Monday, May 21, 2007

Byrd: "Bush's war is turning the sands of Iraq blood red"

Like many avowed liberals, I have a hard time getting past the personal history of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Byrd spent a lot of his twenties as a member of the Ku Klux Klan -- something for which he has repeatedly expressed remorse and shame -- filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, voted against the nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the United States Supreme Court in 1967 and was part of the "Gang of 14" who in 2005 compromised with Republicans on the appointment of right-wing judges.

But, at age 89, Byrd is the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, is widely considered the Senate's foremost historian and expert in parliamentary matters and, when it comes to the Iraq war, was wise enough to be against it from the very beginning.

"Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart," said Byrd in a Senate-floor speech on March 19, 2003, after George W. Bush ordered the Iraq invasion. "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."

And Byrd was prescient in his objection to the Iraq invasion, citing what he believed even then to be corrupt evidence for the war and the fact that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the events of September 11. Here's more from Senator Byrd on March 19, 2003:
"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 not a war of necessity, but a war of choice.

"There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11, at least up to this point.

"What is happening to this country--my country, your country, our country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends and calls them irrelevant? 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?"
I'm writing about all of this now because of another wonderful speech Byrd gave on the Senate floor just last Thursday in which he eviscerated Bush and his administration on the fight over the war's continuation. Byrd's opinion is notable not only because he has the frame of reference of 48 years in the Senate, but also because he is currently President pro tempore of the Senate and -- no matter how arcane this may sometimes seem -- this makes him third in line to the presidency behind Dick Cheney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Take a look at what a man with the perspective of a half-century in the Senate has to say about the worst president in our country's history. I've included his floor speech of May 17, 2007 in its entirety below.

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Here we are once again -- déjà vu -- debating supplemental funding for the President's disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Now in its fifth year of occupation, the U.S. death toll in Iraq is over 3,380. What a shame, shame, shame. The death toll of innocent Iraqis is largely unknown, but it probably numbers in the tens of thousands.

The United States of America has spent over $378 billion in Iraq. Do you know how much a billion dollars is? That is $1 for every minute since Jesus Christ was born. So the United States has spent over $378 billion in Iraq, and we are all familiar with the horrendous tales of waste and abuse by U.S. contractors in Iraq. The taxpayer -- that is you out there -- has been ravaged by the profiteering in Iraq. But even worse, despite the billions, our brave troops have been shortchanged with inadequate equipment to protect their lives and shoddy medical care, if they make it back home, to treat wounds of the body and of the mind.

Now the President has threatened to veto the House bill, which is before the Senate, because it sets a date to withdraw, provides funding until late July and "could unreasonably burden the President's exercise of his constitutional authorities, including his authority as Commander in Chief."

President Bush has also objected to funding for rebuilding the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina, funding to improve health care for our troops and our veterans, funding for the shortfall in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, funding for Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, and more funding for Homeland Security.

This President -- our President -- has a single-minded obsession with Iraq, and he appears to see no value in anything except continuing his chaotic "mission impossible." While tilting at windmills may have been a harmless procedure for Don Quixote, Mr. Bush's war is turning the sands of Iraq blood red.

Mr. Bush raises constitutional concerns in his latest veto threat. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. I don't no whether to laugh or to cry. I suppose one could be encouraged that "constitutional concerns" exist in the Bush kingdom. After setting aside the Constitution whenever convenient to justify preemptive attacks, illegal searches, secret wiretapping, clandestine military tribunals, treaty violations, kidnapping, torture, and a rejection of habeas corpus, one has to wonder about the nature of these purported "constitutional concerns."

If the Constitution is finally to be read, let us read it in its entirety, including the articles which give the people's representatives -- that is us -- the power over the purse -- yes, the power over the purse; don't ever forget it. That is the real power. It gives the people's representatives the power over the purse and the power to declare war.

In its statement of administrative policy, the administration claims that the House bill before us "..... is likely to unleash chaos in Iraq. ....." Mr. President, what do we have now if not chaos in Iraq? Securing Iraq has unaccountably morphed into securing Baghdad, and even that goal eludes us. I doubt if building a wall around the green zone is going to be of much consequence in securing Baghdad, not to mention the very strange message such a wall conveys concerning our purported liberation of Iraq.

The President -- our President -- continues to miss the point. Iraq is at war with itself. America cannot create a stable democracy in Iraq at the point of a gun. While our troops succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein, it is the President's profound misunderstanding of the dynamics in Iraq that have led to the failure of his Iraq policies. Why in the world should we now believe the claims that he makes in his veto threat?

There must be an end to this occupation of Iraq. Yes, I say occupation for it is no longer a war in which U.S. troops should be involved. Our troops won the war they were sent to fight, and they should not now be asked to serve as targets in a religious conflict between Sunni and Shiites that has raged for thousands of years. It is reported that even a majority in the Iraqi Parliament now supports legislation which demands a scheduled withdrawal and an immediate freeze on the number of foreign soldiers in Iraq.

In April, Congress set a new course for the war in Iraq. Sadly, the President -- our stubborn, uncompromising President -- chose to veto that bill. As we prepare to go to conference again, the President continues to close his eyes and cover his ears to the reality in Iraq, and the urgent need for a new direction. Whatever decision is made in conference will not be the last chapter in this sad story. God willing, this Senator will not close his eyes, nor will he cover his ears, nor will I stand by in silence.

Hear me.

We need to conclude this terrible, awful mistake that we have made in Iraq. I said in the beginning that we ought not go into Iraq. But we are there. Anti-Americanism is more robust now than in any period in our history because of Iraq. Do you hear that? The international community is skeptical -- why should they not be? They are skeptical of U.S. intentions because of Iraq. Our Constitution has been trampled -- hear that. Our Constitution has been trampled because of Iraq. Thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens have lost their lives because of Iraq. Thousands more are maimed physically or mentally because of Iraq. Billions of U.S. dollars have been wasted because of Iraq.

President Bush has lost all credibility. President Bush, our President, has lost all -- all -- credibility because of Iraq.

Terrorism is on the rise worldwide because of Iraq. May God grant this Congress -- that is, us -- may God grant this Congress the courage to come together and answer the cries of a majority of the people who sent us here. Find a way to end this horrible catastrophe, this unspeakable -- unspeakable -- ongoing calamity called Iraq. May God help us in the United States.