Many of us have spent months reviewing the issue of the advisability of invading Iraq in the near future. From hearings and meetings on the process and the very important role of Congress to the difficult questions of substance, including foreign policy and military implications, after my own review and carefully listening to hundreds of Wisconsin citizens in person, I spoke on the floor on Thursday, September 26, and, Mr. President, I indicated my opposition to the original draft use of force authorization by the President, and I also used that opportunity to raise some very important questions, to which I needed answers before supporting a narrower and more responsible resolution.
Now, after many more meetings and reading articles and attending briefings, listening to my colleagues’ speeches, and especially listening to the President’s speech in Cincinnati on Monday, Mr. President, I still don’t believe that the President and the Administration have adequately answered the critical questions. They have not yet met the important burden to persuade Congress and the American people that we should invade Iraq at this time.
Both in terms of the justifications for an invasion and in terms of the mission and the plan for the invasion, Mr. President, the Administration’s arguments just don’t add up. They don’t add up to a coherent basis for a new major war in the middle of our current challenging fight against the terrorism of al Qaeda and related organizations. Therefore, I cannot support the resolution for the use of force before us.
My colleagues, my focus today is on the wisdom of this specific resolution vis-a-vis Iraq, as opposed to discussing the notion of an expanded doctrine of preemption, which the President has articulated on several occasions. However, I associate myself with the concerns eloquently raised by Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd and others that this could well represent a disturbing change in our overall foreign and military policy. This includes grave concerns about what such a preemption-plus policy will do to our relationship with our allies, to our national security, and to the cause of world peace in so many regions of the world, where such a doctrine could trigger very dangerous actions with really very minimal justification.
Mr. President, I want to be clear about something. None of this is to say that I don’t agree with the President on much of what he has said about the fight against terrorism and even what he has said about Iraq. I agree post-9/11, we face, as the President has said, a long and difficult fight against terrorism and we must be very patient and very vigilant and we must be ready to act and make some very serious sacrifices. And with regard to Iraq, I agree that Iraq presents a genuine threat, especially in the form of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons. I agree that Saddam Hussein is exceptionally dangerous and brutal, if not uniquely so, as the President argues. And I agree, I support the concept of regime change. Saddam Hussein is one of several despots from the international community — whom the international community should condemn and isolate with the hope of new leadership in those nations. And, yes, I agree, if we do this Iraq invasion, I hope Saddam Hussein will actually be removed from power this time.
And I agree, therefore, Mr. President, we cannot do nothing with regard to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We must act. We must act with serious purpose and stop the weapons of mass destruction and stop Saddam Hussein. And I agree a return to the inspections regime of the past alone is not a serious, credible policy.
I also believe and agree as important and as preferable as U.N. action and multilateral solutions to this problem are, we cannot give the United Nations the ability to veto our ability to counter this threat to our country. We retain and will always retain the right of self-defense, including, of course, self-defense against weapons of mass destruction. When such a threat requiring self-defense would present itself — and I am skeptical that that is exactly what we’re dealing with here — then we can, if necessary, act alone, including militarily.
So, Mr. President, these are all areas where I agree with the Administration.
But, Mr. President, I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. My colleagues, I’m not suggesting there has to be only one justification for such a dramatic action. But when the Administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the Administration’s motives in insisting on action at this particular time.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the spectacle of the President and senior Administration officials citing a purported connection to al Qaeda one day, weapons of mass destruction the next day, Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his own people on another day, and then on some days the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners of war.
Mr. President, for some of these, we may well be willing to send some 250,000 Americans in harm’s way. For others, frankly, probably not. These litanies of various justifications — whether the original draft resolution, the new White House resolution, or regrettably throughout the President’s speech in Cincinnati — in my view set the bar for an alternative to a U.S. invasion so high that, Mr. President, I’m afraid it almost locks in — it almost requires — a potentially extreme and reckless solution to these problems.
I am especially troubled by these shifting justifications because I and most Americans strongly support the President on the use of force in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. I voted for Senate Joint Resolution 23, the use of force resolution, to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban and those associated with the tragedies of September 11. And I strongly support military actions pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 23.
But the relentless attempt to link 9-11 and the issue of Iraq has been disappointing to me for months, culminating in the President’s singularly unpersuasive attempt in Cincinnati to interweave 9-11 and Iraq, to make the American people believe that there are no important differences between the perpetrators of 9-11 and Iraq.
Mr. President, I believe it is dangerous for the world, and especially dangerous for us, to take the tragedy of 9-11 and the word “terrorism” and all their powerful emotion and then too easily apply them to many other situations — situations that surely need our serious attention but are not necessarily, Mr. President, the same as individuals and organizations who have shown a willingness to fly planes into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.
Let me say that the President is right that we’ve got to view the world, the threats and our own national security in a very different light since 9-11. There are shocking new threats. But, Mr. President, it is not helpful to use virtually any strand or extreme rhetoric to suggest that the new threat is the same as other preexisting threats. Mr. President, I think common sense tells us they are not the same and they cannot so easily be lumped together as the President sought to do in Cincinnati.
Mr. President, I’ve reviewed the intermittent efforts to suggest a connection of 9-11 and Saddam Hussein or suggest the possibility that such a connection has developed since 9-11. Let me be very clear. If in fact there was a connection in planning together for the 9-11 attack by Saddam Hussein or his agents and the perpetrators of 9-11 and al Qaeda, I’ve already voted for military action. I have no objection.
But if it is not, if this is premised on some case that has supposedly been made with regard to a subsequent coalition between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government, I think the President has got to do better. He’s got to do better than the shoddy piecing together of flimsy evidence that contradicts the very briefings we’ve received by various agencies, Mr. President.
I’m not hearing the same things at the briefings that I’m hearing from the President’s top officials. In fact, on March 11 of this year, Vice President Cheney, following a meeting with Tony Blair, raised fears of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. He said, “We have to be concerned about the potential” — potential — “marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction.” So in March, it was a potential marriage.
Then the Vice-President said, on September 8, without evidence — and no evidence has been given since that time — that there are “credible but unconfirmed” intelligence reports that 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official several months before 9-11. We’ve seen no proof of that.
And finally then, the Secretary of Defense follows on September 27 of this year and says, “There is bulletproof evidence of Iraqi links to al Qaeda, including the recent presence of senior al Qaeda members in Baghdad.” I don’t know where this comes from, Mr. President. This so-called potential marriage in March is beginning to sound like a 25th wedding anniversary at this point.
The facts just aren’t there, or at least they have not been presented to me in the situations where they should have been presented to me as an elected Member of this body. In other words, the Administration appears to use 9-11 and the language of terrorism and the connection to Iraq too loosely, almost like a bootstrap.
For example, I heard the President say in Cincinnati that Iraq and al Qaeda both regard us as a common enemy. Of course they do. Well, who else are we going to attack in the near future on that basis alone?
Or do we see an attempt to stretch the notion of harboring terrorists? I agree with the President, if any country is actively harboring or assisting the terrorists involved in 9-11, we have to act against them. But I don’t think you can bring within the definition of harboring terrorists the simple presence of some al Qaeda members somewhere in Iraq. After all, Mr. President, apparently we have al Qaeda agents active in our country as well. They are present in our nation as well. How can this be a sufficient basis on its own?
Therefore, Mr. President, without a better case for al Qaeda’s connection to Saddam Hussein, this proposed invasion must stand on its own merits, not on some notion that those who question this invasion don’t thoroughly condemn and want to see the destruction of the perpetrators of 9-11 and similar terrorist attacks on the United States.
An invasion of Iraq must stand on its own, not just because it is different than the fight against the perpetrators of 9-11 but because it may not be consistent with, and may even be harmful to, the top national security issue of this country. And that is the fight against terrorism and the perpetrators of the crimes of 9-11.
In fact, I’m so pleased to see one of the most eloquent spokesmen of this viewpoint here in the Senate chamber, Senator Graham, who has done a terrific job of trying to point out our top priorities in this area. He said, “Our first priority should be the successful completion of the war on terrorism. Today we Americans are more vulnerable to international terrorist organizations than we are to Saddam Hussein.”
I ask: Is this war against terrorism going so terribly well when we see the possible explosion of the French tanker in Yemen? When we see the tremendous difficulties in trying to pursue stability in Afghanistan itself? And when we realize that we’re not certain at all whether Mr. Osama bin Laden is alive or dead? Will the invasion of Iraq encourage our allies and Islamic friends to help us in the fight against terrorism or just make them extremely nervous?
Mr. President, I had a meeting with a group of African ambassadors the other day in my role as Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, and they told me that various people were placing bets — placing bets on what country would be next after Iraq under this new doctrine that the President is putting forward.
Will this idea of invading Iraq at this time, on this case, on these merits, help or hurt cooperation in our fight against terrorism, against the known murderers of Americans who are known to be plotting more of the same?
Mr. President, I’m especially dismayed at the weak response to the potential drain on our military capability and resources in our fight against terrorism if we go forward with this invasion at this time. The Administration likes to quickly say, whenever asked whether we can do this and fight the war against terrorism, they just simply say, “we can do both.” There’s no proof, there’s no real assurance of this. I find these answers glib, at best.
When former Secretary of State Kissinger was asked in this regard, he said, “It is not clear to me what measures that are required in the war against terrorism would be interrupted or weakened by the actions that may be imposed on us if it is not possible to do away with the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by other means.” That’s the only explanation the former Secretary of State gave us on this tough question.
But let’s look at what the current Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said in response to a similar question. He said, “So the campaign against terrorism is going in full swing. And I don’t see why there is a suggestion that somehow, if we had to undertake this mission, it would be at the expense of the campaign against terrorism.” That is all he said. Now, that is a pretty weak reassurance, to me, that such an enormous undertaking will not call into question some of our other military efforts and priorities.
What about what we are doing in Bosnia? What about what we are doing in Kosovo? What about all the resources stretching from the Philippines to portions of the former Soviet Union to the Middle East to parts of Africa that are being employed in the fight against terrorism? What about the fact that we are using our National Guard and Reserves many times within our country to protect our own citizens and public — at public events with regard to the challenge of the fight against terrorism? Mr. President, all of this and an invasion of Iraq, too? I wonder. As mighty as we are, I wonder if we aren’t very close to being overextended.
An invasion of Iraq in the next few weeks or months could in fact be very counterproductive. In fact, it could risk our national security.
In any event, I oppose this resolution because of the continuing unanswered questions, including the very important questions about what the mission is here, what the nature of the operation will be, what will happen concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as the attack proceeds and afterward, and what the plan is after the attack is over. In effect, Mr. President, we’re being asked to vote on something that is unclear. We don’t have answers to these questions. We’re being asked to vote on something that is almost unknowable in terms of the information we’ve been given.
In my judgment, the issue that presents the greatest potential threat to U.S. national security, Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, has not been addressed in any comprehensive way by the Administration to date. Of course, I know that we don’t need to know all the details, and we don’t have to be given all the details, and we shouldn’t be given all the details. But we’ve got to be given some kind of a reasonable explanation. Before we vote on this resolution, we need a credible plan for securing . sites and not allowing materials of concern to slip away during some chaotic course of action. I know that’s a tall order, but, Mr. President, it’s a necessary demand.
As I said, I agree with the Administration when it asserts that returning to the same restricted weapons inspection regime of the recent past is not a credible policy for addressing the . problem in Iraq. But, Mr. President, there is nothing credible about the we’ll-figure-that-out-later approach that we’ve heard to date. What if actors competing for power in a post-Hussein world have access to .? What if there is chaos in the wake of the regime’s fall that provides new opportunities for nonstate actors, including terrorist organizations, to bid on the sinister items tucked away in Iraq?
Some would say those who do not unquestionly support the Administration are failing to provide for our national security. But, Mr. President, I’m sure of this. These issues are critical to that security, and I have yet to get any answers.
Mr. President, we need an honest assessment of the commitment required of America. If the right way to address this threat is through internationally-supported military action in Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime falls, we will need to take action to ensure stability in Iraq. This could be very costly and time consuming, could involve the occupation — the occupation, Mr. President, of a Middle Eastern country. Now, this is not a small matter. The American occupation of a Middle Eastern country. Consider the regional implications of that scenario, the unrest in moderate states that calls for action against American interests, the difficulty of bringing stability to Iraq so we can extricate ourselves in the midst of regional turmoil. Mr. President, we need much more information about how we propose to proceed so that we can weigh the costs and benefits to our national security.
In Afghanistan, the government and President Hamid Karzai work under constant threat and instability plagues the country outside of Kabul. Many Afghan people are waiting for concrete indicators that they have a stake in this new Taliban-free future. The task is daunting. Mr. President, we’ve only just begun that task. What demands might be added in a post-Saddam Iraq?
I do believe that the American people are willing to bear high costs to pursue a policy that makes sense. But right now, after all of the briefings, all of the hearings, and all of the statements, as far as I can tell, the Administration apparently intends to wing it when it comes to the day after or, as others have suggested, the decade after. And I think, Mr. President, that makes no sense at all.
So, Mr. President, I believe that to date the Administration has failed to answer the key questions to justify the invasion of Iraq at this time. Yes, September 11 raises the emotional stakes and raises legitimate new questions. This makes the President’s request understandable, but it doesn’t make it wise.
I am concerned that the President is pushing us into a mistaken and counterproductive course of action. Instead of this war being crucial on the war on terrorism, I fear it could have the opposite effect.
And so this moment — in which we are responsible for assessing the threat before us, the appropriate response, and the potential costs and consequences of military action — this moment is of grave importance. Yet there is something hollow in our efforts. In all of the Administration’s public statements, its presentations to Congress, and its exhortations for action, Congress is urged to provide this authority and approve the use of our awesome military power in Iraq without knowing much at all about what we intend to do with it.
We are about to make one of the weightiest decisions of our time within a context of confused justifications and vague proposals. We are urged, Mr. President, to get on board and bring the American people with us, but we don’t know where the ship is sailing.
On Monday night, the President said in Cincinnati, “We refuse to live in fear.” I agree, but let us not overreact or get tricked or get trapped out of fear either.
Mr. President, on the 11th of September, 2001, our country came under attack and the world suddenly seemed shockingly small and unquestionably dangerous. What followed that horror continued to be frightening and disorienting — anthrax attacks, color-coded threat levels, report after report of terrorist cells seemingly everywhere. In the weeks and months since September 11, Americans have had to contend with these changes and to come to grips with the reality that this could happen again, that there are forces planning to do us harm, and that we cannot unconditionally guarantee our own safety. In this new world, we cannot help but sense that the future is uncertain, that our world is disordered, unpredictable, up for grabs.
So when our leaders propose taking action, Americans do not want to resist. But they are resisting this vague and worrisome proposal, Mr. President.
My constituents have voiced their concerns in calls, at town meetings, in letters and through e-mail or with faxes. They aren’t calling for Congress to bury our heads in the sand. They are not naively suggesting that Saddam Hussein is somehow misunderstood. But they are asking questions that bear directly on our national security, and they are looking for answers, Mr. President, that make sense. They are setting the standard, Mr. President, just as they should do in a great democracy. Their standard is high. We should work together to develop a policy toward Iraq that meets it.
Russ Feingold is a senator from Wisconsin.