The Lion of the Senate and the Iraq vote
I was reading this obituary about Sen. Edward Kennedy, and there was one line that jumped out to this war correspondent. Kennedy, the third-longest serving member of the Senate, once called his opposition to the resolution giving the president authority to enter Iraq “the best vote I’ve made in my 44 years in the United States Senate.”
Indeed, he was one of 23 senators who voted against the war. Some, like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have since said they regretted voting for the resolution. But of course, their words came too late to change the course of history of both the Iraqi people and the U.S. forces who went on to serve.
As the nations mourns Sen. Kennedy's passing, I thought it would be appropriate to share an impassioned Sept. 2002 speech he gave at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in which he outlined his opposition to the war. It is not only prescient, but a fitting reminder of the senator's legacy. And I think it is somehow timely to revisit his call for caution as the nation debates its future in Afghanistan. Here is the speech below:
Text of speech by US Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Friday, September 27, 2002
Thank you, Dr. Fukuyama for that generous introduction.
I'm honored to be here at the School of Advanced International Studies. Many of the most talented individuals in foreign policy have benefited immensely from your outstanding graduate program, and I welcome the opportunity to meet with you today.
I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted. But I begin with the strongest possible affirmation that good and decent people on all sides of this debate, who may in the end stand on opposing sides of this decision, are equally committed to our national security.
The life and death issue of war and peace is too important to be left to politics. And I disagree with those who suggest that this fateful issue cannot or should not be contested vigorously, publicly, and all across America. When it is the people's sons and daughters who will risk and even lose their lives, then the people should hear and be heard, speak and be listened to.
But there is a difference between honest public dialogue and partisan appeals. There is a difference between questioning policy and questioning motives. There are Republicans and Democrats who support the immediate use of force – and Republicans and Democrats who have raised doubts and dissented.
In this serious time for America and many American families, no one should poison the public square by attacking the patriotism of opponents, or by assailing proponents as more interested in the cause of politics than in the merits of their cause. I reject this, as should we all.
Let me say it plainly: I not only concede, but I am convinced that President Bush believes genuinely in the course he urges upon us. And let me say with the same plainness: Those who agree with that course have an equal obligation – to resist any temptation to convert patriotism into politics. It is possible to love America while concluding that is not now wise to go to war. The standard that should guide us is especially clear when lives are on the line: We must ask what is right for country and not party.
That is the true spirit of September 11th — not unthinking unanimity, but a clear-minded unity in our determination to defeat terrorism — to defend our values and the value of life itself.
Just a year ago, the American people and the Congress rallied behind the President and our Armed Forces as we went to war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban protectors who gave them sanctuary in Afghanistan posed a clear, present and continuing danger. The need to destroy Al Qaeda was urgent and undeniable.
In the months that followed September 11, the Bush Administration marshalled an international coalition. Today, 90 countries are enlisted in the effort, from providing troops to providing law enforcement, intelligence, and other critical support.
But I am concerned that using force against Iraq before other means are tried will sorely test both the integrity and effectiveness of the coalition. Just one year into the campaign against Al Qaeda, the Administration is shifting focus, resources, and energy to Iraq. The change in priority is coming before we have fully eliminated the threat from Al Qaeda, before we know whether Osama Bin Laden is dead or alive, and before we can be assured that the fragile post-Taliban government in Afghanistan will consolidate its authority.
No one disputes that America has lasting and important interests in the Persian Gulf, or that Iraq poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is a tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated. He must be disarmed.
How can we best achieve this objective in a way that minimizes the risks to our country? How can we ignore the danger to our young men and women in uniform, to our ally Israel, to regional stability, the international community, and victory against terrorism?
There is clearly a threat from Iraq, and there is clearly a danger, but the Administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral, pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary.
Nor has the Administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation.
With all the talk of war, the Administration has not explicitly acknowledged, let alone explained to the American people, the immense post-war commitment that will be required to create a stable Iraq.
The President's challenge to the United Nations requires a renewed effort to enforce the will of the international community to disarm Saddam. Resorting to war is not America's only or best course at this juncture. There are realistic alternatives between doing nothing and declaring unilateral or immediate war. War should be a last resort, not the first response. Let us follow that course, and the world will be with us – even if, in the end, we have to move to the ultimate sanction of armed conflict.
The Bush Administration says America can fight a war in Iraq without undermining our most pressing national security priority -- the war against Al Qaeda. But I believe it is inevitable that a war in Iraq without serious international support will weaken our effort to ensure that Al Qaeda terrorists can never, never, never threaten American lives again.
Unfortunately, the threat from Al Qaeda is still imminent. The nation's armed forces and law enforcement are on constant high alert. America may have broken up the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and scattered its operatives across many lands. But we have not broken its will to kill Americans.
As I said earlier, we still don't know the fate, the location, or the operational capacity of Osama bin Laden himself. But we do know that Al Qaeda is still there, and still here in America – and will do all it can to strike at America's heart and heartland again. But we don't know when, where, or how this may happen.
On March 12, CIA Director Tenet testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Al Qaeda remains "the most immediate and serious threat" to our country, "despite the progress we have made in Afghanistan and in disrupting the network elsewhere."
Even with the Taliban out of power, Afghanistan remains fragile. Security remains tenuous. Warlords still dominate many regions. Our reconstruction effort, which is vital to long-term stability and security, is halting and inadequate. Some Al Qaeda operatives – no one knows how many – have faded into the general population. Terrorist attacks are on the rise. President Karzai, who has already survived one assassination attempt, is still struggling to solidify his hold on power. And although neighboring Pakistan has been our ally, its stability is far from certain.
We know all this – and we also know that it is an open secret in Washington that the nation's uniformed military leadership is skeptical about the wisdom of war with Iraq. They share the concern that it may adversely affect the ongoing war against Al Qaeda and the continuing effort in Afghanistan by draining resources and armed forces already stretched so thin that many Reservists have been called for a second year of duty, and record numbers of service members have been kept on active duty beyond their obligated service.
To succeed in our global war against Al Qaeda and terrorism, the United States depends on military, law enforcement, and intelligence support from many other nations. We depend on Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union that border Afghanistan for military cooperation. We depend on countries from Portugal to Pakistan to the Philippines for information about Al Qaeda's plans and intentions. Because of these relationships, terrorist plots are being foiled and Al Qaeda operatives are being arrested. It is far from clear that these essential relationships will be able to survive the strain of a war with Iraq that comes before the alternatives are tried – or without the support of an international coalition.
A largely unilateral American war that is widely perceived in the Muslim world as untimely or unjust could worsen not lessen the threat of terrorism. War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, or without genuine international support -- could swell the ranks of Al Qaeda sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts. As General Clark told the Senate Armed Services Committee, it would "super-charge recruiting for Al Qaeda."
General Hoar advised the Committee on September 23 that America's first and primary effort should be to defeat Al Qaeda. In a September 10th article, General Clark wrote: "Unilateral U.S. action today would disrupt the war against Al Qaeda." We ignore such wisdom and advice from many of the best of our military at our own peril.
We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence community is also deeply concerned about the acquisition of such weapons by Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and other nations. But information from the intelligence community over the past six months does not point to Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States or a major proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
In public hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, CIA Director George Tenet described Iraq as a threat but not as a proliferator, saying that Saddam Hussein — and I quote — "is determined to thwart U.N. sanctions, press ahead with weapons of mass destruction, and resurrect the military force he had before the Gulf War." That is unacceptable, but it is also possible that it could be stopped short of war.
In recent weeks, in briefings and in hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen no persuasive evidence that Saddam would not be deterred from attacking U.S. interests by America's overwhelming military superiority.
I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years.
And the Administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. As General Joseph Hoar, the former Commander of Central Command told the members of the Armed Services Committee, a case has not been made to connect Al Qaeda and Iraq.
To the contrary, there is no clear and convincing pattern of Iraqi relations with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, testified before the Armed Services Committee on September 23 that Iran has had closer ties to terrorism than Iraq. Iran has a nuclear weapons development program, and it already has a missile that can reach Israel.
Moreover, in August, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft wrote that there is "scant evidence" linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist organizations, and "even less to the September 11 attacks." He concluded that Saddam would not regard it as in his interest to risk his country or his investment in weapons of mass destruction by transferring them to terrorists who would use them and "leave Baghdad as the return address."
At the present time, we do face a pressing risk of proliferation -- from Russia's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. America spends only $1 billion a year to safeguard those weapons. Yet the Administration is preparing to spend between one and two hundred billion dollars on a war with Iraq.
I do not accept the idea that trying other alternatives is either futile or perilous – that the risks of waiting are greater than the risks of war. Indeed, in launching a war against Iraq now, the United States may precipitate the very threat that we are intent on preventing -- weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. If Saddam's regime and his very survival are threatened, then his view of his interests may be profoundly altered: He may decide he has nothing to lose by using weapons of mass destruction himself or by sharing them with terrorists.
Some who advocate military action against Iraq, however, assert that air strikes will do the job quickly and decisively, and that the operation will be complete in 72 hours. But there is again no persuasive evidence that air strikes alone over the course of several days will incapacitate Saddam and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Experts have informed us that we do not have sufficient intelligence about military targets in Iraq. Saddam may well hide his most lethal weapons in mosques, schools and hospitals. If our forces attempt to strike such targets, untold numbers of Iraqi civilians could be killed.
In the Gulf War, many of Saddam's soldiers quickly retreated because they did not believe the invasion of Kuwait was justified. But when Iraq's survival is at stake, it is more likely that they will fight to the end. Saddam and his military may well abandon the desert, retreat to Baghdad, and engage in urban, guerilla warfare.
In our September 23 hearing, General Clark told the Committee that we would need a large military force and a plan for urban warfare. General Hoar said that our military would have to be prepared to fight block by block in Baghdad, and that we could lose a battalion of soldiers a day in casualties. Urban fighting would, he said, look like the last brutal 15 minutes of the movie "Saving Private Ryan."
Before the Gulf War in 1991, Secretary of State James Baker met with the Iraqis and threatened Hussein with "catastrophe" if he employed weapons of mass destruction. In that war, although Saddam launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel, he did not use the chemical or biological weapons he had.
If Saddam's regime and survival are threatened, he will have nothing to lose, and may use everything at his disposal. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced that instead of its forbearance in the 1991 Gulf War, this time Israel will respond if attacked. If weapons of mass destruction land on Israeli soil, killing innocent civilians, the experts I have consulted believe Israel will retaliate, and possibly with nuclear weapons.
This escalation, spiraling out of control, could draw the Arab world into a regional war in which our Arab allies side with Iraq, against the United States and against Israel. And that would represent a fundamental threat to Israel, to the region, to the world economy and international order.
Nor can we rule out the possibility that Saddam would assault American forces with chemical or biological weapons. Despite advances in protecting our troops, we do not yet have the capability to safeguard all of them.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are serving their country with great distinction. Just under 70,000 Reservists and National Guardsmen have been mobilized for the war against terrorism. If we embark upon a premature or unilateral military campaign against Iraq, or a campaign only with Britain, our forces will have to serve in even greater numbers, for longer periods, and with graver risks. Our force strength will be stretched even thinner. And war is the last resort. If in the end we have to take that course, the burden should be shared with allies – and that is less likely if war becomes an immediate response.
Even with the major technological gains demonstrated in Afghanistan, the logistics of such a war would be extraordinarily challenging if we could not marshal a real coalition of regional and international allies.
President Bush made the right decision on September 12 when he expressed America's willingness to work with the United Nations to prevent Iraq from using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The President's address to the General Assembly challenging the United Nations to enforce its long list of Security Council Resolutions on Iraq was powerful -- and for me, it was persuasive.
But to maintain the credibility he built when he went to the U.N., the President must follow the logic of his own argument.
Before we go to war, we should give the international community the chance to meet the President's challenge – to renew its resolve to disarm Saddam Hussein completely and effectively. This makes the resumption of inspections more imperative and perhaps more likely than at any time since they ended in 1998.
So this should be the first aim of our policy – to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq without conditions. I hope the Security Council will approve a new resolution requiring the Government of Iraq to accept unlimited and unconditional inspections and the destruction of any weapons of mass destruction.
The resolution should set a short timetable for the resumption of inspections. I would hope that inspections could resume, at the latest, by the end of October.
The resolution should also require the head of the UN inspection team to report to the Security Council every two weeks. No delaying tactics should be tolerated – and if they occur, Saddam should know that he will lose his last chance to avoid war.
The Security Council Resolution should authorize the use of force, if the inspection process in unsatisfactory. And there should be no doubt in Baghdad that the United States Congress would then be prepared to authorize force as well.
The return of inspectors with unfettered access and the ability to destroy what they find not only could remove any weapons of mass destruction from Saddam's arsenal. They could also be more effective than an immediate or unilateral war in ensuring that these deadly weapons would not fall into terrorist hands.
The seven years of inspections that took place until 1998 succeeded in virtually eliminating Saddam's ability to develop a nuclear weapon in Iraq during that period. Even with Iraq's obstructions, those inspections resulted in the demolition of large quantities of chemical and biological weapons. By the time the inspectors were forced out of the country in 1998, they had accomplished far more disarmament than the Gulf War itself. And before going to war again, we should seek to resume the inspections now – and set a non-negotiable demand of no obstruction, no delay, no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
What can be gained here is success – and in the event of failure, greater credibility for an armed response, greater international support, and the prospect of victory with less loss of American life.
So what is to be lost by pursuing this policy before Congress authorizes sending young Americans into another and in this case perhaps unnecessary war?
Even the case against Saddam is, in important respects, a case against immediate or unilateral war. If Prime Minister Blair is correct in saying that Iraq can launch chemical or biological warheads in 45 minutes, what kind of sense does it make to put our soldiers in the path of that danger without exhausting every reasonable means to disarm Iraq through the United Nations?
Clearly we must halt Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction. Yes, we may reach the point where our only choice is conflict – with like-minded allies at our side, if not in a multilateral action authorized by the Security Council. But we are not there yet.
The evidence does not take us there; events do not compel us there – and both the war against terrorism and our wider interests in the region and the world summon us to a course that is sensible, graduated, and genuinely strong – not because it moves swiftly to battle, but because it moves resolutely to the objective of disarming Iraq – peacefully if possible, and militarily if necessary.
Let me close by recalling the events of an autumn of danger four decades ago. When missiles were discovered in Cuba – missiles more threatening to us than anything Saddam has today – some in the highest councils of government urged an immediate and unilateral strike. Instead the United States took its case to the United Nations, won the endorsement of the Organization of American States, and brought along even our most skeptical allies. We imposed a blockade, demanded inspection, and insisted on the removal of the missiles.
When an earlier President outlined that choice to the American people and the world, he spoke of it in realistic terms – not with a sense that the first step would necessarily be the final step, but with a resolve that it must be tried.
As he said then, "Action is required…and these actions [now] may only be the beginning. We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of…war – but neither will we shrink from that risk at any time it must be faced."
In 2002, we too can and must be both resolute and measured. In that way, the United States prevailed without war in the greatest confrontation of the Cold War. Now, on Iraq, let us build international support, try the United Nations, and pursue disarmament before we turn to armed conflict.