Voting No On the Nomination Of Dr. Rice

by Senator Robert Byrd

[Senator Byrd delivered the following remarks Tuesday, January 25 as the Senate debated the nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State.]

In Federalist Number 77, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

"It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entire branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing."

Although Hamilton explains the importance of the role of the Senate in the appointment of officers of the United States, neither he, nor the Constitution, is specific about what criteria Senators must use to judge the qualifications of a nominee. The Constitution only requires that the Senate give its advice and consent. It is therefore left to Senators to use their own judgment in considering their vote. The factors involved in such judgments may vary among Senators, among nominees, and may even change in response to the needs of the times.

The position of Secretary of State is among the most important offices for which the Constitution requires the advice and consent of the Senate. It is the Secretary of State that sits at the right hand of the President during meetings of the Cabinet. The Secretary of State is all the more important today, considering the enormous diplomatic challenges our country will face in the next four years.

I must commend the Foreign Relations Committee for its work in bringing the nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice to the Floor of the Senate. Chairman Richard Lugar conducted two days of hearings for this nominee, and the debate that began in the committee on this nomination is now being continued here on the Floor of the Senate. Senator Biden also provided a voice of great foreign policy experience during those hearings. I was particularly impressed by Senator Boxer, who tackled her role on the committee with passion and forthrightness, as did Senator Kerry.

There is no doubt that Dr. Rice has a remarkable record of personal achievement. She obtained her bachelor's degree at the tender age of 19. Speaking as someone who did not earn a bachelor's degree until I had reached 77 years of age, I have a special appreciation for Dr. Rice's impressive academic achievement. She then obtained a doctorate in international studies, and quickly rose through the academic ranks to become Provost of Stanford University.

Dr. Rice has also gathered extensive experience in foreign policy matters. She is a recognized expert on matters relating to Russia and the former Soviet Union. She has twice worked on the National Security Council, once as the senior advisor on Soviet issues, and most recently, for four years as National Security Advisor. Dr. Rice has had ample exposure to the nuances of international politics, and by that measure, she is certainly qualified for the position of Secretary of State.

The next Secretary of State will have large shoes to fill. I have closely watched the career of Colin Powell since he served as National Security Advisor to President Reagan, and we worked together during the Senate consideration of the INF Treaty of 1988. He distinguished himself in his service as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly during the 1991 Gulf War. When his nomination came before the Senate in 2001, I supported his confirmation based upon the strength of his record.

The vote that the Senate will conduct tomorrow, however, is not simply a formality to approve of a nominee's educational achievement or level of expertise. I do not subscribe to the notion that the Senate must confirm a President's nominees, barring criminality or lack of experience. The Constitution enjoins Senators to use their judgment in considering nominations.

I am particularly dismayed by accusations I have read that Senate Democrats, by insisting on having an opportunity to debate the nomination of Dr. Rice, have somehow been engaged in nothing more substantial than "petty politics" or partisan delaying tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Senate's role of advice and consent to presidential nominations is not a ceremonial exercise.

I have stood on this Senate floor more times than I can count to defend the prerogatives of this institution and the separate but equal – with emphasis on the word "equal" – powers of the three branches of government. A unique power of the Legislative Branch is the Senate's role in providing advice and consent on the matter of nominations. That power is not vested in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or any other committee; nor does it repose in a handful of Senate leaders. It is not a function of pomp and circumstance, and it was never intended by the Framers to be used to burnish the image of a President on inauguration day.

And yet that is exactly what Senators were being pressured to do last week – to acquiesce mutely to the nomination of one of the most important members of the President's Cabinet without the merest hiccup of debate or the smallest inconvenience of a roll call vote.

And so we are here today to fulfill our constitutional duty to consider the nomination of Dr. Rice to be Secretary of State. Mr. President, I have carefully considered Dr. Rice's record as National Security Advisor in the two months that have passed since the President announced her nomination to be Secretary of State. That record, I am afraid, is one of intimate involvement in a number of Administration foreign policies which I strongly oppose. These policies have fostered enormous opposition -- both at home and abroad -- to the White House's view of America's place in the world.

That view of America is one which encourages our Nation to flex its muscles without being bound by any calls for restraint. The most forceful explanation of this idea can be found in "The National Security Strategy of the United States," a report which was issued by the White House in September 2002. Under this strategy, the President lays claim to an expansive power to use our military to strike other nations first, even if we have not been threatened or provoked.

There is no question that the President has the inherent authority to repel attacks against our country, but this National Security Strategy is unconstitutional on its face. It takes the checks and balances established in the Constitution that limit the President's ability to use our military at his pleasure, and throws them out the window.

This doctrine of preemptive strikes places the sole decision of war and peace in the hands of the President and undermines the Constitutional power of Congress to declare war. The Founding Fathers required that such an important issue of war be debated by the elected representatives of the people in the Legislative Branch precisely because no single man could be trusted with such an awesome power as bringing a nation to war by his decision alone. And yet, that it exactly what the National Security Strategy proposes.

Not only does this pernicious doctrine of preemptive war contradict the Constitution, it barely acknowledges its existence. The National Security Strategy makes only one passing reference to the Constitution: it states that "America's constitution" -- that is "constitution" with a small C -- "has served us well." As if the Constitution does not still serve this country well! One might ask if that reference to the Constitution was intended to be a compliment or an obituary?

As National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice was in charge of developing the National Security Strategy. She also spoke out forcefully in support of the dangerous doctrine of preemptive war. In one speech, she argues that there need not be an imminent threat before the United States attacks another nation: "So as a matter of common sense," said Dr. Rice on October 1, 2002, "the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized."

But that "matter of common sense" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. For that matter, isn't it possible to disagree with this "matter of common sense?" What is common sense to one might not be shared by another. What's more, matters of common sense can lead people to the wrong conclusions. John Dickinson, the chief author of the Articles of Confederation, said in 1787, "Experience must be our only guide; reason may mislead us." As for me, I will heed the experience of Founding Fathers, as enshrined in the Constitution, over the reason and "common sense" of the Administration's National Security Strategy.

We can all agree that the President, any President, has the inherent duty and power to repel an attack on the United States. But where in the Constitution can the President claim the right to strike at another nation before it has even threatened our country, as Dr. Rice asserted in that speech? To put it plainly, Dr. Rice has asserted that the President holds far more of the war power than the Constitution grants him.

This doctrine of attacking countries before a threat has "fully materialized" was put into motion as soon as the National Security Strategy was released. Beginning in September 2002, Dr. Rice also took a position on the front lines of the Administration's effort to hype the danger of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the Administration used to scare the American people into believing that there was an imminent threat from Iraq. On September 8, 2002, Dr. Rice conjured visions of American cities being consumed by mushroom clouds. On an appearance on CNN, she warned: "The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Dr. Rice also claimed that she had conclusive evidence about Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program. During that same interview, she also said: "We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into… Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes… that are really only suited for nuclear weapons programs."

We now know that Iraq's nuclear program was a fiction. Charles Duelfer, the chief arms inspector of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, reported on September 30, 2004: "Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. [The Iraq Survey Group] found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."

But Dr. Rice's statements in 2002 were not only wrong, they also did not accurately reflect the intelligence reports of the time. Declassified portions of the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 make it clear that there were disagreements among our intelligence analysts about the state of Iraq's nuclear program. But Dr. Rice seriously misrepresented their disputes when she categorically stated, "We do know that [Saddam] is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon."

Her allegation also misrepresented to the American people the controversy in those same intelligence reports about the aluminum tubes. Again, Dr. Rice said that these tubes were "really only suited for nuclear weapons programs." But intelligence experts at the State Department and the Department of Energy believed that those tubes had nothing to do with building a nuclear weapon, and made their dissent known in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. This view, which was at odds with Dr. Rice's representations, was later confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and our own CIA arms inspectors.

Dr. Rice made other statements that helped to build a case for war by implying a link between Iraq and September 11. On multiple occasions, Dr. Rice spoke about the supposed evidence that Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league with each other. For example, on September 25, 2002, Dr. Rice said on the PBS NewsHour:

"No one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on September 11, so we don't want to push this too far, but this is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clear, and we're learning more…. But yes, there clearly are contact[s] between Al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented; there clearly is testimony that some of the contacts have been important contacts and that there is a relationship there."

What Dr. Rice did not say was that some of those supposed links were being called into question by our intelligence agencies, such as the alleged meeting between a 9-11 ringleader and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague that has now been debunked. These attempts to connect Iraq and Al Qaeda appear to be a prime example of cherry-picking intelligence to hype the supposed threat of Iraq, while keeping contrary evidence away from the American people, wrapped up in the red tape of top secret reports.

Dr. Rice pressed the point even further, creating scenarios that threatened tens of thousands of American lives, even when that threat wasn't supported by intelligence. On March 9, 2003, just eleven days before the invasion of Iraq, Dr. Rice appeared on "Face the Nation" and said:

"Now the al-Qaida is an organization that's quite dispersed and --and quite widespread in its effects, but it clearly has had links to the Iraqis, not to mention Iraqi links to all kinds of other terrorists. And what we do not want is the day when Saddam Hussein decides that he's had enough of dealing with sanctions, enough of dealing with, quote, unquote, "containment," enough of dealing with America, and it's time to end it on his terms, by transferring one of these weapons, just a little vial of something, to a terrorist for blackmail or for worse."

But the intelligence community had already addressed this scenario with great skepticism. In fact, the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 concluded that it had "low confidence" that Saddam would ever transfer any weapons of mass destruction – weapons that he did not have, as it turned out – to anyone outside of his control. This is yet more evidence of an abuse of intelligence in order to build the case for an unprovoked war with Iraq.

And what has been the effect of the first use of the reckless doctrine of preemptive war? In a most ironic and deadly twist, the false situation described by the Administration before the war -- namely, that Iraq was a training ground for terrorists poised to attack us -- is exactly the situation that our war in Iraq has created.

But it was this unjustified war that created the situation that the President claimed he was trying to prevent. Violent extremists have flooded into Iraq from all corners of the world. Iraqis have taken up arms themselves to fight against the continuing U.S. occupation of their country. According to a CIA report released in December 2004, intelligence analysts now see Iraq, destabilized by the Administration's ill-conceived war, as the training ground for a new generation of terrorists. [Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project, pp. 94] It should be profoundly disturbing to all Americans if the most dangerous breeding ground for terrorism shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, simply because of the Administration's ill-advised rush to war in March 2003.

Dr. Rice's role in the war against Iraq was not limited to building the case for an unprecedented, preemptive invasion of a country that had not attacked us first. Her role also extends to the Administration's failed efforts to establish peace in Iraq. In October 2003, five months after he declared "Mission Accomplished," the President created the Iraq Stabilization Group, headed by Dr. Rice. The task of the Iraq Stabilization Group was to coordinate efforts to speed reconstruction aid to help bring the violence in Iraq to an end.

But what has the Iraq Stabilization Group accomplished under the leadership of Dr. Rice? When she took the helm of the stabilization efforts, 319 U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq. That number now stands at 1,368 as of today (Tuesday 1/25). More than 10,600 troops have been wounded. The cost of the war has spiraled to $149 billion, and the White House is on the verge of asking Congress for another $80 billion. Despite the mandate of the Iraq Stabilization Group, the situation in Iraq has gone from bad to worse. More ominously, the level of violence only keeps growing, week after week, month after month, and no Administration official, whether from the White House, the Pentagon, or Foggy Bottom, has made any predictions about when the violence will finally subside.

Furthermore, of the $18.4 billion in Iraqi reconstruction aid appropriated by Congress in October 2003, the Administration has spent only $2.7 billion. With these funds moving so slowly, it is hard to believe that the Iraq Stabilization Group has had any success at all in speeding the reconstruction efforts in Iraq. For all the hue and cry about the need to speed up aid to Iraq, one wonders if there should be more tough questions asked of Dr. Rice about what she has accomplished as the head of this group.

There are also many unanswered questions about Dr. Rice's record as National Security Advisor. Richard Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism advisor, has leveled scathing criticism against Dr. Rice and the National Security Council for failing to recognize the threat from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the months leading up to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In particular, Mr. Clarke states that he submitted a request on January 25, 2001, for an urgent meeting of the National Security Council on the threat of al Qaeda.

However, due to decisions made by Dr. Rice and her staff, that urgent meeting did not occur until too late: the meeting was not actually called until September 4, 2001. Mr. Clarke, who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on terrorism in government at that time, told the 9-11 Commission that he was so frustrated with those decisions that he asked to be reassigned to different issues, and the Bush White House approved that request.

Dr. Rice appeared before the 9-11 Commission on April 8, 2004, but if anything, her testimony raised only more questions about what the President and others knew about the threats to New York City and Washington, D.C. in the weeks before the attacks, and whether more could have been done to prevent them.

Why wasn't any action taken when she and the President received an intelligence report on August 6, 2001, entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States?" Why did Dr. Rice and President Bush reassign Richard Clarke, the leading terrorism expert in the White House, soon after taking office in 2001? Why did it take nine months for Dr. Rice to call the first high-level National Security Council meeting on the threat of Osama bin Laden? As the Senate debates her nomination today, we still have not heard full answers to these questions.

In addition to Mr. Clarke's criticism, Dr. David Kay, the former CIA weapons inspector in Iraq, also has strong words for the National Security Council and its role in the run up to the war in Iraq. When Dr. Kay appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on August 18, 2004, to analyze why the Administration's pre-war intelligence was so wrong about weapons of mass destruction, he described the National Security Council as the "dog that didn't bark" to warn the President about the weakness of those intelligence reports. Dr. Kay continued: "Every president who has been successful, at least that I know of, in the history of this republic, has developed both informal and formal means of getting checks on whether people who tell him things are in fact telling him the whole truth.… The recent history has been a reliance on the NSC system to do it. I quite frankly think that has not served this president very well."

What Dr. Kay appears to state was his view that the National Security Council, under the leadership of Dr. Rice, did not do a sufficient job of raising doubts about the quality of the intelligence about Iraq. On the contrary, based upon Dr. Rice's statements that I quoted earlier, her rhetoric even went beyond the questionable intelligence that the CIA had available on Iraq, in order to hype the threats of aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, and connections between Iraq and September 11.

In light of the massive reorganization of our intelligence agencies enacted by Congress last year, shouldn't this nomination spur the Senate to stop, look, and listen about what has been going on in the National Security Council for the last four years? Don't these serious questions about the failings of the National Security Council under Dr. Rice deserve a more through examination before the Senate votes to confirm her as the next Secretary of State?

Accountability has become an old-fashioned notion in some circles these days, but accountability is not a negotiable commodity when it comes to the highest circles of our nation's government. The accountability of government officials is an obligation, not a luxury. And yet, accountability is an obligation that this President and his administration appear loath to fulfill.

Instead of being held to account for their actions, the architects of the policies that led our nation into war with Iraq, policies based on faulty intelligence and phantom weapons of mass destruction, have been rewarded by the President with accolades and promotions. Instead of admitting to mistakes in the war on Iraq and its disastrous aftermath, the President and his inner circle of advisers continue to cling to myths and misconceptions. The only notion of accountability that this President is willing to acknowledge is the November elections, which he has described as a moment of accountability and an endorsement of his policies. Unfortunately, after-the-fact validation of victory is hardly the standard of accountability that the American people have the right to expect from their elected officials. It is one thing to accept responsibility for success; it is quite another to accept accountability for failure.

Sadly, failure has tainted far too many aspects of our nation's international policies over the past four years, culminating in the deadly insurgency that has resulted from the invasion of Iraq. With respect to this particular nomination, I believe that there needs to be accountability for the mistakes and missteps that have led the United States into the dilemma in which it finds itself today, besieged by increasing violence in Iraq, battling an unprecedented decline in world opinion, and increasingly isolated from our allies due to our provocative, belligerent, bellicose, and unilateralist foreign policy.

Whether the Administration will continue to pursue these policies cannot be known to Senators today, as we prepare to cast our votes. At her confirmation hearing on January 18, Dr. Rice proclaimed that "Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue." But two days later, President Bush gave an inaugural address that seemed to rattle sabers at any nation that he does not consider to be free. Before Senators cast their vote, we must wonder whether we are casting our lot for more diplomacy or more belligerence? Reconciliation or more confrontation? Which face of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde foreign policy will be revealed in the next four years?

Although I do not question her credentials, I do oppose many of the critical decisions that Dr. Rice has made during her four years as National Security Advisor. She has a record, and the record is there for us to judge. There remain too many unanswered questions about Dr. Rice's failure to protect our country before the tragic attacks of September 11, her public efforts to politicize intelligence, and her often stated allegiance to the doctrine of preemption.

To confirm Dr. Rice to be the next Secretary of State is to say to the American people, and the world, that the answers to those questions are no longer important. Her confirmation will most certainly be viewed as another endorsement of the Administration's unconstitutional doctrine of preemptive war, its bullying policies of unilateralism, and its callous rejection of our long-standing allies.

The stakes for the United States are too high. I cannot endorse higher responsibilities for those who helped set our great country down the path of increasing isolation, enmity in the world, and a war that has no end. For these reasons, I shall cast my vote in opposition to the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice to be the next Secretary of State.