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Recounting Reasons for Voting in Favor of 2002 Resolution Authorizing Use of Military Force in Iraq

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SHERMAN. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding.

I remember well the debate on this floor in 2002 about whether to give the President the power he sought to take military action, if necessary, against Saddam Hussein. But before that resolution even came to this floor, we considered it in the International Relations Committee. There, we were told that the administration would invade Iraq only if the inspectors were not allowed to do their job. In fact, Secretary Powell told us that before the whole committee. Then he told me that privately.

Now, I did not completely trust the administration. So in committee I offered a resolution that would allow the use of force only if the inspectors were not allowed to do their job. A majority of Democrats in the committee voted for that resolution. The Republicans pretty much all voted against it; and it was defeated.

Then we all came to this floor, and Mr. Spratt of South Carolina put forward a resolution that would allow the President to use military force, but only under certain circumstances, such as force being authorized by the United Nations. I voted for Mr. Spratt's resolution. Unfortunately, it was defeated.

And, finally, the supporters of the President were able to say that there was only one last resolution before us: either we gave the power to the President that he sought, but that he promised to use only if the inspectors were expelled or prevented from doing their job, or we left ourselves in a position where Saddam was free to expel the inspectors and to go all out with his weapons of mass destruction program.

At that point, I voted for an overly broad resolution, a resolution that gave the President more power than he claimed he would use, or gave him power to act under circumstances all under when he said that he would act only under a limited number of circumstances. That of course is not what happened.

The President took that power, made little or no attempt to ensure the inspectors were allowed to do their job, dismissed them, in effect pulled them out of Iraq, and invaded at an early opportunity. Obviously, if I knew then how the President would use the power granted by this Congress, I never would have voted to give him that power.

Not only did he invade even though the inspectors were then able to do their job and, as it turned out, they were right, there were no weapons of mass destruction--but then, in secret briefings on this floor, we had been told (and this has been reported in press, I am not revealing anything), that the plan was to invade Iraq from the north and from the south, so as to take control of the country quickly. What happened was that Turkey at the last minute declared that our troops couldn't go through Turkey, and our best division was sitting there in the middle of the Mediterranean.

So we had a plan. The plan had been previewed to those of us in Congress. The plan involved our best division. (I will just say one of our best divisions; I don't want to cast anything but total glory on all our divisions.) But one of our best divisions was left sitting in the Mediterranean. Now, you would think if you had a plan and you couldn't execute the plan, you would go draft a new plan. Instead, they just took the northern half of the plan and threw it away and implemented the southern half of the plan. Needless to say, we did not take immediate control of Baghdad. Needless to say, there was chaos. And the rest is history.

But there are a host of other mistakes made by the Bush administration. They were detailed by the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Skelton). They included an inadequate number of troops at the beginning; disbanding the Iraqi Army when the Saudis, who have some understanding of the area, had advised us to do the exact opposite; not guarding the arms depots; and a host of other problems.

Now we are being asked to authorize a surge. An escalation is the real word. And we are told that this is critical because Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. Well, is that really true?

We are told that Iraq could become a place where terrorists could meet and plot. Today they are meeting and plotting in North Waziristan, in much of Afghanistan, in much of Somalia, pretty much anywhere they want in Iran and in Syria and Sudan. They have plenty of places to meet and plot. How many Americans are supposed to die on the theory that denying the terrorists one place to meet will prevent them from meeting in all the places they are meeting today?

Then we are told that there will be a humanitarian debacle in Iraq. And, again, the prognosis for Iraq is not particularly good, but it is by no means clear that we have not done all we can be expected to do to help the people of Iraq avoid a civil war and achieve unity. And at some point it may be necessary to say that Iraq's decisions need to be made by the Iraqis.

Keep in mind that during Saddam's tenure, year in and year out, he killed far more people than have been killed in the time since we invaded. We have bestowed upon the Iraqi people not just the pain and suffering that they have now, but also freedom from a Saddam Hussein who in prior decades had killed not the thousands we see being killed now but hundreds of thousands and millions. Our moral responsibility to the Iraqi people was to do what was reasonable to help them reestablish order. I think we have met much of our moral responsibility. We can do more by providing economic and other aid. And we should keep in mind that Iraq is just one of many places in the world suffering great humanitarian crises.

Finally, we are told that we are going to empower and overjoy the terrorists if they see us leave Iraq or see us fail to surge into Iraq. Keep in mind, the smarter terrorists are thrilled to have us pinned down there, and to have us bled dry there.

But, finally, even if all these things being put forward by the administration are true, even if withdrawal from Iraq or failure to surge into Iraq gives terrorists a place to gather, sets the stage for humanitarian crisis, and overjoys the terrorists, there is no evidence that we are now doing anything but delaying the inevitable by surging over the next few months, or escalating over the next few months. So since we are by no means winning or prevailing, surging is just doing more of the same.

The President has asked us to compare the Global War on Radical Islam with the Cold War, and I think it is an apt comparison. Iraq has some real similarities to Vietnam. And the one thing we all remember about Vietnam is being told that if we didn't prevail in Vietnam, the communists would be on the beaches in Santa Monica. What did we finally do? We withdrew from Vietnam, and doing so was a critical step in winning the Cold War just 15 years later.

I would say that we should pick our own battlefields, we should learn from the Vietnam mistake, and we should recognize that the way to beat radical Islam may be to recognize that Iraq is not the central front and that we have to do a lot of things in a lot of places in the world, and cannot allow ourselves to be utterly fixated on Iraq.


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