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September 29, 2003

A Nation With Questions


by Sen. Robert Byrd

The President's request for an additional $87 billion for the military and for the reconstruction of Iraq is eye-popping. This request comes at a time when the American people are expressing serious reservations about the President's go-it-alone occupation of Iraq. The American people are asking questions about the reconstruction plan.

The Committee has before it the President's request for $87 billion for Iraq. The request arrived late Wednesday without detailed justification or explanation. That explanation arrived over the weekend. And we are gathered here today with the Committee vote on the supplemental expected as early as September 30. I hope that we will not be in such a rush. This is a complicated, controversial, and incredibly costly request that has enormous long-range funding and policy implications. It is not something that this Committee should rubberstamp. We ought to examine this request, line by line, and see if the high-minded rhetoric coming out of the White House matches its proposals. I believe that two days of hearings are not sufficient, and I hope that the Committee will take more time to consider this request. We need expert witnesses and independent analysis to advise us on these matters.

In his $87 billion request, the President asks future generations of Americans to pay for his war in Iraq. By refusing to pay for this war today and instead exacerbating the largest deficit in the nation's history, President Bush is forcing those young Americans who are now in kindergarten to pick up the tab for his war in Iraq.

If the President's $87 billion request is approved, the deficit for Fiscal Year 2004 could reach $535 billion. That assumes spending the $164 billion Social Security surplus in the streets of Baghdad. Such a deficit totals nearly $2,400 for every person in this country, almost $10,000 for every family of four. Just a few short years ago, we had eliminated annual deficits and were on a glide path to wiping out the debt by 2008. But that financial security has been destroyed in this Administration's fiscal "shock and awe" campaign.

The President's unsubstantiated justification for his war in Iraq has left the nation questioning the White House's current efforts. The Administration was wrong, it seems, on its claims of an Iraqi broad-scale, advanced weapons of mass destruction capability; the Administration was wrong on its claims that American soldiers would be welcomed with open arms as liberators; and the Administration remains wrong in its refusal to share authority and responsibility for the restoration of Iraq with the rest of the world. We obviously cannot accomplish this task alone; yet, that is exactly what we continue to attempt. It is no wonder that the country is losing confidence and patience in the President's Iraqi program. Many of us on this panel have seen what a loss of public confidence and trust can do to a war effort, to a government, and, indeed, to the fabric of a nation. I saw it in Vietnam. Have we not learned the lessons of our own past?

Despite the best hopes for an Iraqi democracy, we have begun to realize the worst fears of occupation. Hit-and-run murders of American soldiers. Guerilla tactics. Sabotage. We have forged a cauldron of contempt for America that may poison the efforts of peace throughout the Middle East and, indeed, the world. Winning the war has proved, by comparison, a far easier task than winning the peace. We had the weapons to win the war, but we have not shown the wisdom to win the peace.

What has become tragically clear is that the United States has no strong plan for reconstruction and no clear concept for maintaining order. America is stumbling through the dark, hoping by luck to find the lighted path to peace and stability in Iraq.

The Bush Administration's single-minded focus on Iraq has ignored, in large respect, the terrorist threat that produced the attack of September 11, 2001. The leader of that attack on our shores has not been found. Eyes have been trained solely on Iraq, while we remain vulnerable here at home. Many of us on this Committee have tried to better protect the American people from future terrorist attack. But, time after time, the Administration has actively opposed efforts to boost homeland security funds. In this request, however, the Bush Administration seems very willing to back Iraqi homeland security dollars.

The Administration fought against a $200 million boost for America's police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. But Iraqi first responders would get $290 million through this supplemental.

Last Wednesday, I along with Representatives David Obey and Martin Sabo offered an amendment to the homeland security appropriations conference report that would have provided $125 million to hire 1,300 customs inspectors on America's borders. That amendment was rejected as too expensive. Yet, on the exact same day, the President sent Congress this emergency request for $150 million for 5,350 border inspections personnel including 2,500 customs inspectors in Iraq.

The cost of the President's war in Iraq grows by the day. And even when the supplemental requests stop and our soldiers do finally come home, the American people will continue to pay for this war for years to come.

In essence, America faces two wars at once: the war brought against us with the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the war that we brought to Iraq on March 19, 2003. The Iraqi war was the wrong war, for the wrong reasons, against the wrong enemy. It is a tragedy of American foreign policy that the sympathy which most of the world had for the United States after 9-11 has been squandered by the Bush Administration's headlong pursuit of an unnecessary preemptive war against a sovereign country, a country which posed no imminent and direct threat to our national security.

Mr. Bremer, you are the President's point man for Iraqi reconstruction. You have been placed in an almost untenable position by a flawed policy and a nondescript plan that some have called "compassionate colonialism." I believe that the best approach for this Administration is to garner more dollars, men, and expertise from the United Nations. It is painfully obvious that, despite the best efforts of Mr. Bremer and those in charge of the American occupation of Iraq, we cannot continue on this path alone. We ought to seek help before we completely alienate the international community and give Iraq a future of chaos instead of stability.

Five months ago, Congress provided more than $70 billion in funds for military and reconstruction activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we learn that the Administration needs far more money for Iraq far sooner than it either anticipated or admitted. When it came to the President's last supplemental bill for Iraq, Congress could not get straight answers from the Administration on the expected cost or duration of the Iraq operations. We cannot afford to settle for evasions this time around.


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

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