A High Price For A Hollow Victory
Robert C. Byrd is a Democratic Senator
from West Virginia.
Sen. Byrd delivered the following remarks on
November 3, 2003, as the Senate debated whether to grant final Congressional
approval to the president's $87 billion funding request for the military and
The Iraq supplemental conference report before the
Senate today has been widely described as a victory for President Bush. If
hardball politics and lock-step partisanship are the stuff of which victory is
made, then I suppose the assessments are accurate. But if reasoned discourse,
integrity and accountability are the measures of true victory, then this package
falls far short of the mark.
In the end, the president wrung virtually every
important concession he sought from the House-Senate conference committee. Key
provisions that the Senate had debated extensively, voted on, and included in
its version of the bill—such as providing half of the Iraq reconstruction
funding in the form of loans instead of grants—were thrown overboard in the
conference agreement. Senators who had made compelling arguments on the Senate
floor only days earlier to limit American taxpayers' liability by providing some
of the Iraq reconstruction aid in the form of loans suddenly reversed their
position in conference and bowed to the power of the presidency.
Before us today is a massive $87 billion
supplemental appropriations package that commits this nation to a long and
costly occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, and yet the collective wisdom of
the House and Senate appropriations conference that produced it was little more
than a shadow play, choreographed to stifle dissent and rubber stamp the
Perhaps this take-no-prisoners approach is how the
president and his advisers define victory, but I fear they are fixated on the
muscle of the politics instead of the wisdom of the policy. The fact of the
matter is, when it comes to policy, the Iraq supplemental is a monument to
Consider, for example, that before the war, the
president's policy advisers assured the American people that Iraq would largely
be able to finance its own reconstruction through oil revenues, seized assets,
and increased economic productivity. The $18 billion in this supplemental
earmarked for the reconstruction of Iraq is testament to the fallacy of that
prediction. It is the American taxpayer, not the Iraqi oil industry, that is
being called upon to shoulder the financial burden of rebuilding Iraq.
The international community, on which the
administration pinned such hope for helping in the reconstruction of Iraq, has
collectively ponied up only $13 billion, and the bulk of those pledges, $9
billion, is in the form of loans or credits, not grants. But still, the
president claims victory for arm-twisting Congress into reversing itself on the
question of loans and providing the entire $18 billion in U.S. tax dollars in
the form of outright grants to Iraq. I readily admit that how this convoluted
logic can be construed as a victory for the president is beyond me.
But reconstruction is only part of the story. On
May 1, the president stood on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham
Lincoln—strategically postured beneath a banner that declared "Mission
Accomplished"—and pronounced the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
Since that day, however, more American military
personnel have been killed in Iraq than were killed during the major combat
phase of the war. According to the Defense Department, 376 American troops have
been killed to date in Iraq, and nearly two-thirds of those deaths—238—have
occurred since May 1. When President Bush uttered the unwise challenge, "Bring
'em on" on July 2, the enemy did indeed "bring them on", and with a vengeance!
Since the president made that comment, more than 165 American soldiers have been
killed in Iraq. And as the death toll mounts, it has become clear that the enemy
intends to keep on "bringing 'em on."
The $66 billion in this supplemental, required to
continue the U.S. military occupation of Iraq over the next year, and the
steadily rising death toll, are testament to the utter hollowness of the
president's declaration aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and the careless
bravado of his challenge to "bring 'em on".
It has been said many times on the floor of this
Senate that a vote for this supplemental is a vote for our troops in Iraq. The
implication is that a vote against the supplemental is a vote against our
troops. I find that twisted logic to be both irrational and offensive. To my
mind, backing a flawed policy with a flawed appropriations bill hurts our troops
in Iraq more than it helps them. Endorsing and funding a policy that does
nothing to relieve American troops in Iraq is not, in my opinion, a "support the
troops" measure. Our troops in Iraq and elsewhere in the world have no stronger
advocate than Robert C. Byrd. I support our troops, I pray for their safety, and
I will continue to fight for a coherent policy that brings real help—not just
longer deployments and empty sloganeering—to American forces in Iraq. The
supplemental package before us does nothing to internationalize the occupation
of Iraq and, therefore, it is not—I say not—a vote "for our troops" in Iraq. We
had a chance, in the beginning, to win international consensus on dealing with
Iraq, but the administration squandered that opportunity when the president gave
the back of his hand to the United Nations and preemptively invaded Iraq. Under
this administration's Iraq policy—endorsed in the president's so-called victory
on this supplemental—it is American troops who are walking the mean streets of
Baghdad and American troops who are succumbing in growing numbers to a common
and all too deadly cocktail of anti-American bombs and bullets in Iraq.
The terrible violence in Iraq on Sunday—the deaths
of 16 soldiers in the downing of an American helicopter, the killing of another
soldier in a bomb attack, and the deaths of two American civilian contractors in
a mine explosion—is only the latest evidence that the administration's lack of
post-war planning for Iraq is producing an erratic, chaotic situation on the
ground with little hope for a quick turnaround. We appear to be lurching from
one assault on our troops to the next while making little if any headway in
stabilizing or improving security in the country.
The failure to secure the vast stockpiles of deadly
conventional weapons in Iraq—including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles
such as the one that may have brought down the U.S. helicopter on Sunday—is one
of many mistakes that the administration made that is coming back to haunt us
today. But perhaps the biggest mistake, the costliest mistake—following the
colossal mistake of launching a preemptive attack on Iraq—is the
administration's failure to have a clearly defined mission and exit strategy for
The president continues to insist that the United
States will persevere in its mission in Iraq, that our resolve is unshakable.
But it is time—past time—for the president to tell the American people exactly
what that mission is, how he intends to accomplish it, and what his exit
strategy is for American troops in Iraq. It is the American people who will
ultimately decide how long we will stay in Iraq.
It is not enough for the president to maintain that
the United States will not be driven out of Iraq by the increasing violence
against American soldiers. He must also demonstrate leadership by presenting the
American people with a plan to stem the freewheeling violence in Iraq, return
the government of that country to the Iraqi people, and pave the way for the
withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. We do not now have such a plan, and the
supplemental conference report before us does not provide such a plan. The $87
billion in this appropriations bill provides the wherewithal for the United
States to stay the course in Iraq when what we badly need is a course
correction. The president owes the American people an exit strategy for Iraq,
and it is time for him to deliver. I have great respect and affection for my
fellow Senators and my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee. But I
have even greater respect and affection for the institution of the Senate and
the Constitution by which it was established.
Every Senator, upon taking office, swears an oath
to support and defend the Constitution. It is the Constitution—not the
president, not a political party, but the Constitution—to which Senators swear
an oath of loyalty. And I am here to tell you that neither the Constitution nor
the American people are well served by a process and a product that are based on
blind adherence to the will of the president at the expense of congressional
checks and balances. It is as if, in a rush to support the president's policy,
this White House is prepared to put blinders on the Congress.
This supplemental spending bill is a case in point.
One of the earliest amendments that was defeated on the Senate floor was one
that I offered to hold back a portion of the reconstruction money and give the
Senate a second vote on whether to release it. Apparently, the president and his
supporters did not want to give the Senate an opportunity to review the
progress—or lack of progress—in Iraq and have a second chance to debate the
wisdom of spending billions of taxpayers' dollars on the reconstruction effort.
Time after time, the conference committee was given
opportunities to restore or impose accountability on the administration for the
money being appropriated in the Iraq supplemental. And time after time, the
conference majority beat back those measures. The conferees, for example,
defeated, on a party line vote, an amendment I offered which would have required
that the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq be confirmed by the
Senate. Senate confirmation would have ensured that the person who is managing
tens of billions of dollars in Iraq for the American taxpayers would be
accountable to the public. The current appointee, L. Paul Bremer III, is not. He
answers to the Secretary of Defense and the president, not to Congress or the
The conferees approved a provision creating an
inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority, but I am dismayed
that this individual is not subject to Senate confirmation. I am dismayed that
the conferees defeated my amendment that would have required the inspector
general to testify before Congress when invited. And I am dismayed that the
president can refuse to send Congress the results of the inspector general's
work. Could it be that the president's supporters in Congress are afraid to hear
what the inspector general might tell them? Could it be that the president's
supporters in Congress would rather blindly follow the president instead of
risking reality by opening their eyes to what could be uncomfortable facts?
The conference also stripped out my amendment to
the Senate bill that would have required the General Accounting Office to
conduct ongoing audits of the expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the
reconstruction of Iraq. On the Senate floor, my amendment requiring such audits
was adopted 97 to 0. In the House-Senate conference, it was defeated by the
Senate conferees on a 15 to 14 straight-line party vote.
Sprinkled throughout the Iraq supplemental
conference report, provisions euphemistically described as "flexibilities" give
the president broad authority to take the money appropriated by Congress in this
bill and spend it however he wishes. I tried to eliminate or limit these
flexibilities—and in a few cases succeeded—but there remain billions of dollars
in this measure that can be spent at the discretion of the president or the
Secretary of Defense. Although the money is appropriated by Congress, these
so-called "flexibilities" effectively transfer the power of the purse from the
Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch.
The dictionary definition of victory is simple and
straightforward: success, conquest, triumph. Within the constraints of that
simplistic definition, I suppose one could construe this package to be a victory
for the president.
But I believe there is a moral undercurrent to the
notion of victory that is not reflected in the dictionary definition. I believe
that most Americans equate victory more closely with what is right than with
simply winning. It is one thing to win, and the tactics be damned; it is quite
another to be victorious. Victory implies doing what is right; doing what is
right implies morality; morality implies standards of conduct. I do not include
arm-twisting and intimidation in my definition of exemplary standards of
Moreover, we should not forget that not all
victories are created equal. In 280 BC, Pyrrhus, the ruler of Epirus in Northern
Greece, took his formidable armies to Italy and defeated the Romans at Heraclea,
and again at Asculum in 279 BC, but suffered unbearably heavy losses. "One more
such victory and I am lost," he said.
It is to Pyrrhus that we owe the term "pyrrhic
victory," to describe a victory so costly as to be ruinous. This supplemental,
and the policy which it supports, unfortunately, may prove to be a pyrrhic
victory for the Bush administration.
The conference report before the Senate today is a
flawed agreement that was produced by political imperative, not by reasoned
policy considerations. This is not a good bill for our troops in Iraq. This is
not a good bill for American taxpayers. This is not good policy for the United
Victory is not always about winning. Sometimes,
victory is simply about being right. This conference report does not reflect the
right policy for Iraq or the right policy for America. I oppose it and I will
vote "no" on final passage.