by Gilles d'Aymery
"As long as there is a forum in which questions can be asked by men and women who do not stand in awe of a chief executive and one can speak as long as one's feet will allow one to stand, the liberties of the American people will be secure."
—Robert C. Byrd
(Swans - August 13, 2007) In the past few years, Robert C. Byrd, the senior senator of West Virginia and president pro tempore of the Senate, has been a fiery opponent of the war in Iraq and a strong defender of civil liberties at home. He raged and voted against the 2002 Senate resolution that authorized Mr. Bush to wage war, any war, that he, and only he, deemed necessary to fight the so-called Global War on Terror. He voted against the Patriot Act and its expansion. He voted against the Military Commissions Act and defended the right of Habeas Corpus for all -- American citizens, US residents, even detainees at Guantánamo Bay. As recently as last week, he voted against the rewriting of the FISA Law that now gives even more authority to the president to eavesdrop on our personal conversations and correspondence. He, foremost among a few of his colleagues, keeps alerting the American People against the dangers of concentrating all the powers of the State within one branch of government only, the Executive Branch. This towering though aging man, gifted with eloquence unmatched in Congress, in possession of a deep sense of history, is telling us -- or whoever listens -- that the country is slowly but surely sliding toward a tyrannical regime that the Founding Fathers assumingly tried to avoid through the writing of the US Constitution and the subsequent Bill of Rights. Yet, the antiwar movement and civil libertarians largely ignore him. Why? Is it due to his age? Is it due to his past, as a letter writer inferred? Or, is it due to the lamentable fact that they simply don't listen to him?
Senator Byrd's earlier years were certainly not politically admirable. Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was a segregationist and a racist without any doubt, a product of his times in the South -- an ambitious young man who cultivated unethical societies in his strive to achieve political power. Yes, it was contemptuous and condemnable. But this took place over half a century ago -- lots of water has run under the proverbial bridge. He not only has changed but he has apologized many a time for his past behavior. He said in 2005: "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened." He can't erase it indeed, but he's been receiving a 100 percent approval rating from the NAACP for many years. People do change, and there ought to be a statute of limitations for the actions (or ideas) one foolishly took in one's youth
I recall that in 1969, I eagerly campaigned for Alain Poher, a very conservative French politician, against Georges Pompidou. With a couple of young idiots I'd ride my Solex in the streets of Toulouse and deface posters that promoted Pompidou's candidature. I would not miss an occasion to splash Poher's campaign posters all over the city. I was not even 19 years old, but was dutifully walking in the steps of my family traditions. I have changed, haven't I?
Go further and take Christopher Hitchens's evolution over the years. In the mid-1970s Hitchens wrote a column praising Saddam Hussein. In 2002, he was one of the many "humanitarian" pundits and intellectuals who supported Bush and keenly advocated for war, considering that Saddam was the latest Hitler on the historical map. (Are Iraqis better off without Saddam?) As said, people do change. The question then is, what kind of change one is more comfortable with, Hitchens's or Byrd's? I choose Senator Byrd.
That is not to say that I have developed an unreserved admiration for the senator. Anyone who takes the time to look at his voting record knows that the old man is quite conservative (I was particularly infuriated by his vote in favor of the Kosovo War). Conservative? Yes. "King of Pork"? Yes again. A geriatric holder of the American flame? Darn, the man will turn 90 in November and is afflicted with Parkinson's disease. But, watch him on the floor of the Senate as he delivers a great piece of oratory. While his hands may be trembling and he handles with great difficulty the pages of his speech on the lectern, his mind remains as sharp as ever -- and no one, not one of the 535 members of the House and the Senate, matches his rhetoric and his ability to tell it as it is. It's simply hors-pair speechifying and right up the alley of sanity. Had the main media given him a forum for the remarks he delivered on October 2, 2002 -- "Rush to War Ignores U.S. Constitution" -- and the American People heard or read that speech, the war might well have not happened. Senator Byrd has consistently and with great clarity untangled the Ariadne thread of this madness.
Here's another example of his perspicacity: an excerpt of the remarks he delivered on August 1, 2007 regarding the war in Iraq (Pages: S10546-S10547 of the Congressional Record):
[...] And where has our Congress been? I am deeply disappointed that the Senate has once again failed to have a real debate on the issue of the war in Iraq. There is no issue currently facing our Nation that more deserves the attention of this body, and yet we continue to have empty procedural votes instead of passing legislation that would mandate a change of course, as a large majority of Americans want. We are, in fact, charged by the Constitution to have that debate, and yet we wait. "Wait until September," the critics say. "Wait until the new report." How many reports must this Congress read before we see the handwriting on the wall? I, for one, am tired of waiting. The American people are tired of waiting. Our brave soldiers and their families are tired of waiting.
The President and his supporters in Congress are fond of painting a picture of what would happen following a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, and they paint with a pallet of fear. But their picture is not reality. It is easy to win an argument against a straw man, but we are not calling for a precipitous withdrawal. The proposal that 53 Senators voted in favor of recently called for a phased redeployment of troops to focus on the threats that truly face us, not a hasty and radical complete pullout.
I opposed this terrible war from its beginning, but I recognize we are there now and some actions can't be so simply undone. Our first priority must be that of protecting U.S. interests, and the simple truth is that we do have vital interests in the region. The question is how to best protect those interests.
The President of the United States, President Bush -- and I say this most respectfully -- the President says that al-Qaida wins if we leave and that if we pull out the terrorists will follow us home. Let me say that again. The President says that al-Qaida wins if we leave and that if we pull out the terrorists will follow us home. Al-Qaida is our enemy, but are we really defeating them by trying to referee a sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni that has been going on for over 1000 years? The President's own advisers now admit that al-Qaida is as strong today as it was before 9/11.
Al-Qaida is resurgent in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When the President of the United States took his eye off the ball and diverted our national attention from Osama bin Laden and his terrorist training operation in Afghanistan, the President dealt the security of the people, the American people, a major blow.
Iraq did not attack the United States on 9/11. No Iraqi, not one -- not one -- was involved in those attacks. Al-Qaida may now be in Iraq. But it was not there before we went in and handed them a new training ground for fresh recruits.
More importantly, al-Qaida is not the core of the problem in Iraq. Al-Qaida is not the core of the problem in Iraq, no matter how often the President says that it is. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said recently that al-Qaida was only 10 percent of the problem in Iraq. The real problem in Iraq is not al-Qaida, the real problem is the multiple civil wars that are raging: Shiia versus Sunni, Shiia versus Shiia, Sunni versus Kurds.
The argument that if we lose in Iraq, they will follow us here is pure hogwash. Nonsense. Did you hear me? I say, did you hear me? Let me say it again. The argument that if we lose in Iraq, they will follow us here is pure hogwash. H-o-g-w-a-s-h. Hogwash.
I have heard that time and time again. If we lose in Iraq, they will follow us here. That is absolutely hogwash. Nonsense. What is keeping terrorists from coming here now? Tell me. So we heard the argument: If we lose in Iraq, they will follow us here. Well, what is keeping the terrorists from coming here now? Certainly not the fact that our military is in Iraq. Our military was not in Iraq when hijackers with box cutters flew planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Have we such short memories? I saw those planes attack the World Trade Center. I have not forgotten it.
Keeping our troops in Iraq is not what is going to keep a terrorist attack from happening again. So I repeat that. Keeping our troops in Iraq is not what is going to keep a terrorist attack from happening again. The real threat, the real threat, the real threat is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the President's own advisers admit.
Principled people in this country, let me say that again, principled people -- in other words, people of principle in this country and in the Congress are calling for a change in strategy, not because they are weak, not because they are scared, not because they are callously political, they are calling for a change because it has become patently obvious that what we are doing is not making us safer, it is making us less safe.
They are calling for a change because it has become patently -- p-a-t-e-n-t-l-y -- obvious that what we are doing is not making us safer, it is making us less safe.
Now, as U.S. officials absolutely wake up to the resurgence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and urge President Musharraf's Government to crack down in Pakistan, we confront great anger in the region. I think that statement is entitled to a rehearing.
Now, as U.S. officials slowly wake up to the resurgence of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and urge President Musharraf's Government to crack down in Pakistan, we confront great anger in the region.
Our continuing occupation of Iraq has damaged our credibility and aroused suspicions about the depth of the U.S. commitment to the sovereignty of other nations. There is a lesson here. It is this: If you are marching in the wrong direction or if you are fighting the wrong fight, unflinching persistence is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of stupidity.
If you are marching in the wrong direction or fighting the wrong fight, unflinching persistence is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of stupidity. Yet amazingly we hear plans of continuing for 2 more years our pointless, senseless occupation in Iraq.
I said it was wrong in the beginning. It was wrong from the start. It amazes me when we hear plans of continuing for 2 more years our pointless, costly, senseless occupation in Iraq.
The seas are rising and our present course is headed for an iceberg. Turn around. Turn around, Mr. President. Turn around.
I yield the floor.
Look how he repeats a line or a statement, or how he spells out a word to achieve a stronger rhetorical effect -- "The argument that if we lose in Iraq, they will follow us here is pure hogwash. H-o-g-w-a-s-h. Hogwash." A towering orator undoubtedly but also a consumed analyst and effective politician. He clearly predicted the disastrous consequences of this unnecessary war long before it was launched and has never ceased to alert the American People, with immense eloquence and lucidity.
The problem, however, is that his speeches are rarely, if ever, heard by the American people. To the best of my knowledge the TV networks have never diffused them. To catch them, one must remain glued in front of the TV and assiduously watch C-SPAN2 and one never knows when he's going to deliver his remarks to the floor of a chamber that most often is almost empty. For instance, his August 1 remarks on Iraq excerpted above were delivered during a debate on health care for uninsured children. I caught them by sheer chance.
Since he's not considered "cool," like a Jon Stewart or a Paris Hilton, the YouTube crowd does not broadcast his remarks and statements, and his Web site is so poorly maintained, at least in the past couple of years, that the only way to find them is by combing the Congressional Record, which is fairly time-consuming.
It speaks loudly and sorrowfully about the state of governance, which can be compared to our crumbling infrastructure; that a most remarkable man, a towering legislator, a powerful senator, is largely ignored by the media, and hence by the people.
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