Floor Statement by Senator Edwards

(Senate - September 12, 2002)

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I firmly believe that the issue of Iraq is not about politics. It's about national security. We know that for at least 20 years, Saddam Hussein has obsessively sought weapons of mass destruction through every means available. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today. He has used them in the past, and he is doing everything he can to build more. Each day he inches closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability -- a capability that could be less than a year away.

I believe that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime represents a clear threat to the United States, to our allies, to our interests around the world, and to the values of freedom and democracy we hold dear.

Saddam has proven his willingness to act irrationally and brutally against his neighbors and against his own people. Iraq's destructive capacity has the potential to throw the entire Middle East into chaos, and poses a mortal threat to our vital ally, Israel.

What's more, the terrorist threat against America is all too clear. Thousands of terrorist operatives around the world would pay anything to get their hands on Saddam's arsenal, and there is every possibility that he could turn his weapons over to these terrorists. No one can doubt that if the terrorists of September 11th had had weapons of mass destruction, they would have used them. On September 12, 2002, we can hardly ignore the terrorist threat, and the serious danger that Saddam would allow his arsenal to be used in aid of terror.

Iraq has continued to develop its arsenal in defiance of the collective will of the international community, as expressed through the United Nations Security Council. It is violating the terms of the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War and ignoring as many as 16 UN Security Council resolutions – including 11 resolutions concerning Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

These UN resolutions are not unilateral American demands. They involve obligations Iraq has undertaken to the international community. By ignoring them, Saddam Hussein is undermining the credibility of the United Nations, openly violating international law, and making a mockery of the very idea of international collective action which is so important to the United States and our allies.

The time has come for decisive action. With our allies, we must do whatever is necessary to guard against the threat posed by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction, and under the thumb of Saddam Hussein.

The United States must lead an international effort to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein -- and to assure that Iraq fulfills its obligations to the international community.

This is not an easy decision, and it carries many risks. It will also carry costs, certainly in resources, and almost certainly in lives. After careful consideration, I believe that the risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action.

As we set out on this course, we must be as conscious of our special responsibility as we are confident in the rightness of our cause.

The United States has a special role of leadership in the international community. As America and its allies move down this path, we must do so in a way that preserves the legitimacy of our actions, enhances international consensus, and strengthens our global leadership.

First, this means making the strongest possible case to the American people about the danger Saddam poses. Months of mixed messages, high-level speculation and news-leaks about possible military plans have caused widespread concern among many Americans and around the world.

I am encouraged that the President has overruled some of his advisors and decided to ask for the support of Congress. From the support of Congress, this effort will derive even greater and more enduring strength.

Second, the Administration must do as much as possible to rally the support of the international community under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council. We should tap into the strengths of existing alliances like NATO to enforce such a mandate. And let me be clear: America's allies deserve more than just token consultation. The Bush Administration must make a full-court press to rally global support, much like the impressive effort President Bush's father made to rally the first international coalition against Saddam in the fall of 1990. If they do, I believe they will succeed.

If, however, the United Nations Security Council is prevented from supporting this effort, then we must act with as many allies as possible to ensure that Iraq meets its obligations to existing Security Council resolutions. After all, that's what the U.S. and its NATO allies did during the 1999 war in Kosovo, when a UN Security Council resolution was impossible.

Third, we must be honest with the American people about the extraordinary commitment this task entails. It is likely to cost us much in the short-term, and it is certain to demand our attention and commitment for the long-haul. We must show the world that we are prepared to do what it takes to help rebuild a post-Saddam Iraq and give the long-suffering Iraqi people the chance to live under freedom.

Working with our allies, we must be prepared to deal with the consequences of success -- helping to provide security inside Iraq after Saddam is gone, working with the various Iraqi opposition groups in shaping a new government, reassuring Iraq's neighbors about its future stability, and supporting the Iraqi people as they rebuild their lives. This is a massive undertaking, and we must pursue it with no illusions.

Ensuring that Iraq complies with its commitments to the international community is the mission of the moment. Rebuilding Iraq and helping it evolve into a democracy at peace with itself and its neighbors will be the mission of many years.

Unfortunately, the Administration's record to date gives me cause for concern. They must not make the same mistakes in post-Saddam Iraq that they are making in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where they have been dangerously slow in making the real commitment necessary to help democracy take root and flourish.

Finally, the Administration must show that its actions against Iraq are part of a broader strategy to strengthen American security around the world.

The path of confronting Saddam is full of hazards. But the path of inaction is far more dangerous. This week, a week where we remember the sacrifice of thousands of innocent Americans made on 9-11, the choice could not be starker. Had we known that such attacks were imminent, we surely would have used every means at our disposal to prevent them and take out the plotters. We cannot wait for such a terrible event – or, if weapons of mass destruction are used, one far worse – to address the clear and present danger posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.


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