Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

On U.S. Policy Towards Iraq

From The Senate Floor September 26, 2002

Mr. President, I rise to comment on the Administration's "discussion draft" of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Mr. President, this proposal is unacceptable. The Administration has been talking about war in Iraq for quite some time now. Surely they had the time to draft a morecareful, thoughtful proposal than the irresponsibly broad and sweeping language that they sent to Congress.

Apparently the Administration put forward such broad language as a negotiating tactic - asking for everything in the hopes of getting merely a lot.

But we are not haggling over a used car. We are making decisions that could send young Americans to war and decisions that could have far-reaching consequences for the global campaign against terrorism and for America's role in the world in the twenty-first century. To put forth such irresponsible language is to suggest that the President actually wants the authority to do anything he pleases in the Middle East - and that suggestion is likely to raise tensions in an already explosive region. To pepper the resolution with so many completely different justifications for taking action signals a lack of seriousness of purpose _ and it obscures the nature of the mission on the table. And then to insist on immediate action while remaining largely incapable of pointing to any imminent threat and unwilling to flesh out the operation actually being proposed reveals a troubling approach to our national security.

The Administration has a responsibility to define what the threat is. Is it a link between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda or is it Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction? There is insufficient evidence to support the first charge, but the Administration keeps using it. Why? Are they trying to gloss over the real possibility that this focus on Iraq, if not managed with diplomatic skill, will indeed do harm to the global campaign against terrorism?

The threat that we know is real - Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, or WMD - is unquestionably a very serious issue. But is the mission on the table disarmament? Or is it regime change? Has anyone heard a credible plan for securing WMD sites as part of a military operation in Iraq? Has anyone heard any credible plan for what steps the U.S. intends to take to ensure that WMD do not remain a problem in Iraq, beyond the facile "get rid of Saddam Hussein" rallying cry?

Saddam is a vile man with a reckless and brutal history. I have no problem agreeing that the U.S. should support regime change. I agree with those who assert that Americans, Iraqis, and the people of the Middle East would be better off if he were no longer in power. But he is not the personification of a destabilizing WMD program. Once Hussein's control is absent, we have either a group of independent, self-interested actors with access to WMD, or an unknown quantity of a new regime. We may face a period of some chaos, wherein a violent power struggle ensues as actors maneuver to succeed Saddam.

Has anyone heard the Administration articulate its plan for the day after? Is the Administration talking about a long-term occupation? If we act unilaterally, that could mean a vast number of Americans on the ground in a region where, sadly, we are often regarded as an imperialistic enemy. And given the disarray in Afghanistan, and the less than concerted American response to it, why should anyone believe that we will take Iraq more seriously? Certainly it is undesirable for the U.S. to do this alone - to occupy a Middle Eastern country and make our troops the target of anti-American sentiment.

None of these concerns is a rationale for inaction. Let me repeat that _ none of these concerns is a rationale for inaction.

This is not about being a hawk or a dove, this is not about believing Saddam Hussein is misunderstood. He is a monster, Iraq's weapons programs are real, and only a fool would believe that the U.S. should simply hope for the best and allow recent trends to continue.

But equally, only a person lacking in wisdom would send American troops wading into this mire with a half-baked plan premised on the notion that the Iraqis will welcome us with open arms, somehow the WMD threat will disappear with Saddam, and U.S. military action to overthrow the government of Iraq will somehow bring the winds of democratic change to the entire Middle Eastern region.

We do not make decisions crucial to our national security on a leap of faith. Congress is the body constitutionally responsible for authorizing the use of our military forces in such a matter. We cannot duck these tough issues by simply assuring our constituents that somehow, the Administration will "work it out." That is not good enough. We must not fail to demand a policy that makes sense.

Let me be clear about another important point: Maybe a policy that makes sense involves the United Nations, but maybe it does not. It is less important whether or not action has a formal U.N. seal of approval. What is important is whether or not action has international support. More important still is whether or not action will promote international hostility toward the U.S.

Mr. President, in the context of this debate on Iraq, we are being asked to embrace a sweeping new national doctrine. I am troubled by the Administration's emphasis on preemption and by its suggestion that deterrence and containment are obsolete. What the Administration is talking about in Iraq really sounds much more like prevention, and I wonder if they are not using the terms interchangeably. Preemption is knowing that an enemy plans an attack and not waiting to defend oneself. Prevention is believing that another may possibly someday attack, or may desire to attack, and justifying the immediate use of force on those grounds. It's the difference between having information to suggest that an attack is imminent, and believing that a given government is antagonistic toward the U.S. and continues to build up its military capacities. It's the difference between having intelligence indicating that a country is in negotiations with an unquestionably hostile and violent enemy like al Qaeda to provide them with weapons of mass destruction, and worrying that someday that country might engage in such negotiations.

Prevention does have a role in our national security planning. We certainly should. We should use a range of tools in a focused way to tackle prevention - diplomatic, sometimes multilateral, economic. That is one of the core elements of any foreign policy, and I stand ready to work with my President and my colleagues to bolster those preventative measures, and to work on the long-term aspects of prevention _ including meaningful and sustained engagement in places that have been neglected.

But Mr. President, unilaterally using our military might to pursue a policy of prevention around the world is not likely to be seen as self-defense abroad. And I am not at all certain that casting ourselves in this new role will make the U.S. any safer. Would a world in which the most powerful countries use military force in this fashion be a safer one? Would it be the kind of world in which our national values could thrive? Would it be one in which terrorism would whither? Or would it be one in which terrorist recruits would increase in number?

Announcing that we intend to play by our own rules, which we will make up as we go along, may not be conducive to building a strong global coalition against terrorism. And it may not be conducive to combating the anti-American propaganda that passes for news in so much of the world.

And fundamentally, I think that broadly applying this new doctrine is at odds with our historical national character. We will defend ourselves fiercely if attacked, but we are not looking for a fight. To put it plainly: Our country historically has not sought to use force to make over the world as we see fit.

I am also concerned that this approach may be seen as a green light for other countries to engage in their own preemptive, or preventative, campaigns. Is the United States really eager to see a world in which such campaigns are launched in South Asia, or by China? Or are we willing to say that this strategy is suitable for us but dangerous in the hands of anyone else?

The U.S. does have to rethink our approach to security threats in the wake of September 11. But it is highly questionable to suggest that containment is dead, that deterrence is dead - particularly in cases in which the threat in question is associated with a state and not non-state actors. And it is highly questionable to embark on this sweeping strategy of preventative military operations.

And so as we proceed to debate Iraq and other issues critical to our national security, I intend to ask questions, to demand answers, and to keep our global campaign against terrorism at the very top of the priority list. This Senate is responsible to all of the citizens of the United States, to the core values of this country, and to future generations of Americans. We will not flinch from defending ourselves and protecting our national security. But we will not take action that subordinates what this country stands for. It is a tall order. But I am confident that America will rise to the occasion.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.