Paul Wellstone on the Iraq War
Below is Paul's speech delivered on the floor of the senate October 3, 2002.
Statement by Sen. Wellstone Regarding Military Action Against Iraq
Washington, D.C. October 3, 2002
Mr. President, as we turn later today to address our policy on Iraq, I want to take a few minutes to outline my views.
The situation remains fluid, and Administration officials are engaged in negotiations at the United Nations over what approach we ought to take, with our allies, to disarm the brutal and dictatorial Iraqi regime.
Our debate here is critical because the administration seeks our authorization now for military action including possibly unprecedented, pre-emptive, go-it-alone military action in Iraq, even as it seeks to garner support from our allies on a tough new UN disarmament resolution.
Let me be clear: Saddam Hussein is a brutal, ruthless dictator who has repressed his own people, attacked his neighbors, and remains an international outlaw. The world would be a much better place if he were gone and the regime in Iraq were changed. That's why the U.S. should unite the world against Saddam, and not allow him to unite forces against us.
A go-it-alone approach, allowing for a ground invasion of Iraq without the support of other countries, could give Saddam exactly that chance.
A pre-emptive go-it-alone strategy towards Iraq is wrong. I oppose it. I support ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction through unfettered U.N. inspections, which should begin as soon as possible. Only a broad coalition of nations, united to disarm Saddam, while preserving our war on terror, is likely to succeed. Our primary focus now must be on Iraq's verifiable disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. This will help maintain international support, and could even eventually result in Saddam's loss of power. Of course, I would welcome this, as would most of our allies.
The president has helped to direct intense new multilateral pressure on Saddam Hussein to allow U.N. and International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspectors back in to Iraq to conduct their assessment of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs. Saddam clearly has felt that heat, and it suggests what might be accomplished through collective action. I am not naive about this process, and much work lies ahead. But we cannot dismiss out-of-hand Saddam's late and reluctant commitment to comply with U.N. disarmament arrangements, or the agreement struck Tuesday to begin to implement it. We should use the gathering international resolve to collectively confront his regime by building on these efforts through a new U.N. disarmament resolution.
This debate must include all Americans, because our decisions finally must have the informed consent of the American people, who will be asked to bear the costs, in blood and treasure, of our decisions. When the lives of the sons and daughters of average Americans could be risked and lost, their voices must be heard by Congress before we make decisions about military action. Right now, despite a desire to support our president, I believe many Americans still have profound questions about the wisdom of relying too heavily on a pre-emptive, go-it-alone military approach.
Acting now on our own might be a sign of our power. Acting sensibly and in a measured way in concert with our allies, with bipartisan Congressional support, would be a sign of our strength. It would also be a sign of the wisdom of our founders, who lodged in the President the power to command U.S. armed forces, and in Congress the power to make war, ensuring a balance of powers between co-equal branches of government. Our Constitution lodges the power to weigh the causes for war and the ability to declare war in Congress precisely to ensure that the American people and those who represent them will be consulted before military action is taken. The Senate has a grave duty to insist on a full debate that examines for all Americans the full range of options before us, and weighs those options, together with their risks and costs. Such a debate should be energized by the real spirit of September 11: a debate which places a priority not on unanimity, but on the unity of a people determined to forcefully confront and defeat terrorism and to defend our values. I have supported internationally sanctioned coalition military action in Bosnia, in Kosovo and Serbia, and in Afghanistan. Even so, in recent weeks, I and others including major Republican policymakers like former Bush National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Bush Secretary of State James Baker, my colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Hagel, Bush Mideast Envoy General Anthony Zinni and other leading US military leaders have raised serious questions about the approach the Administration is taking on Iraq.
There have been questions raised about the nature and urgency of Iraq's threat, our response to that threat, and against whom, exactly that threat is directed. What is the best course of action that the U.S. could take to address the threat? What are the economic, political, and national security consequences of possible U.S. or U.S.-British invasion of Iraq?
There have been questions raised about the consequences of our actions abroad, including its effects on the continuing war on terrorism, our ongoing efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, and efforts to calm the intensifying Middle East crisis, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And there have been questions raised about the consequences of our actions here at home. Of first and greatest concern, obviously, are the questions raised about the possible loss of life that could result from our actions. The United States could send tens of thousands of U.S. troops to fight in Iraq, and in so doing we could risk countless lives, of U.S. soldiers and innocent Iraqis.
There are other questions, about the impact of an attack in relation to our economy. The United States could face soaring oil prices and could spend billions both on a war and on a years-long effort to stabilize Iraq after an invasion.
The resolution we will be debating today would explicitly authorize a go-it-alone approach. I believe an international approach is essential. In my view, our policy should have four key elements. First and foremost, the United States must work with our allies to deal with Iraq. We should not go it alone or virtually alone with a pre-emptive ground invasion. Most critically, acting alone could jeopardize our top national security priority, the continuing war on terror. The intense cooperation of other nations in matters related to intelligence-sharing, security, political and economic cooperation, law enforcement and financial surveillance, and other areas has been crucial to this fight, and enables us to wage it effectively with our allies. Over the past year, this cooperation has been our most successful weapon against terror networks. That -- not attacking Iraq should be the main focus of our efforts in the war on terror.
We have succeeded in destroying some Al Qaida forces, but many of its operatives have scattered, their will to kill Americans still strong. The United States has relied heavily on alliances with nearly 100 countries in a coalition against terror for critical intelligence to protect Americans from possible future attacks. Acting with the support of allies, including hopefully Arab and Muslim allies, would limit possible damage to that coalition and our anti-terrorism efforts. But as General Wes Clark, former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe has recently noted, a premature go-it-alone invasion of Iraq "would super-charge recruiting for Al Qaida."
Second, our efforts should have the goal of disarming Saddam Hussein of all of his weapons of mass destruction. Iraq agreed to destroy its weapons of mass destruction at the end of the Persian Gulf War and to verification by the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that this had been done. According to the U.N. and IAEA, and undisputed by the administration, inspections during the 1990's neutralized a substantial portion of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and getting inspectors back in to finish the job is critical. The prompt resumption of inspections and disarmament, under an expedited timetable and with unfettered access in Iraq, is imperative.
Third, weapons inspections should be enforceable. If efforts by U.N. weapons inspectors are tried and fail, a range of potential U.N.-sanctioned means, including proportionate military force, should be considered. I have no doubt that Congress would act swiftly to authorize force in such circumstances. This does not mean giving the U.N. a veto over U.S. actions. No one wants to do that. It simply means, as Chairman Levin has observed, that Saddam is a world problem and should be addressed in the world arena.
Finally, our approach toward Iraq must be consistent with international law and the framework of collective security developed over the last 50 years or more. It should be sanctioned by the Security Council under the U.N. Charter, to which we are a party and by which we are legally bound.
Only a broad coalition of nations, united to disarm Saddam, while preserving our war on terror, can succeed. Our response will be far more effective if Saddam sees the whole world arrayed against him. We should act forcefully, resolutely, sensibly with our allies, and not alone, to disarm Saddam. Authorizing the pre-emptive, go-it-alone use of force now, right in the midst of continuing efforts to enlist the world community to back a tough new disarmament resolution on Iraq, could be a costly mistake for our country.