Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) is the longest-serving current member of the U.S. Congress. At 87 years of age, he is the oldest member of the Senate. His tenure speaks to the confidence of his constituency, and his record speaks to the integrity of his political judgment. It was Senator Byrd about whom I wrote as the man responsible for funding to ensure a working knowledge of the U.S. Constitution for all federal employees. He invests in America, and he cares deeply about Americans.
Addressing Senators yesterday, Byrd called for a long-overdue national debate on issues involving Iraq, disaster relief, economic policy, and our failing social infrastructure – particularly in education. In response, the Republican machinery is moving in to oppose Senator Byrd, to spin and to slander his character in anticipation of his (yet unannounced) bid for re-election.
Go here for the full text of the Senator’s speech. Grieving and compassionate for American citizens now victims of Katrina and the aftermath of government failures in response, Byrd sets his comments in perspective against a broader reach of concern, concern for the long-range well being of a nation and the need for decisive action in addressing real and increasingly real needs. Excerpts below:
September 13, 2005
…. Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to put events into perspective -- to shake us and sharpen our clarity of vision. The wrath of Katrina, tragic and devastating for thousands, must certainly have caused many thinking Americans to consider anew the proper priorities for our country. …. I know that many Americans cringed, as I did, at the vision of callous neglect of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens which flashed around the world, making the United States appear to be a nation unmindful of its own, a nation unable to handle a disaster about which it had ample notice, a country loudly touting our form of government to the world, while failing to provide even the most basic protections to our own citizens.
If Katrina has any redeeming impact, it must be to cause us to see ourselves as others must surely see us. I regret to say that the picture cannot be a pretty one. That image is certainly not one that reflects the humanitarian goodness and morality of the vast majority of the American people. The perception of the United States in these troubled times should be a cause of major concern for everyone who holds public office. Regardless of political party, it is time to look at where we are, and where we are going.
Few would now argue that the war in Iraq has improved the world's view of the United States. It was an unnecessary and ill-conceived conflict which distracted us from our proper course of bombing the terrorist training grounds of Afghanistan. I have never bought the absurd claim by some that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we will not have to fight them here at home. That claim is a non sequitur at best and, at worst, a patent distortion of what has happened in Iraq. The war in Iraq created a hot bed of terrorism where none existed before. And it insured Osama bin Laden an endless supply of recruits, now even more fanatic in their hatred after scandals at Abu Ghraib, and the destruction of so many innocent lives in Iraq as a result of our invasion.
"For everything there is a season..." sayeth the Bible. The season has come for Americans to look homeward. Instead of continuing to spend billions in Iraq, let us husband those hard-earned tax dollars and spend them here at home. The Iraqi people must slowly find their own way now. Further U.S. dictated deadlines are counter productive. We cannot force-feed democracy to Iraq. To keep large numbers of American soldiers in Iraq much longer only earns the United States more enmity, reinforcing our unfortunate global image as conqueror not liberator. The Iraqi people must begin to take it from here. In fact, there is no longer a "war" in Iraq. We started that conflict and we met the goals established at its outset. Now there is a slow, festering, internal political struggle pitting Shiite against Sunni, against Kurd, which will play itself out, perhaps for decades, until it either devolves into outright civil war or resolves into some sort of compromise which suits those who live in the country of Iraq. We cannot resolve Iraq's internal issues. It is time for the United States to begin to bring our troops home.
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