Robert C. Byrd

The Arrogance of Power

delivered on 19 March 2003, Senate Floor, Washington, D.C.

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

I believe in this great and beautiful country. I have studied its roots. I have gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution, and its inimitable history. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and its 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, Madam President, 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 succeeded in isolating 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 the 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 that 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. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in more than 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 some of the passengers who were on board that plane.

The brutality seen on September 11, 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 territorial 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 here 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?! -- my country, your country, our country? When did we become a nation that ignores and berates our friends, and calls them irrelevant? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinary1 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 -- scores of millions -- of Americans, will pray, pray, pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians -- women, children, babies, old and young, crippled, deformed, sick -- 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.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

1 or "doctrinaire"

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