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Statement of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV
MR. ROCKEFELLER: Mr. President, we are here today to debate one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my 18 years in the Senate. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is a despicable dictator, a war criminal, a regional menace, and a real and growing threat to the United States. The difficulty of this decision is that while Saddam Hussein represents a threat, each of the options for dealing with him poses serious risks, to Americas servicemembers, to our citizens, and to our role in the world.
It is clear that none of the options that confront us is easy or risk free.
For all of us, the upcoming vote on this critical issue will reflect our best judgment on which path will minimize the risk to our fellow Americans -- because we all know that the risk cannot be eliminated. And that judgment will, in turn, depend on a complex interaction of many factors, some of which we do not know and perhaps cannot know.
It is clear that military operations against Saddam Hussein, of the sort that are being discussed, pose serious risks, and we should all admit that. Any military campaign runs very serious risks to our servicemembers. On paper we surely have an overwhelming advantage against Saddam Hussein -- in the skill, technology, and, of course, dedication of our armed forces.
We defeated Saddam quickly and conclusively in 1991, and in the decade since, our force effectiveness has improved dramatically, while many of Saddams capabilities have deteriorated.
But a new battle against Saddam Hussein, if it comes to that, will be a different and more difficult battle. U.S. victory might be quick and painless -- one hopes so. But it might not. The American people need to know that a war against Saddam will have high costs, including loss of American lives.
Our confident assertions that Saddam Hussein will quickly be deposed by his own people have, in the past, been too optimistic. Presumably Saddam Hussein will be more determined to use all the weapons and tactics in his arsenal if he believes our ultimate goal is to remove him from power.
The Administration assures us our troops have equipment and uniforms that will protect them from that risk, should it arise. We can only hope to God they are right.
We also have to acknowledge that any military operations against Saddam Hussein pose potential risks to our own homeland, too. Saddams government has contact with many international terrorist organizations that likely have cells here in the United States.
Finally, we also need to recognize that should we go to war with Iraq, it could have a serious impact on Americas role in the world, and the way the rest of the world responds to American leadership.
We are told that if Saddam Hussein is overthrown, American soldiers will be welcomed into Baghdad with liberation parades. That may be true; in fact, the people who have suffered most at Saddams hands are his own citizens.
But for many people around the world, an American-led victory over Saddam would not be a cause for celebration.
No matter how strong our case, there will inevitably be some who will see U.S.-led action against Iraq as a cause for concern.
At its most extreme, that concern feeds the terrorist paranoia that drives their mission to hurt America. We can affect how deep that sentiment runs by how we conduct ourselves, whether we work with allies, whether we show ourselves to be committed to the reconstruction of Iraq and to reconciliation with the Arab world. But we ignore it at our peril!
So, clearly there are many risks associated with the resolution we are considering today.
But it is equally clear that doing nothing and preserving the status quo also pose serious risks. Those risks are less visible, and their time frame is less certain. But after a great deal of consultation and soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that the risks of doing nothing -- for our citizens and for our nation -- are too great to bear.
There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources -- something that is not that difficult in the current world. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.
When Saddam Hussein obtains nuclear capabilities, the constraints he feels will diminish dramatically, and the risk to Americas homeland, as well as to Americas allies, will increase even more dramatically. Our existing policies to contain or counter Saddam will become irrelevant.
Americans will return to a situation like that we faced in the Cold War, waking each morning knowing we are at risk from nuclear blackmail by a dictatorship that has declared itself to be our enemy. Only, back then, our communist foes were a rational and predictable bureaucracy; this time, our nuclear foe would be an unpredictable and often irrational individual, a dictator who has demonstrated that he is prepared to violate international law and initiate unprovoked attacks when he feels it serves his purposes to do so.
The global community -- in the form of the United Nations -- has declared repeatedly, through multiple resolutions, that the frightening prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam cannot come to pass. But the U.N. has been unable to enforce those resolutions. We must eliminate that threat now, before it is too late.
But this isnt just a future threat. Saddams existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America, now. Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraqs enemies and against his own people. He is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East.
And he could make those weapons available to many terrorist groups which have contact with his government, and those groups could bring those weapons into the U.S. and unleash a devastating attack against our citizens. I fear that greatly.
We cannot know for certain that Saddam will use the weapons of mass destruction he currently possesses, or that he will use them against us. But we do know Saddam has the capability. Rebuilding that capability has been a higher priority for Saddam than the welfare of his own people -- and he has ill-will toward America.
I am forced to conclude, on all the evidence, that Saddam poses a significant risk.
Some argue it would be totally irrational for Saddam Hussein to initiate an attack against the mainland United States, and they believe he would not do it. But if Saddam thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might not think it so irrational.
If he thought, as he got older and looked around an impoverished and isolated Iraq, that his principal legacy to the Arab world would be a brutal attack on the United States, he might not think it so irrational. And if he thought the U.S. would be too paralyzed with fear to respond, he might not think it so irrational.
Saddam has misjudged what he can get away with, and how the United States and the world will respond, many times before. At the end of the day, we cannot let the security of American citizens rest in the hands of someone whose track record gives us every reason to fear that he is prepared to use the weapons he has against his enemies.
As the attacks of September 11 demonstrated, the immense destructiveness of modern technology means we can no longer afford to wait around for a smoking gun. September 11 demonstrated that the fact that an attack on our homeland has not yet occurred cannot give us any false sense of security that one will not occur in the future. We no longer have that luxury.
September 11 changed America. It made us realize we must deal differently with the very real threat of terrorism, whether it comes from shadowy groups operating in the mountains of Afghanistan or in 70 other countries around the world, including our own.
There has been some debate over how "imminent" a threat Iraq poses. I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated. It is in the nature of these weapons, and the way they are targeted against civilian populations, that documented capability and demonstrated intent may be the only warning we get. To insist on further evidence could put some of our fellow Americans at risk. Can we afford to take that chance? We cannot!
The President has rightly called Saddam Husseins efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction a grave and gathering threat to Americans. The global community has tried but failed to address that threat over the past decade. I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddams weapons of mass destruction is so serious that despite the risks -- and we should not minimize the risks -- we must authorize the President to take the necessary steps to deal with that threat. And so I will vote for the Lieberman/McCain resolution.
This is a difficult vote, but I could not sleep knowing that faced with this grave danger to the people of my state and to all Americans, I had voted for nothing more than continuing the policies that have failed to address this problem in the past.
Two months ago, or even a month ago, I would have been reluctant to support this resolution. At the time, it appeared that the Administrations principal goal was a unilateral invasion of Iraq, without fully exploring every option to resolve this peacefully, without trying to enlist the support of other countries, and without any limitation on the use of U.S. force in the Middle East region. The original use-of-force resolution the White House sent to the Congress was far too broad in its scope, and ignored the possibility that diplomatic efforts might just be able to resolve this crisis without bloodshed.
Moreover, it appeared the Administration planned to cut back its efforts in the war on terrorism and shift all its attention and resources to Iraq. That would be a tragic mistake.
I believe the war against global terrorist networks remains the greatest current threat to the security of the American homeland and to our forces overseas, as we have seen in Kuwait earlier this week. America cannot be diverted or distracted from our war on terrorism.
In the past month or so, we have begun to see an encouraging shift in the Administrations approach. The President stated earlier this week that war is neither imminent nor unavoidable. The Administration has assured us that whatever action we take toward Iraq, it will not be permitted to divert resources or attention from the war on terrorism. And Secretary Powell has been working with the United Nations Security Council to put together a new resolution to make clear that Iraq must disarm or face the consequences.
We have already begun to see some encouraging movement on the issue of Iraqi disarmament. Other Security Council members (such as France and Russia), as well as other Arab states in the Middle East have begun to talk seriously about forcing Saddam to comply with the U.N. resolutions. And Saddam Hussein has begun to make offers on inspections and disarmament, offers that -- while inadequate, so far -- indicate he has at least begun to move off his hardline position against inspections.
Obviously, much important work remains to be done, and that will take tough negotiating with the other members of the United Nations, and a firm line with Iraq.
We need to be realistic about how best to move forward. Any headway we are making toward getting Saddam to disarm has not occurred in a vacuum. U.N. members did not just suddenly decide to debate a new resolution forcing Iraq to disarm; and Saddam Hussein did not just suddenly decide to re-invite U.N. inspectors and remove the roadblocks that had hindered their efforts in the past. Progress is occurring because the President told the United Nations General Assembly that if the U.N. is not prepared to enforce its resolutions on Iraqi disarmament, the United States will be forced to act.
At this point, Americas best opportunity to move the United Nations and Iraq to a peaceful resolution of this crisis is by making clear the U.S. is prepared to act on our own, if necessary, as one nation, indivisible. Sometimes the rest of the world looks to America not just for the diversity of our debate, or the vitality of our ideals, but for the firm resolve that the worlds leader must demonstrate if intractable global problems are to be solved.
And so, that is the context in which I am approaching this vote. This resolution does authorize the use of force if necessary.
Saddam Hussein represents a grave threat to the United States, and I have concluded we must use force to deal with him if all other means fail. That is the core issue, and whether we vote on it now, or in January, or in six months time, that is the issue we all have to confront.
War, if it comes to that, will cost money I dearly wish we could use for other domestic priorities, to address the very real needs that West Virginia and other states face in this tough economy. But ultimately, defending Americas citizens from danger is a responsibility whose costs we must bear.
But this is not just a resolution authorizing war; it is a resolution that could provide a path to peace.
I hope that by voting on this resolution now, while the negotiations at the United Nations are continuing, this resolution will show to the world that the American people are united in our resolve to deal with the Iraqi threat. And it will strengthen the hand of the Administration in making a final effort to try to get the U.N. to deal with this issue. Given the difficulty of trying to build a coalition in the United Nations, I could not, in good conscience, tie the Presidents hands.
The Administration is in negotiations on which the safety and security of all Americans depend; I believe we must give the President the authority he will need if there is any hope to bring those negotiations to a successful conclusion.
So, Mr. President, I will vote for the Lieberman/McCain resolution. Preventing a war with Saddam Hussein -- whether now or later -- must be our top priority, and I believe this resolution will strengthen the presidents hand to resolve this crisis peacefully.
By my vote, I say to the United Nations and our allies that America is united in our resolve to deal with Saddam Hussein, and that the U.N. must act to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction. By my vote, I say to Saddam Hussein, "Disarm, or the United States will be forced to act."
September 11 has forever changed the world. We may not like it, but that is the world in which we live. When there is a grave threat to Americans lives, we have a responsibility to take action to prevent it.