Budget for the Cost of War

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Budget for the Cost of War  (2003) 
by Robert Byrd
Delivered on March 18, 2003.

Mr. President, the amendment before the Senate was one of simple commonsense. The President last night spoke to the nation of imminent military action. The American people know that war is looming. The Senate knows that war is looming. Yet the budget resolution before the Senate ignores that war. It ignores the obvious costs that are staring us square in the face. This Senate ought to be up front with the nation and anticipate the costs of war in this budget.

Last night, I went to the White House with a number of my colleagues from this body and from the other body. The message I carried was simple. I will support funds to ensure the safety of the men and women in our Armed Forces. They did not ask for this mission. They did not ask to go overseas. But they are there. They are ready to carry out their orders. They are ready to defend America. I will not flinch when it comes to their safety and support.

But what I will not support is a blank check for this Administration to allow military action in Iraq to slowly creep into other operations, into other lands. We have seen how the goal of disarmament in Iraq has changed to fighting terrorism in Iraq to ousting the leadership of Iraq to bringing peace to the Middle East through war in Iraq to forcing Saddam Hussein and his sons from Iraq. Is it any wonder that I and others worry what goal may be next? Where is this strategy taking us? Where are we taking the world?

I have stood in this chamber time and again to warn of the dangers of this policy of preemptive strike without imminent threat. I have urged the President to step back and reconsider his decisions. But the Administration has its eyes shut, its ears covered, and its mind closed. The decision, apparently, has been made.

This is a war that does not have to be. This is a war that could be avoided. But the President has placed this nation on the road to war, and there is little hope of turning back.

In the coming days, we will hear again from the President. I hope that, as he gives the command to commence military action, he and his Administration are looking several moves ahead.

Reconstruction and peacekeeping will be huge tasks. The American people must be prepared for the strains of these missions. We should not feed them rosy scenarios that a war will be painless or that an occupation would be of minimal length. Nor should we keep them in the dark. It is imperative that, in times of crisis, the American people can maintain trust in their government.

We must repair our alliances. Already our move to war has had fallout for our closest ally, Britain, with the resignation of their former Foreign Secretary. There is an ever-increasing chance of serious repercussions in the Middle East. We will need the combined political strength of all of our friends and allies, and the process of repairing our ties must begin immediately.

Winston Churchill once said about war: "The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

It is those unforeseeable and uncontrollable events that may be precipitated by a war with Iraq that keep me awake at night. I wish I could share the President's confidence that the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his regime will set into motion a peaceful revolution in the Middle East. Perhaps it will. Perhaps we will be lucky. But I have watched too many decades of strife and bloodshed in the Middle East to believe that yet another war can serve as a reliable road map to peace.

It is true that no one can predict the final cost of this war. But it certainly is not zero. But that is what the President has asked us to budget, and that is what the resolution would budget. Absolutely nothing. It is as if the looming war was simply a figment of one's imagination.

If only that were the case.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).