My Cambodian Moment on Iraq

Floor Speech on the War in Iraq, Its Parallels to Vietnam and Congress’ Unwillingness to Pay for It, November 3, 2003

Mr. President, I come to acknowledge my “Cambodian moment” in the Iraq war. I refer to the Cambodian moment that Senator Mansfield experienced after years and years of opposing the war in Vietnam. He had a practice of taking written memoranda time and again to both Presidents Johnson and Nixon, supporting the President openly on the floor of the Senate, but finally at the time Cambodia was invaded under President Nixon, he could not take it any longer and spoke out.

He went on national TV and said: This war was a mistake from the get go. The next day, he got a letter from an admirer who had just lost her son. She said: I just buried my son and came home and watched you on this program. You said it was a mistake from the get go. Why didn’t you speak out sooner?

She said: My regret is that you did not speak out sooner or loudly enough for me to hear.

It is time we speak out, because unless we put in 100,000 or 150,000 more United States troops and get law and order in Iraq, in Baghdad, we are going to have operation meat grinder continue, and it is our meat.

In conscience, I cannot stand silent any longer. What happens if we had invaded the city of Atlanta, let’s say. We had landed at Hartsfield Airport, and then we had gone on to an aircraft carrier and said: Whoopee, mission accomplished; when the truth of the matter is, two divisions of Republican Guards have blended into the environs of Atlanta with all kind of ammunition dumps, and all they do day in and day out is raid the dumps, set traps, blow us up, kill more Americans, and we talk about schools opening and hospitals working, and that we have a water system. This cannot go on. It has to stop.

Let me start by saying I believe, unlike most of my colleagues, that the intelligence we had on Iraq was sound. We knew from the outset a lot about Iraq in the sense we had conquered it and we had two overflights, one in the north and one in the south. We could look down and see in the middle of Iraq. For 10 years we knew exactly what was going on. If we had any doubts, we could check with the Israeli intelligence. Don’t tell me Israel didn’t have good intelligence on nuclear weapons because she went in there back in the eighties — she is a small country and can’t play games and can’t wait around for the United Nations and conferences. She had to knock that nuclear facility out.

What else did we know about Iraq? We knew they didn’t have terrorists there at the time. Oh, yes, while we are trying to internationalize a defense effort, what we find is, our effort is more or less internationalizing terrorism.

The most ridiculous thing on the TV last night was to hear the President say foreigners are in Iraq killing our soldiers. Can you imagine us, thousands of miles away, talking about foreigners killing our soldiers? Come on. What happened was, Iraq did not have terrorists at the time we went in. They tried to connect al-Qaida to Iraq, but now the President himself has acknowledged you couldn’t connect al-Qaida. They didn’t have nuclear capability. And, of course, there was no democracy. There weren’t people yearning for it, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz said, meeting us in the streets waving: Whoopee, we finally got democracy.

Anybody who knows the history of the Mideast knows that is a bunch of nonsense. They don’t have democracy in Iraq, in Syria, in Iran, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt, in Libya — or go right around the Mideast. Where does somebody think they are going to meet us in the streets and say: Whoopee for democracy?

I wish the distinguished Chair would pay attention to this one. What did George Herbert Walker Bush, the former President, say in his book, “A World Transformed”?

I firmly believed that we should not march into Baghdad….To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter day Arab hero…assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war.

That is what President George Herbert Walker Bush, the President’s daddy, said.

We all knew that about Iraq. But why did we go in and why did the Senator from South Carolina vote for the resolution last October? Why? I can tell my colleagues why. On August 7, Vice President Cheney, speaking in California, said of Saddam Hussein: What we know now from various sources is that he continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Then on September 8: We do know with absolute certainty that he is attempting to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.

Then the President of the United States himself said, in his weekly address on September 14, before we voted in October: Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear weapons program and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Then on September 24, Prime Minister Blair said that the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

On September 8 of last year, Condoleezza Rice said that we do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

On October 7, President Bush said: Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

Now, any reasonable, sober, mature, experienced individual listening to that litany knows to vote against that resolution would have been pure folly. One has to back the President.

I am not on the Intelligence Committee. I was not privy to any kind of intelligence but I knew we had a lot of intelligence. The truth is, I thought the Israeli intelligence was really furnishing all of this information and that we were going in this time for our little friend Israel. Instead of them being blamed, we could finish up what Desert Storm had left undone; namely, getting rid of Saddam and getting rid of nuclear at the same time.

I voted for the resolution. I was misled. Now we hear that this is not Vietnam. I read my friends Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman. They say this is not a Vietnam.

The heck it is not. This crowd has got historical amnesia. There is no education in the second kick of a mule. This was a bad mistake. We were mislead. We are in there now, and I am hearing the same things that the Senator heard in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 right on through 1973.

At the time I was a young politician, having just come to the Senate, listening to those who knew. I knew Leader Mansfield would know about Vietnam. I knew my friend Senator Dick Russell was against the war in Vietnam from the get-go. Now, if Senator Mansfield had spoken up, he could have saved 10,000 lives. We would have followed him in the Senate. But he was trying to follow the mistake and the misread of Maddox and the Turner joy that brought about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

There are similarities. There are the misleading statements that I have just given, the litany by the President telling us all there was reconstituted nuclear. Here again we are in a guerilla war. It is an urban guerilla war, not in the bushes of Vietnam but we still again are trying to win the hearts and minds.

We were trying to victimize Vietnam. In this one we are trying to Iraqi Iraq. We are trying to do our best doing the same things over and over again. In fact, in this particular war we received the Pentagon papers a lot earlier. I ask unanimous consent that this article in USA Today entitled “Defense Memo: A Grim Outlook,” by Secretary Rumsfeld, be printed in the Record at this particular point.

Mr. President, I do not know how many more similarities we are going to get. Iraq is Vietnam all over for the Senator from South Carolina.

Now we have to either put the troops in there or else get out as soon as we can. I take it the present plan is to Iraqi Iraq; namely, train up a bunch of folks together, give them high pay. They have 70-percent unemployment so they will all grab and get a uniform and act as if they are security, but that will give us a cover and face to leave and leave as soon as we can, unless we are going to put the troops in there and get law and order.

What we have done is come into Iraq against the military requirements of taking the city. We just stopped at the airport and declared mission accomplished, and look around and wonder and say this is part of the war on terror.

This is not and was not a part of the war on terror. Yes, there are terrorists in there now, but Iraq was not a part of the war on terror. It was quiet. It was not bothering anybody. They did not have al-Qaida. They did not have nuclear capabilities. They were not connected in any way to 9/11. We went in there under a mislead.

We learned in World War II that no matter how well the gun was aimed, if the recoil is going to kill the guncrew one does not fire the gun.

Yes, it was a good aim to get Saddam but now look at the headline. I ask unanimous consent to include this particular article from the Financial Times, “Al-Qaida Exploits Insecurity in Iraq to Acquire Weapons and Swell Its Ranks.”

I thank the distinguished Chair. We now have more terrorism than less terrorism. That is the fact. We have the entire world turned against us. When we cannot get Mexico and Canada to go along with us, we are in trouble.

I am hopeful the United States will win back the hearts and minds of the world’s people, because we were always loved, respected, and looked up to for leadership.

In this particular venture what we have done is exactly what President George Herbert Walker Bush warned against. He said to watch out; do not go into that place. I quote again, now that my distinguished friend is here. I want that particular quote to appear in the Record again.

He said in his book “A World Transformed”:

I firmly believe that we should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. Assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war.

Iraq is Vietnam all over again. I know the distinguished Senator from Alaska revered our friend Senator Mansfield. I will never forget when Senator Mansfield said all Senators are equal, and when they rolled the Senator from Alaska on a particular matter he was concerned with, he, himself — that is Leader Mansfield — got up, took the floor, and put Alaska’s amendments up and we passed them.

So Senator Mansfield took some 5 years and 17 memos to Presidents before he finally changed his mind and spoke. That is exactly where I am today as I enter this particular debate with respect to the supplemental. I would oppose the supplemental on one score, namely we will not pay for it. We tell that poor GI, downtown in Baghdad, we hope you don’t get killed, and the reason we hope you don’t get killed is because we want you to hurry back. We want you to hurry back so we can give you the bill because we are not going to pay for it. We in the Congress, my generation, we need a tax cut so we can get reelected next year. We are not going to pay for it.

This is the first war in the history of the United States where there is no sacrifice on the homefront. They all run around the mulberry bush here saying “it’s not Vietnam” and that we have to stay.

We either have to get in or get out. We can’t stand for operation meat grinder to continue day in and day out.

In a war on terror, I just want the administration to know that might does not make right. On the contrary, right makes might. Winning the hearts and minds of the world’s peoples, I can tell you here and now, we have to get right on our policy in the Mideast. We all back Israel, but we don’t back the taking over of these settlements. If you have been a conquered people — and I read where the distinguished Senator from Alaska went down into those areas for the first time in Israel — for 35 years you have looked not only for your light and water but your jobs up in Israel. Anybody with any get-up-and-go has gotten up and gone, after 35 years. You have the disenchanted. They don’t have an army or anything else like that. So don’t be amazed. You have to play it with an even hand.

Might makes right in this terror war. We got onto this Iraqi venture, which was a bad mistake from the very beginning. There is not any question about it. If I went to a funeral this afternoon of a fallen soldier in Iraq, what would I say? Did they fall there for democracy? They are not going to have a democracy. It is going to be the Shiite democracy, like they have in Iran — at best. That is exactly what Secretary Rumsfeld said we were not going to have.

Was it for nuclear? No.

Was it for terrorists? No, they didn’t have terrorists there.

Your son gave his life for what? As their Senator, I am embarrassed. It wasn’t for any of those things. Why we went in, the administration has yet to tell us. They keep changing the rules and the goalposts every time. But somehow, somewhere they have to really put the force in there, quit trying to do it on the cheap, put the force in there and clean out that city, so they will quit killing them, or otherwise get out as fast as we can.

I thank the distinguished Chair.

Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, Democrat, is the senior senator from South Carolina.