senator, I have an
obligation, both morally and politically, to ask that question. How could we not think
about the errors that this country made with respect to Vietnam before we invaded Iraq?
The similarities were obvious. In opposing the Iraqi War Resolution, I, and others,
expressed concern that the Iraq resolution was another Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and
could well lead to another Vietnam. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution and S.J. Res. 46, I
have several things in common. Congress is again being asked to vote on the use
of force without hard evidence that the country poses an immediate threat to the
national security of the United States. We are being asked to vote on a resolution
authorizing the use of force in a hyped up, politically charged atmosphere in an
election year. Congress is again being rushed into a judgment.
I quoted Senator Wayne Morse, one of the two Senators who opposed the Tonkin Gulf
Resolution, as he proclaimed: "The resolution will pass, and Senators who vote for it will
live to regret it."
Tragically, Mr. President, as the war in Iraq has progressed, the parallels with the
Vietnam War continue to mount.
We have learned that, once again, the American people were led down the primrose path
in rallying support for a costly war. Congress and the American people were told about
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, about Saddam Hussein's connections to Al
about Iraq trying to purchase uranium from Africa. The cost of the war was once
estimated to be less than $100 billion, but the bill is now rising ever-closer to half a
trillion dollars. As a result, the National Journal pointed out, "as with Vietnam, political
support for [the war in] Iraq has proved to be fragile in part because it was secured by
justification that has been discredited."
In each of the two wars, American soldiers were placed in the treacherously difficult
situation of having to fight an uncertain, indistinguishable enemy. Never knowing who
was friend and who was foe until they started shooting, as in Vietnam, our soldiers are
once again confronted with the deadly situation of trying to ferret out insurgents in a
population that is willing to hide them.
In each war, we went in thinking of ourselves as liberators, but came to be seen by the
people we were supposed to be liberating as the invaders.
In each war, where it was so necessary for us to win the hearts and minds of the people of
the country, our presence there, instead, alienated them, and turned them against us.
In each war, both the White House and the Pentagon grossly and tragically
underestimated the determination and ferocity of our opponents. "Bring them on,"
President Bush chided the Iraqis and terrorists on July 2, 2003. In the time since he made
that statement, we have lost more than 2,800 troops in that war. As of today, 3,062
Americans in total have been killed in Iraq. Former Senator Max Cleland recently
pointed out that American forces have now "become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery
for every terrorist in the Middle East."
Although Congress should have learned important lessons from the Vietnam War, there
are now ominous indications that a path to a new military confrontation is being created
before our eyes. Just this month, the President announced his intention to "interrupt the
flow of support from Iran and Syria" into Iraq. What does this saber-rattling comment
really mean? Does the President seek to expand the ongoing war beyond Iraq's borders?
Are we already on a course to another war in the Middle East? Will Syria or Iran be the
Cambodia of a 21st century Vietnam?
In the State of the Union Address last night, the President called out Iran no less than
seven times. Was this speech the first step in an effort to blame all that has gone wrong in
the Middle East on Iran? Was the focus on Iran during the President's address an attempt
to link Iran to the war on terrorism, and by extension, start building a case that our
response to the 9-11 attacks must include dealing with Iran?
I fear that the machinery may have already been set in motion which may ultimately lead
to a military attack inside Iran, or perhaps Syria, despite the opposition of the American
people, many in Congress, and even some within his Administration. Wise counsel from
Congressional leaders to step back from the precipice of all-out war in the Middle East is
too easily disregarded. To forestall a looming disaster, Congress must act to save the
checks and balances established by the Constitution.
Today I am introducing a resolution that clearly states that it is Congress, not the
President, that is vested with the ultimate decision on whether to take this country to war
against another country. This resolution is a rejection of the bankrupt, dangerous, and
unconstitutional doctrine of preemption, which proposes that the President may strike
another country before it threatens us. This resolution returns our government to the
inspired intent of the Framers of the Constitution, who so wisely placed the power to
declare war in the hands of the elected representatives of the American people.
If there exists a reckless determination for a new war in the Middle East, I fear that the
attorneys of the Executive Branch are already seeking ways to tie this war to the use of
force resolution for Iraq, or the resolution passed in response to 9-11. But the American
people need only be reminded about the untruths of Iraq's supposed ties to the 9-11
attacks so see how far the truth can be stretched in order to achieve the desired outcome.
If the Executive Branch were to try to prod, stretch, or rewrite the 9-11 or the Iraq use of
force resolutions in an outrageous attempt to apply them to an attack on Iran, Syria, or
anywhere else, this resolution is clear: the Constitution says that Congress, not the
President, must make the decision for war or peace. The power to declare war resides in
Congress, and it is we - the elected representatives of the people - who are the
Congress has an obligation to the people of the United States. With so many of our sons
and daughters spilling their blood in one costly war, Senators and Representatives have a
moral duty to question whether we are headed for an even more tragic conflict in the
Middle East. But in order to question this Administration - in order to fulfill the duties
entrusted to us by the Constitution, to which we have sworn to protect and uphold ñ
Congress must first insist that the powers given to this body are held sacrosanct. We must
insist that these powers, including the power to declare war, are not usurped by this
President, or any other President who will follow.
The resolution which I am introducing today is an effort to protect the Constitution from
the zeal of the executive branch, whose nature it is to strive for more and more power
during a time of war. It is time for Congress to put its foot down and stand up for the Constitution. Our nation did not ask to be put into another Vietnam, let us not deceive
ourselves that we are somehow immune to another Cambodia. Let us stop a reckless,
costly war in Iran or Syria before it begins by restoring the checks and balances that our
Founders so carefully designed.
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