Sen. Robert Byrd: 'Today I Weep for My Country'
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters - 19 March) - The oldest voice in the U.S. Congress rose on Wednesday to offer a final pre-war warning that President Bush's march to battle is dangerously misguided.
"Today I weep for my country," said West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd. "No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. ... Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.
"We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance," Byrd said, adding: "After war has ended the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe."
Byrd, a leading foe on Capitol Hill of war with Iraq, spoke in a nearly empty Senate chamber about four hours before Bush's 8 p.m. EST deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face a U.S.-led invasion.
"May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us," Byrd said.
As the white-haired senator concluded his remarks, a number of people in the visitor's gallery rose and applauded before they were admonished to be quiet.
At 85, Byrd is now the oldest member of Congress as well as the longest serving. He was first elected to the Senate in 1958, after six years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Byrd was among those who voted last year against the congressional resolution that authorized Bush to use force in his showdown with Saddam, and the senator has given frequent floor speeches since then warning against war.
Polls on Wednesday showed strong American support for a war but widespread opposition to it overseas.
"The case this administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence," Byrd said.
Despite administration suggestions to the contrary, Byrd said, "There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11."
The senator said, "We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice."
Byrd said that instead of negotiating, Washington demanded obedience or threatened recrimination. "Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves."
He said many questions about the looming war were unanswered -- including how long it would last, what it would cost, what its ultimate mission was.
"A pall has fallen over the Senate chamber," Byrd said. "We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq."