U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel's Floor Statement on the Iraq Resolution
“The Senate is by design a deliberative institution, and over this past week we have witnessed thoughtful debate and commentary on how to meet the challenge of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Ours is not an academic exercise; debate informs our decision whether to authorize the President to use force, if necessary, to enforce UN Security Council resolutions dealing with Iraqi disarmament.
There are no easy answers in Iraq. The decision to commit our troops to war is the most difficult decision Members of Congress make. Each course of action we consider in Iraq leads us into the imperfect, the dangerous, and the unknown. But we cannot avoid decision on Iraq. The President cannot avoid decision. The risks of inaction are too high. We are elected to solve problems, not just debate them. The time has come to chart a new course in Iraq and the Middle East.
History informs our debate and our decisions. We know that tyranny cannot be appeased. We also know that our power and influence are enhanced by both a nobility of purpose and the support of allies and institutions that reinforce an international commitment to peace and prosperity. And we know that war has its own dynamic, that it favors neither ideology nor democracy nor tyranny, that men and women die, and that the nations and individuals who know war are never again the same.
President Bush has rightly brought the case against Iraq back before the United Nations. Our problems with Iraq, as well as terrorism and the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, are not America’s alone. Israel, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq’s own Kurdish population, and other nations and peoples are on the front lines of Saddam’s ambitions for weapons of mass death. The United Nations, with American leadership, must act decisively to end Saddam Hussein’s decade-long violations of UN Security Council resolutions.
America’s best case for the possible use of force against Iraq rests with the American and international commitment to enforcing Iraq’s disarmament. The diplomatic process is not easy, and we face the competing interests and demands of Russia, France, China, and others, whose interests in Iraq may not always be the same as ours. A regional and international coalition is essential for creating the political environment that will be required for any action we take in Iraq, and especially for how we sustain a democratic transition in a post-Saddam Iraq. We cannot do it alone.
America, including the Congress, and the world, must speak with one voice about Iraqi disarmament, as it must continue to do in the war on terrorism.
Because the stakes are so high, America must be careful with her rhetoric and mindful of how others perceive her intentions. Actions in Iraq must come in the context of an American-led, multi-lateral approach to disarmament, not as the first case for a new American doctrine involving the preemptive use of force. America’s challenge in this new century will be to strengthen its relationships around the world, while leading the world in our war on terrorism. For it is the success of the first challenge that will determine the success of the second. We should not mistake our foreign policy priorities for ideology in a rush to proclaim a new doctrine in world affairs. America must understand that it cannot alone win a war against terrorism. It will require allies, friends, and partners.
American leadership in the world will be further defined by our actions in Iraq and the Middle East. What begins in Iraq will not end in Iraq. There will be other “Iraqs.” There will be continued acts of terrorism, proliferating powers, and regional conflicts. If we do it right, and lead through the United Nations in concert with our allies, we can set a new standard for American leadership and international cooperation. The perception of American power is power, and how our power is perceived can either magnify or diminish our influence in the world. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility and an institutional obligation in this effort. Federalist Paper #63 specifically notes the responsibilities of the Senate in foreign affairs as follows:
“An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: the one is that independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy; the second is that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed. What has not America lost by her want of character with foreign nations and how many errors and follies would she not have avoided, if the justice and propriety of her measures had, in every instance, been previously tried by the light in which they would probably appear to the unbiased part of mankind?”
The resolution before us today should be tried in that same light as The Federalist Papers. The original resolution proposed by the Bush Administration, S.J. Res. 45, would have been a setback for this institution. It did not reflect the best democratic traditions of either Congressional-Executive relations, or the conduct of American foreign policy.
S.J. Res. 46, sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Warner, McCain, and Bayh, is a far more responsible and accountable document than the one we started with three weeks ago. I congratulate my colleagues, especially Senators Lugar, Biden, and Daschle, and the four sponsors of this resolution, for their efforts and leadership in getting us to this point. S.J. Res. 46 narrows the authorization for the use of force to all relevant UN resolutions regarding Iraq, and to defending our national interests against the threats posed by Iraq. It includes support for U.S. diplomatic efforts at the United Nations; a requirement that before taking action, the President formally determines that diplomatic or other peaceful means will not be adequate in meeting our objectives; reference to the War Powers Resolution requirements; and periodic reports to Congress that include those actions described in the section of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 regarding assistance and support for Iraq upon replacement of Saddam Hussein. This resolution recognizes Congress as a co-equal partner in dealing with the threat from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
If disarmament in Iraq requires the use of force, we need to consider carefully the implications and consequences of our actions.
The future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein is also an open question. Some of my colleagues and some American analysts now speak authoritatively of Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds in Iraq, and how Iraq can be a test case for democracy in the Arab world. How many of us really know and understand Iraq, its country, history, people, and role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of a post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution, realism, and humility. While the people of the Arab world need no education from America about Saddam’s record of deceit, aggression and brutality, and while many of them may respect and desire the freedoms that the American model offers, imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice. A democratic effort cannot be maintained without building durable Iraqi political institutions and developing a regional and international commitment to Iraq’s reconstruction. No small task. To succeed, our commitment must extend beyond the day after, to the months and years after Saddam has gone. The American people must be told of the long-term commitment, risk and cost of this undertaking.
We should not be seduced by the expectations of “dancing in the streets” after Saddam’s regime has fallen, the kites, candy and cheering crowds that we expect to greet our troops, but instead focus on the great challenges ahead, the commitment and resources that will be needed to ensure a democratic transition in Iraq and a more stable and peaceful Middle East.
We should spend more time debating the cost and extent of this commitment, the risks we may face in a military engagement with Iraq, the implications of the precedent of U.S. military action for regime change, and the likely character and challenges of a post-Saddam Iraq. We have heard precious little from the President and his team, as well as from the Congress, with a few notable exceptions, about these most difficult and critical questions.
We need only look to Afghanistan, where the Afghan people joyously welcomed our liberation force, but months later a fragile transitional government grapples with rebuilding a fractured political culture, economy and country. However, Iraq, because of its resources, geography, capabilities, and history, offers even more complications and greater peril ... and yes, greater promise. This is the vast unknown – the heavy burden that lies ahead.
The Senate should not cast its vote in the hopes of putting Iraq behind us so we can get back to our campaigns or move on to other issues next year. The decision to possibly commit a nation to war cannot and should not ever be considered in the context of either party loyalty or campaign politics. I regret that this vote will take place under the cloud and pressure of elections next month. Some are already using the Iraq issue to gain advantage in the political campaigns. It might have been better for our vote to have been delayed until after the elections, as it was in 1990. Authorizing the use of force against Iraq or any country, for any purpose, should always be weighed on its own merits, not with an eye on the politics of the vote or campaign TV spots. War is too serious, the human price too high, and the implications unforeseen. While I cannot predict the future, I believe that what we decide in these chambers this week will influence America’s security and role in the world for the coming decades. It will serve as the framework, both intentionally and unintentionally, for the future... it will set in motion a series of actions and events that we cannot now understand or control.
In authorizing the use of force against Iraq, we are at the beginning of a road that has no clear end. The votes in Congress this week are votes for an intensification of engagement with Iraq and the Middle East, a world of which we know very little, and whose destiny will now be directly tied to ours.
America cannot trade a new focus on Iraq for a lesser effort in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians continues and the danger mounts. Stability in Afghanistan is not assured. We must carry through with our commitment. Stability in this region depends on it. America’s credibility is at stake, and long-term stability in Central and South Asia hangs in the balance. We must also continue to pay close attention to North Korea, where there is no guess work about nuclear weapons. There, on the Korean Peninsula, reside nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and 37,000 American troops.
Despite setting the right course for disarmament in Iraq, the Administration has yet to define an end game in Iraq; or explain the extent of the American commitment if regime change is required; or describe how our actions in Iraq might affect our other many interests and commitments throughout the world.
I share the hope of a better world without Saddam Hussein. But we do not really know if our intervention in Iraq will lead to democracy in either Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab world. America has continued to take on large, complicated and expensive responsibilities that will place heavy burdens on us over the next generation. It may be necessary. But Americans should understand the extent of this burden and what may be required to pay for and support it...in both American blood and treasure.
As the Congress votes on this resolution, we must understand that we have not put Iraq behind us. This is just the beginning. The risks should not be under-stated, miscast or misunderstood. Ours is a path of both peril and opportunity, with many detours and no shortcuts.
We in the Congress are men and women of many parts. For me, is it the present-day Senator, the former soldier, or the concerned father that guides my judgment and ultimate vote? It is pieces of all ... for I am pieces of all. The responsibilities of each leads me to support the Lieberman-McCain-Warner-Bayh resolution. In the end, each of us who has the high honor of holding public office has the burden and privilege of decision and responsibility. It is a sacred trust we share with the public. We will be held accountable for our actions. As it must be.”