Jay Rockefeller IVU.S. Senator
[D] West Virginia, United States

Length: 20 minutes, 44 seconds

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Mr. ROCKEFELLER. I thank the Senator from Nevada very much.

Madam President, we are here today to debate one of the most difficult decisions that I, at least, have ever had to make in my 18 years in the Senate. There is no doubt in my mind 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 a threat--to America's service members, to our citizens, and to our role in the world at large.

It is clear none of the options that confront us are 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 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 military operations against Saddam Hussein, of the sort that are being discussed, pose serious risks, and we should all admit to that. Any military campaign runs very serious risks to our service members. On paper, we surely have an overwhelming advantage against Saddam Hussein--in the skill, the technology, and, of course, dedication of our Armed Forces.

We defeated Saddam quickly and conclusively in 1991. In the decade since, our force effectiveness has improved dramatically, while many of Saddam's capabilities have deteriorated. But a new battle against Saddam Hussein, if it comes to that, will be very different and much more difficult.

A U.S. victory might be quick, and it might be painless. One hopes that will be the case, but it may not be so. The American people need to know 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 that 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 that risk arise. We can only hope to God they are right.

We also acknowledge that any military operations against Saddam Hussein pose potential risks to our own homeland. Saddam's 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 America's role in the world and the way the rest of the world responds, therefore, to America's leadership.

We are told that if Saddam Hussein is overthrown, American soldiers would be welcomed into Baghdad with liberation parades. That may be true. But it is true the people who have suffered most at Saddam's hands are, of course, his own citizens.

For many people around the world, an American-led victory over Saddam Hussein would not be cause for celebration. No matter how strong our case, there will inevitably be some who will see a 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 the reconciliation with the Arab world. But we ignore all of that at our peril.

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 poses serious risks. Those risks are less visible, and their frame of time is less certain. But after a great deal of consultation and soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that the risks to our citizens and to our Nation of doing nothing 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 5 years. He could have it earlier if he is able to obtain fissile materials on the outside market, which is possible--difficult but possible. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress that Saddam Hussein has been able to make in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

When Saddam Hussein obtains nuclear capabilities, the constraints that he feels will diminish dramatically, and the risk to America's homeland, as well as to America's allies, will increase even more dramatically. Our existing policies to contain or counter Saddam will become, therefore, irrelevant.

Americans will return to a situation like we faced in the cold war, waking each morning knowing that we are at risk from nuclear blackmail by a dictatorship that has declared itself to be our enemy, only back then our Communist foes--in those so-called good old days, which, of course, they were not, but in making the comparison between now and 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 believes it serves any of his whims or purposes to so do.

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 these resolutions. We must eliminate that threat now before it is too late. But that isn't just a future threat. Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose real threats to America today, tomorrow.

Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraq's 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. He could make these weapons available to many terrorist groups, third parties, which have contact with his government. Those groups, in turn, could bring those weapons into the United States 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 that he currently possesses or that he will use them against us. But as we do know, Saddam has the capability to do that. We know that very [Page: S10307] well. Rebuilding that capability has been a higher priority for Saddam than the welfare of his own people, and he has ill will toward Americans.

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 believe he would not do so. But if Saddam thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might not think it is so irrational. If he thought, as he got older and looked around an impoverished and isolated Iraq, his principal legacy to the Arab world to be a brutal attack on the United States, he might not think it is so irrational. If he thought the U.S. would be too paralyzed with fear to respond, he might not think it was too 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 the American citizens rest in the hands of somebody whose track record gives us every reason to fear that he is prepared to use the weapons he has used against his enemies before.

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. The fact that an attack on our homeland has not occurred since September 11 cannot give us any false sense of security that one will not occur in the future or on any day. We no longer have that luxury.

September 11 changed America. It made us realize we must deal differently with the very real threat, the overwhelming threat and reality of terrorism, whether it comes from shadowy groups operating in the mountains of Afghanistan or in 70 other countries around the world or in our own country.

There has been some debate over how ``imminent'' a threat Iraq poses. I do believe Iraq poses an imminent threat. I also believe after September 11, that question is increasingly outdated.

It is in the nature of these weapons that he has 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? I do not think we can.

The President has rightly called Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction a grave and gathering threat to Americans. The global community has tried but has failed to address that threat over the past decade. I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddam's 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. 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 have voted for nothing more than continuing the policies that have failed to address this problem over the years.

Two months ago, or even a month ago, I would have been reluctant to support this resolution. At the time, it appeared that the administration's principal goal was a unilateral invasion of Iraq, clear and simple, without fully exploring every option to resolve this peacefully, without trying to enlist the support of other countries, without any limitation on the use of United States force in the Middle East region.

The original use of force resolution that 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 that the administration planned to cut back its efforts in the war on terrorism and shift all of its attention and resources to Iraq, and that would have been a tragic mistake.

I believe the war against global terrorist networks remains the greatest current threat to the security of America over the long term and to our forces overseas. We have seen that in Kuwait in just the last week. America cannot be diverted or distracted from our war on terrorism. In the past month or so, in my judgment, we have begun to see an encouraging shift in the administration's 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 internationally.

Secretary Powell has been working with the U.N. 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--I mentioned 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. Saddam Hussein has begun to make offers on inspections and disarmament, offers that, while inadequate so far, indicate that he has at least begun to move off his hardline position against inspections.

Obviously, much important and very hard work remains to be done. That will take tough negotiating with the other members of the U.N. 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. Saddam Hussein did not just suddenly decide to reinvite U.N. inspectors and to 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 resolution on Iraqi disarmament, the United States will be forced to act.

At this point, America's best opportunity to move the United Nations and Iraq to a peaceful resolution of this crisis is by making clear that the United States 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 world's leader must demonstrate if intractable global problems are to be solved--and dangerous ones at that.

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 just the core issue. It is the only core issue. And whether we vote on it now, or in January, or in 6 months, or in 1 year, that is the issue we will all have to confront.

War--if it comes to that--will cost money. I and the Presiding Officer dearly wish we could use that money for other domestic purposes--to address the very real needs that West Virginia, Michigan, and other States face in this tough economy. But, ultimately, defending America's citizens from danger, their safety, and their security is a responsibility whose costs we must bear because this is not just a resolution authorizing war; in my judgment, 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 U.N. 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 the issue. Given the difficulty of trying to build a coalition in the United Nations, I could not, in good conscience, tie the President's 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 I will vote for the Lieberman-McCain resolution. Preventing a war with Saddam Hussein--whether now or later--must be a top priority. I believe this resolution will strengthen the President's hand to resolve that crisis. [Page: S10308] By my vote, I say to the U.N. and our allies that America is united in our resolve to deal with Saddam Hussein and that the U.N. must act to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction.

By my vote, I say to Saddam Hussein: Disarm or the United States will be forced to act. We have that resolve.

September 11 changed our world forever. We may not like it, but it 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.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.