Monday, February 12, 2007

Russ Feingold (2001) and (2002): Fight al Qaeda not Saddam

There is no reason to suggest that the action we take here today is required in advance of any immediate military response by the President. In the interest of demonstrating our national resolve to act firmly and decisively, however, and as a demonstration of our commitment to working in close cooperation with our Commander in Chief to respond to this aggression, we act today to authorize the use of force, as required by the War Powers Resolution.

Like any legislation, this resolution is not perfect. I have some concern that readers may misinterpret the preamble language that the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism as a new grant of power; rather it is merely a statement that the President has existing constitutional powers. I am gratified that in the body of this resolution, it does not contain a broad grant of powers, but is appropriately limited to those entities involved in the attacks that occurred on September 11. And I am particularly gratified that this resolution explicitly abides by and invokes the War Powers Resolution.

In taking this action today, we are not responding to a distant threat to international peace and security; we are responding to a direct attack on the United States. This is not a humanitarian response to a foreign crisis, but a defensive action to protect the lives of Americans here at home.

If this is indeed to be a war, then the President should seek a declaration of war. We cannot allow our cherished Constitution to become a dead letter. And it should go without saying that to declare a war, he must identify our adversary.

Both in terms of the justifications for an invasion and in terms of the mission and the plan for the invasion, Mr. President, the Administration's arguments just don't add up. They don't add up to a coherent basis for a new major war in the middle of our current challenging fight against the terrorism of al Qaeda and related organizations. Therefore, I cannot support the resolution for the use of force before us.

But, Mr. President, I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. My colleagues, I'm not suggesting there has to be only one justification for such a dramatic action. But when the Administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the Administration's motives in insisting on action at this particular time.

I'm not hearing the same things at the briefings that I'm hearing from the President's top officials. In fact, on March 11 of this year, Vice President Cheney, following a meeting with Tony Blair, raised fears of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. He said, "We have to be concerned about the potential" -- potential -- "marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction." So in March, it was a potential marriage.

Then the Vice-President said, on September 8, without evidence -- and no evidence has been given since that time -- that there are "credible but unconfirmed" intelligence reports that 9-11 ringleader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official several months before 9-11. We've seen no proof of that.

And finally then, the Secretary of Defense follows on September 27 of this year and says, "There is bulletproof evidence of Iraqi links to al Qaeda, including the recent presence of senior al Qaeda members in Baghdad." I don't know where this comes from, Mr. President. This so-called potential marriage in March is beginning to sound like a 25th wedding anniversary at this point.

The facts just aren't there, or at least they have not been presented to me in the situations where they should have been presented to me as an elected Member of this body. In other words, the Administration appears to use 9-11 and the language of terrorism and the connection to Iraq too loosely, almost like a bootstrap.

In any event, I oppose this resolution because of the continuing unanswered questions, including the very important questions about what the mission is here, what the nature of the operation will be, what will happen concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as the attack proceeds and afterward, and what the plan is after the attack is over. In effect, Mr. President, we're being asked to vote on something that is unclear. We don't have answers to these questions. We're being asked to vote on something that is almost unknowable in terms of the information we've been given.

Some would say those who do not unquestionly support the Administration are failing to provide for our national security. But, Mr. President, I'm sure of this. These issues are critical to that security, and I have yet to get any answers.

I do believe that the American people are willing to bear high costs to pursue a policy that makes sense. But right now, after all of the briefings, all of the hearings, and all of the statements, as far as I can tell, the Administration apparently intends to wing it when it comes to the day after or, as others have suggested, the decade after. And I think, Mr. President, that makes no sense at all.

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