I want to thank St. Mary's University for providing a podium today to a Gustavus alumnus. I'm living proof that Gustavus and St. Mary's can reconcile any lingering differences: my brother in law is not only a St. Mary's graduate and long-time Winona resident, but also, my campaign website coordinator. I'm also fortunate to have one of St. Mary's own - professor Leslee Gilbert - as my press secretary for the campaign.
I also want to thank all the students, faculty and administration - from both St. Mary's and Winona State - who have taken time out from their busy day to be here today.
A couple of days after last year's September 11th attack, I was in Winona, talking with a friend about that unforgettable day.
Afterwards, I stopped at the St. Mary's campus. I sat down at the Memorial honoring those students who died while still in school. It was the right place to think about the thousands of lives cut short two days earlier in New York and Washington, and the many dreams - like the dreams of those students honored at your Memorial - that would go unfulfilled.
The events of September 11th were a turning point in our nation's history. A decade earlier, we had prevailed in a decades-long Cold War against the Soviet Union, and achieved unprecedented military, economic, and political power. Yet a small group of terrorists, armed with box cutters, were able to mount a devastating attack against the economic and military centers of our country. And were it not for the courage of 40 Americans on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, the most visible symbol of our nation - the White House - most likely would have been destroyed, and many more lives - including our senior leadership - could have ended.
One year later, our nation is still battling with the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. We must bring justice to those who planned, supported, and executed the September 11th attacks. President Bush has the full support of the Congress, the country, and the international community in hunting down Osama Bin Laden, destroying the Al Qaeda network, and ridding Afghanistan of the scourge of the Taliban.
But while that battle, and the challenge of bringing stability to Afghanistan continues, the nation and the international community are now faced with the specter of another conflict, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Today, I want to talk about that conflict, and the broader question of how the United States can best advance its national security interests in the months and years ahead.
The Iraqi regime led by Saddam Hussein has been a threat to international peace and security for at least two decades. Iraq attacked Iran in the 1980's and Kuwait in the 1990's, killing millions of combatants and civilians. Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons against not only Iran, but also his own people.
The Iran-Iraq war went on for eight years and ended largely due to the exhaustion of both combatants. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the United States, with the backing of the United Nations Security Council, responded, building a broad international coalition that drove the Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. At that time, the United States and its coalition allies chose not to go into Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Their purpose was to reverse his aggression and restore the territorial integrity of Kuwait.
As part of the terms of the cessation of hostilities against Iraq, the United Nations required Iraq to declare and destroy its weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons - and submit to international inspections to verify the required disarmament.
As President Bush said last week in his speech at the United Nations, Iraq has failed to comply with these resolutions. In particular, Iraq is suspected of having stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and an ongoing nuclear weapons program. And so the United Nations, including the United States, is faced with the question, what to do?
I applaud the President for taking this issue to the United Nations and the Security Council. In doing so, he overruled some in his Administration who consistently, and wrongly, advocate a more unilateral approach to world affairs.
I also applaud the President for putting the United Nations on notice that this is a test of the will of the international community, and the effectiveness of collective security.
And finally, I applaud the President for his decision to seek the support of Congress for his policy on Iraq, including the possible use of force.
Serious scrutiny by the Congress of the Administration's case for military action is now essential: no issue will have a greater impact on our security, our economy, and peace in the Middle East than the question of whether to wage war against Iraq.
To be clear, if the President has information that Iraq, or any other state, is on the verge of attacking the United States, a friend or ally, or our interests, he would be fully justified in launching a pre-emptive military strike against that state.
But an imminent attack by Iraq does not appear to be the issue here. Instead, Congress must probe the more difficult case. Simply stated, even though an attack from Iraq does not appear to be imminent, and in fact, may never happen, does the potential threat from Iraq, now or in the future, justify a war of prevention?
Historically, the United States has refrained from preventive military strikes. When attacked, we have responded with fury. When Alliance commitments are at stake, we have honored them. But we have kept the option of preventive military strikes in our holster, and never condoned such action by other states.
Instead, we have adopted policies - such as containment, deterrence, strong alliances, diplomacy, and arms control - to prevent a potentially hostile state from taking action against us.
Therefore, it is imperative that Congress now takes the time to ask, and get answers to, the following questions:
I gave a speech last week in Albert Lea, where I said this election was boiling down to three issues: Leadership, National Security, and Economic Security.
I think Leadership has to begin within the Democratic Party. Many high-priced consultants to Democratic candidates are advising their clients to keep their head down during the upcoming debate on Iraq. I think the consultants are wrong.
Democrats - incumbents and candidates - need to be active participants, not just on domestic policy, but also on national security policy, and in particular, Iraq. Moreover, candidates for public office need to have a position. So let me tell you mine, based on everything I know today.
First, the President should work to build the broadest possible consensus for international action in the UN Security Council, both to return weapons inspectors to Iraq, and to specify the consequences if Iraq continues its intransigence, including the possible use of force.
Second, the President should work to build the broadest possible consensus in Congress on the same two points, inspectors and consequences. Congress should get answers from the Administration to the questions I have posed. This can be done, if need be, before the mid-term elections. But I would caution that any hint that the Administration is politicizing this debate, or that Congress is acting simply to move the issue off the mid-term election agenda, will undermine the long-term durability of the policy.
Third, the Administration, and Congress, should make every effort to avoid a war in Iraq: as Secretary of State Powell said last week, "no sensible person wants to go to war if war can be avoided." America's men and women in uniform deserve our best efforts to keep them out of harm's way.
That means we should do everything possible to effectively disarm Iraq through international inspections and monitoring; that we should pursue our stated goal of regime change in the near-term only if disarmament requires it; and that military action should be a last resort, for both disarmament, and regime change.
Fourth, a strong case can be made that the battle against terrorism - which requires a high degree of international cooperation - is a higher priority, and separable, from our policy towards Iraq. We should not undermine our first priority through our action on Iraq.
Fifth, the Administration and Congress must do more to finish the job in Afghanistan, including providing a security environment where the Taliban and Al Qaeda can never again take root. This may require more U.S. troops, and more U.S. dollars, over many more years. It is a sobering example of the price of rebuilding a battered society, and an indication of what may await us if the U.S. were to invade Iraq.
Finally, the Administration and Congress must do more to drain the swamps of poverty, despair and injustice overseas that create conditions that are exploited by and provide shelter to terrorists. We learned last year at great cost that what happens in a failed state like Afghanistan can affect us all; and we cannot afford another Afghanistan.
Beyond these points, the Administration and Congress must come to grips with our deteriorating federal budget, in particular, if the American people are going to be asked to shoulder the considerable financial burden and potential economic disruption of a war in Iraq, and the subsequent costs of occupation and rebuilding.
Over the past eighteen months, the 5.6 trillion dollar surplus this Administration inherited has almost completely disappeared. The greatest single factor in the evaporation of this surplus has been last year's tax cut, where forty percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest one percent of Americans. This was a policy proposed by the Administration, and enthusiastically embraced by House Republicans, including this District's Representative.
Already, that tax cut has made it impossible to deliver on the Federal government's commitment to provide its share of funding for special education; to provide a prescription drug benefit to seniors; or to protect the Social Security and Medicare surplus. On that basis alone, Congress will need to look at both spending, and revenue, when it reconvenes next January. If we are at war with Iraq, this becomes even more imperative.
Two weeks ago, a reporter for the Mankato Free Press asked my opponent what he thought about Iraq? His bottom line seemed to be that the President knew a lot more than he did; that he was prepared to defer to the President; and that he was glad he didn't have to shoulder that responsibility.
A week later, after the President's speech, my opponent issued a short, written statement complimenting the President on his speech, and refused to answer questions posed by the Rochester Post Bulletin.
I respectfully disagree with this approach. Our representative in Congress must shoulder the responsibility of reaching an independent judgment on this matter.
Questions of war and peace cannot simply be left to the President as Commander and Chief. Your Congressman may not sit in the Oval Office, but he does have a seat in the United States House of Representatives. The people of southern Minnesota expect him to represent their concerns in that House, in particular, when the lives of our men and women in uniform are on the line. Yes, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress to support a popular President should he press for a vote authorizing the use of force, in particular, within one month of mid-term elections. But the case for preventive military action against Iraq must be made before Congress. And if and when it is, I'm sure the President will have the full support of the Congress, and the American people.
Almost 40 years ago, in a different time, and in a different context, Congress was asked to consider the implications of an attack against U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. The result was a Congressional resolution authorizing the President to take "all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." That resolution became the basis for the deployment of over 500,000 Americans to Southeast Asia. It passed with only two days debate, and only two Senators voted against it. At that time, Congress deferred to the President and the President's advisors, who the author David Halberstam memorialized as "The Best and the Brightest," without understanding the full implications of the policy it was embracing. More is required today.
Finally, more is required of us as citizens. We must engage in discussion and debate with our elected leaders, and amongst ourselves, on this important issue, and others.
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