U.S. Senator Robert Byrd:
'Today I Weep for My Country'

 Writer:

Thomas Ferraro

 Source:

The Washington Post (Reuters)

 Date:

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd

Senator Robert Byrd

   WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The oldest voice in the U.S. Congress rose on Wednesday to offer a final pre-war warning that President Bush's march to battle is dangerously misguided.

"Today I weep for my country," said West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd. "No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. ... Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

"We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance," Byrd said, adding: "After war has ended the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe."

Byrd, a leading foe on Capitol Hill of war with Iraq, spoke in a nearly empty Senate chamber about four hours before Bush's 8 p.m. EST deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led invasion.

"May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us," Byrd said.

As the white-haired senator concluded his remarks, a number of people in the visitor's gallery rose and applauded before they were admonished to be quiet.

At 85, Byrd is now the oldest member of Congress as well as the longest serving. He was first elected to the Senate in 1958, after six years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Byrd was among those who voted last year against the congressional resolution that authorized Bush to use force in his showdown with Saddam, and the senator has given frequent floor speeches since then warning against war.

Polls on Wednesday showed strong American support for a war but widespread opposition to it overseas.

"The case this administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence," Byrd said.

Despite administration suggestions to the contrary, Byrd said, "There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11."

The senator said, "We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice."

Byrd said that instead of negotiating, Washington demanded obedience or threatened recrimination. "Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves."

He said many questions about the looming war were unanswered -- including how long it would last, what it would cost, what its ultimate mission was.

"A pall has fallen over the Senate chamber," Byrd said. "We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq." 
 

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Full Script of US Senator Robert Byrdís speech, delivered on the floor of the US Senate (Wednesday, March 19, 2003 3:45pm):
 

Today, I Weep for my Country...
US Senator Robert Byrd

 
    
I  believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.

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