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May 23, 2003

The Truth Will Emerge


by Sen. Robert Byrd

Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually. But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue.

We see a lot of this today in politics. I see a lot of it – more than I would ever have believed – right on this Senate floor. Regarding the situation in Iraq, it appears to this senator that the American people may have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of longstanding International law, under false premises. There is ample evidence that the horrific events of September 11 have been carefully manipulated to switch public focus from Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who masterminded the September 11 attacks, to Saddam Hussein, who did not. The run-up to our invasion of Iraq featured the President and members of his Cabinet invoking every frightening image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ-laden death in our major cities. We were treated to a heavy dose of overstatement concerning Saddam Hussein's direct threat to our freedoms. The tactic was guaranteed to provoke a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination of post-traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks of 911. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for the anger.

Since the war's end, every subsequent revelation that has seemed to refute the previous dire claims of the Bush Administration has been brushed aside. Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject. No weapons of mass destruction have yet turned up, but we are told that they will in time. Perhaps they yet will. But our costly and destructive bunker-busting attack on Iraq seems to have proven, in the main, precisely the opposite of what we were told was the urgent reason to go in. It seems also to have, for the present, verified the assertions of Hans Blix and the inspection team he led, which President Bush and company so derided. As Blix always said, a lot of time will be needed to find such weapons, if they do indeed exist. Meanwhile, bin Laden is still on the loose and Saddam Hussein has come up missing. The Administration assured the US public and the world, over and over again, that an attack was necessary to protect our people and the world from terrorism. It assiduously worked to alarm the public and blur the faces of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden until they virtually became one.

What has become painfully clear in the aftermath of war is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the United States. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us. Iraq's threatening, death-dealing fleet of unmanned drones about which we heard so much morphed into one prototype made of plywood and string. Their missiles proved to be outdated and of limited range. Their army was quickly overwhelmed by our technology and our well-trained troops. Presently our loyal military personnel continue their mission of diligently searching for WMDs. They have so far turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons and the occasional buried swimming pool. They are misused on such a mission, and they continue to be at grave risk. But the Bush team's extensive hype of WMDs in Iraq as justification for a pre-emptive invasion has become more than embarrassing. It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?

What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are "liberators." The facts don't seem to support the label we have so euphemistically attached to ourselves. True, we have unseated a brutal, despicable despot, but "liberation" implies the follow-up of freedom, self-determination and a better life for the common people. In fact, if the situation in Iraq is the result of liberation, we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years. Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people, water is scarce and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi people have been looted, and nuclear material may have been disseminated to heaven knows where, while US troops, on orders, looked on and guarded the oil supply. Meanwhile, lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and refurbish its oil industry are awarded to Administration cronies, without benefit of competitive bidding, and the United States steadfastly resists offers of UN assistance to participate. Is there any wonder that the real motives of the US government are the subject of worldwide speculation and mistrust?

And in what may be the most damaging development, the United States appears to be pushing off Iraq's clamor for self-government. Jay Garner has been summarily replaced, and it is becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the United States as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of an occupier. The image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom. Chaos and rioting only exacerbate that image, as US soldiers try to sustain order in a land ravaged by poverty and disease. "Regime change" in Iraq has so far meant anarchy, curbed only by an occupying military force and a US administrative presence that is evasive about if and when it intends to depart. Democracy and freedom cannot be force-fed at the point of an occupier's gun. To think otherwise is folly.

One has to stop and ponder. How could we have been so impossibly naïve? How could we expect to easily plant a clone of US culture, values and government in a country so riven with religious, territorial and tribal rivalries, so suspicious of US motives and so at odds with the galloping materialism that drives the Western-style economies? As so many warned this Administration before it launched its misguided war on Iraq, there is evidence that our crackdown thereis likely to convince 1,000 new bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we have seen in the past several days. Instead of damaging the terrorists, we have given them new fuel for their fury. We did not complete our mission in Afghanistan because we were so eager to attack Iraq. Now it appears that Al Qaeda is back with a vengeance. We have returned to orange alert in the United States, and we may well have destabilized the Mideast region, a region we have never fully understood.

We have alienated friends around the globe with our dissembling and our haughty insistence on punishing former friends who may not see things quite our way. The path of diplomacy and reason have gone out the window, to be replaced by force, unilateralism and punishment for transgressions. I read most recently with amazement our harsh castigation of Turkey, our longtime friend and strategic ally. It is astonishing that our government is berating the new Turkish government for conducting its affairs in accordance with its own Constitution and its democratic institutions. Indeed, we may have sparked a new international arms race as countries move ahead to develop WMDs as a last-ditch attempt to ward off a possible pre-emptive strike from a newly belligerent United States, which claims the right to hit where it wants.

In fact, there is little to constrain this President. Congress, in what will go down in history as its most unfortunate act, handed away its power to declare war for the foreseeable future and empowered this President to wage war at will. As if that were not bad enough, members of Congress are reluctant to ask questions that are begging to be asked. How long will we occupy Iraq? We have already heard disputes on the number of troops that will be needed to retain order. What is the truth? How costly will the occupation and rebuilding be? No one has given a straight answer. How will we afford this long-term, massive commitment, fight terrorism at home, address a serious crisis in domestic healthcare, afford behemoth military spending and give away billions in tax cuts amid a deficit that has climbed to more than $340 billion for this year alone? If the President's tax cut passes it will be $400 billion. We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate. We accept soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly.

But I contend that through it all, the people know. The American people unfortunately are used to political shading, spin and the usual chicanery they hear from public officials. They patiently tolerate it up to a point. But there is a line. It may seem to be drawn in invisible ink for a time, but eventually it will appear in dark colors, tinged with anger. When it comes to shedding American blood – when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie – not oil, not revenge, not re-election, not somebody's grand pipe dream of a democratic domino theory. And mark my words, the calculated intimidation that we see so often of late by the "powers that be" will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.


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Robert
C. Byrd represents West Virginia in the United States Senate.

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