August 08, 2003

Senate Remarks of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV): Gathering Storm Clouds Over North Korea

(8/7/03) Another historic speech by one of the elders of the Popular Front, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV): "In this moment of great potential peril, the President is preparing to retire for a month to his ranch in Texas. The question needs to be asked: Who's minding the White House? In a short time, the Senate will recess for the month of August. It is my belief that we should not go far. I hope that the international situation will remain stable, and that no new crises will erupt. But I do not pretend to be sanguine. I do not pretend to assume that all will be well."

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August 01, 2003

Senate Remarks of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV): Gathering Storm Clouds Over North Korea

Weather forecasters have a name for one of their
worst nightmares, a violent atmospheric disturbance
triggered by an unusual convergence of weather
systems. They call it the perfect storm.

As the United States continues to be preoccupied with
quelling the postwar chaos in Iraq, I worry that the
elements of a perfect storm capable of wreaking
devastating damage to international stability are
brewing elsewhere in the world. The forces in play
are centered on the escalating nuclear threat from
North Korea, but they also include the emergence of
Iran as a nuclear contender, the violence and
desperate humanitarian situation in Liberia, the near
forgotten but continuing war in Afghanistan, and the
unrelenting threat of international terrorism. Just a
few days ago, the Department of Homeland Security
issued a chilling alert that al Qaeda operatives may
be plotting suicide missions to hijack commercial
aircraft in the coming weeks possibly in the United

Weather forecasters can do little more than watch a
storm unfold. They cannot quiet the winds or calm the
seas. We require more from the President of the
United States when it comes to international crises.
The President cannot afford to merely plot the course
of the gathering storms over North Korea, Iran,
Liberia, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The President
needs to turn his attention to these countries and
work with the international community to diffuse the
emerging crises.

The challenge is formidable, and there are no easy
answers. But the price of inaction could be ruinous.
Of all the looming international threats, North Korea
is clearly the most worrisome. Recently, (July 14)
former Defense Secretary and Korean specialist William
Perry warned that the United States and North Korea
are drifting toward war, possibly as early as this
year. In an interview published in The Washington
Post, Dr. Perry said, "The nuclear program now
underway in North Korea poses an imminent danger of
nuclear weapons being detonated in American cities."

Surely, such a stark warning from an official so
deeply steeped in the political culture of North Korea
should be a wake up call to the President. And yet,
to date, the Administration has steadfastly refused to
engage in direct talks with North Korea or even to
characterize the threat of North Korea's nuclear
weapons program as a crisis. Instead, the President
and his advisers have continued to hurl invectives at
Kim Jong Il while shrugging off increasingly alarming
reports that North Korea is stepping up its pursuit of
nuclear weapons.

Since last October, when North Korea revealed that it
planned to reprocess plutonium fuel rods into fissile
material that could be used in nuclear weapons, the
President and his advisers have consistently
downplayed the nuclear threat from North Korea while
hyping the nuclear threat from Iraq. And yet, while
we have strong evidence that North Korea is working
feverishly to accelerate its nuclear programs, we
still have not found a shred of evidence that Saddam
Hussein's efforts to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear
weapons program were anything more than bluster and

It is time if it is not already too late to drop
the false bravado of indifference to the threat from
North Korea and engage in face-to-face negotiations
with the North Koreans. Multilateral negotiations are
fine, preferable even, but they are unlikely to be
productive unless the United States takes the lead.
We cannot wait for the Chinese or the Japanese or the
South Koreans to pave the way. We cannot brush off
the nuclear threat posed by North Korea as an annoying
irritant. There is a real threat to the United
States, and the United States must act fast to
neutralize it.

The news on Thursday (July 31) that North Korea has
expressed a willingness to engage in six-sided talks,
with the participation of Russia in addition to the
other players, offers a glimmer of opportunity that
the United States should seize before North Korea
changes its mind. As difficult as it is to predict or
understand the motivations of Kim Jong Il, one thing
is certain: no progress can be made in unraveling the
nuclear tangle on the Korean peninsula until the
parties involved start talking to each other.

Not only must the President come to terms with the
gravity of the situation in North Korea, but he must
also understand that this is not a one-man show, and
this is not the type of discussion that can be sealed
with a simple handshake. Under the Constitution, the
Senate has a unique and important role to play in
helping to frame the contours and context of
international treaties. Any agreement negotiated
between the United States and Korea will have far
reaching implications for the national security of the
United States, and as such should be subject to the
treaty advice and consent provision of Article II,
section 2 of the Constitution.

On a collision course with the nuclear threat from
North Korea is the question of how to deal with Iran's
increasingly aggressive nuclear posture. A month ago,
the President hinted darkly that he would not tolerate
the construction of a nuclear weapon in Iran, but he
has been largely silent on the issue in the ensuing
weeks. Asked during a rare press conference earlier
this week about the potential for war with Iran, the
President placed the burden for seeking a peaceful
solution squarely on the shoulders of the
international community without suggesting any role
for the United States beyond "convincing others" to
speak to the Iranian government. When it comes to
dealing with the threat from Iran's weapons of mass
destruction, it appears that the White House is
deferring to some of the same countries and
institutions, including the International Atomic
Energy Agency, that it dismissed as inconsequential
during the run up to war with Iraq.

Like North Korea, the options for dealing with Iran
are limited, but dodging engagement in favor of
sporadic saber rattling is scarcely the wisest course
of action. Equally unhelpful are ominous hints that
the United States is contemplating covert action to
precipitate regime change in Iran. Unlike North
Korea, Iran has not demanded direct negotiations with
the United States. Before it comes to that point, and
the United States is faced with the perception of
being blackmailed into negotiations, the
Administration should seize the initiative and not
abdicate its responsibility to other nations and other
institutions. Here again, the Administration cannot
afford to ignore the storm warnings and hope the
crisis will simply blow over.

The situation in Liberia raises a different, but no
less volatile, set of issues. Rent by violence and
reeling from the effects of a three-way conflict
between an illegitimate government and the warring
rebels who want to unseat it, Liberia is desperately
seeking help from the United States. The President
raised expectations for U.S. intervention during his
highly publicized visit to Africa earlier this month,
but it has been several weeks now since his return,
and still no clear policy with regard to Liberia has
emerged from the White House.

The question of whether the United States should
intervene in the Liberian crisis is fraught with
unknowns and uncertainties. The humanitarian crisis
calls out for relief. And yet, the solution is
elusive, and the danger of ensnaring U.S. military
troops in an intractable civil war is not to be
underestimated. Can the Economic Community of West
African States, known as ECOWAS, raise a force
sufficient to stabilize the unrest in Liberia? Could
the United States help without sending in ground
troops? Is the United Nations prepared to take over
peacekeeping operations once the situation is
stabilized? Can the United States afford to assist
Liberia? Can the United States afford to ignore

The questions are tough, but procrastination is not an
acceptable response. Hundreds of innocent civilians
are suffering and dying as a result of the conflict in
Liberia. Monrovia is in shambles. Last week (July 25),
the President took the tentative step of ordering
several thousand U.S. Marines to be positioned off the
coast of Liberia, but how or whether any of those
troops will be deployed remains unknown. Indecisive,
half-hearted gestures serve no purpose. As long as
there is an expectation that the United States will
intervene, African states are unlikely to take
independent action to deal with the situation in
Liberia. The President needs to determine a course of
action, he needs to consult with Congress and the
United Nations on pursuing that course, and he needs
to explain his reasoning and his strategy to the
American people.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services
Committee last week, (July 24) General Peter Pace,
vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, termed
Liberia "potentially a very dangerous situation" that
poses "great personal risk" to American troops. Any
decision to send American troops into that war torn
country is a decision that must be carefully thought
through and be made in concert with Congress and the
international community, not simply presented to the
American people as an after-the-fact notification.

The situation in Liberia, and the other crises brewing
around the world, require more attention and more
explanation from the President than the usual
off-the-cuff comments tossed to reporters at the end
of photo ops. This is not a summer for the President
to spend riding around the ranch in his pick up truck.
This is not a time to play to the television cameras
with the "bring 'em on" school of rhetoric. The
problems confronting the United States require the
President's serious and undivided attention. The
American people deserve a full accounting from the
President of where he stands on critical international
issues, and how he intends to deal with them.

Against the backdrop of the war in Iraq and the
emerging crises in North Korea, Iran, and Liberia, the
largely forgotten war in Afghanistan continues to
grind on, more than a year and half after the United
States rousted the Taliban from power and obliterated
al Qaeda's terrorist training camps. Nearly 10,000
American troops remain in Afghanistan, with no end to
their mission in sight and no clear mission to
accomplish hunting the remnants of the Taliban and
al Qaeda organizations. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's sons
have been killed, and one can only hope that we are
closing in on Saddam Hussein himself, but in the wider
war on terrorism, Osama bin Laden remains at large,
and his organization continues to spread its venom
throughout the Middle East and perhaps the world.

The alert issued earlier this week by the Homeland
Security Department is only the latest reminder that
the al Qaeda terrorist network remains a potent threat
to America and its allies. The warning included
specific details such as the fact that targets might
include the East coast of the United States, the
United Kingdom, Italy, or Australia and it raised
the possibility that at least one of the planned
highjackings or bombings could be executed before the
end of the summer.

In the face of such a frightening specter, it is
somewhat unsettling that on the subject of terrorism,
the President is talking tough to Iran and Syria, but
he seldom mentions Osama bin Laden anymore.

Is this another example of the President's efforts to
change his message to divert the attention of the
American people? The imminent and direct threat of
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was used to
hoodwink the public into accepting the rush to war,
but now that no weapons have been found, the President
barely mentions them anymore. Instead, he is now
talking about how regime change in Iraq was really the
catalyst required to stabilize the Middle East. New
day, new message.

At the center of America's imperiled relations with
its friends and foes alike is the Bush doctrine of
preemption, which was first articulated in the
September 2002 National Security Strategy. This
unprecedented declaration that the United States has
the right to launch preemptive military attacks
against hostile nations in the absence of direct
provocation sent shockwaves throughout the
international community.

The doctrine of preemption was the justification for
attacking Iraq without provocation, but the
ramifications of the policy go far beyond that nation.
All so-called "rogue regimes" were put on notice that
the United States was prepared to act to deter the
development of weapons of mass destruction that could
be used against America.

Suddenly, the elite club of nations that formed the
President's "axis of evil" found itself caught in the
cross hairs of the U.S. military. And just as
quickly, the hollowness of the doctrine was exposed.
Iraq could be attacked at will because it did not have
nuclear capability. North Korea called for restraint
because it plausibly did have nuclear capability.
Iran was a question mark. Predictably, both North
Korea and Iran, seeing the writing on the wall, began
to scramble to accelerate their nuclear programs. In
retrospect, the doctrine of preemption is beginning to
look more and more like a doctrine of provocation.

Against this background, the storm clouds of
international instability are massing. America's
military forces are stretched thin in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Our military leadership is absorbed with
Iraq. Our military resources both financial and
personnel are strained to the breaking point. With
the exception of Britain, our allies are reluctant to
commit significant resources or manpower to an
operation in Iraq in which the United States has a
stranglehold on authority and decision making. The
Executive Branch is preoccupied with the occupation of
Iraq and seems paralyzed when it comes to meaningful
action to deal with North Korea or Iran or Liberia.
Afghanistan and the global war on terror have
seemingly been relegated to the status of
afterthoughts. America's foreign policy appears to be
adrift in an increasingly tumultuous sea of
international turmoil. Meanwhile, the national terror
threat continues to hover uneasily in the "elevated
range" amid new warnings of terrorist attacks being
plotted against commercial aircraft.

In this moment of great potential peril, the President
is preparing to retire for a month to his ranch in
Texas. The question needs to be asked: Who's minding
the White House? In a short time, the Senate will
recess for the month of August. It is my belief that
we should not go far. I hope that the international
situation will remain stable, and that no new crises
will erupt. But I do not pretend to be sanguine. I
do not pretend to assume that all will be well.

A rare combination of volatile and dangerous
international events are poised to converge in the
coming months. In large part, it is a storm of this
Administration's own making, fueled by the fear,
confusion, and instability caused by the unprecedented
and ill-advised doctrine of preemption. I only hope
that the President and his advisers can summon the
skill, the wit, and the leadership to engage and
attempt to tame the elements of international turmoil
before it is too late and we are swept up into the
vortex of the storm.


Posted by richard at August 8, 2003 09:15 AM