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OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR CARL LEVIN, CHAIRMAN
Chairman LEVIN. Good afternoon, everybody. The Senate Armed Services Committee meets this afternoon to continue our hearings on U.S. policy toward Iraq. The purpose of these hearings is to give the administration an opportunity to present its position on Iraq and to allow this committee to examine the administration's proposal with administration witnesses and experts outside the government.
We welcome Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, to the committee. Next week, the committee will hear from former senior military commanders on Monday and from former national security officials on Wednesday.
We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.
Last week, in his speech to the United Nations, President Bush rightfully declared that the Iraqi threat is, “exactly the kind of aggressive threat that the United Nations was born to confront.” The President reminded the world that Iraqi aggression was stopped after the invasion of Kuwait, in his words, "by the might of the coalition force and the will of the United Nations.” The President called upon the United Nations to act again, stating, “My Nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions.”
We, in Congress, applauded the President's efforts to galvanize the world community through the United Nations to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Our actions now in Congress should be devoted to presenting a broad, bipartisan consensus in that critical effort. This does not mean giving a veto to the U.N. over U.S. foreign policy. No one is going to do that. It is an acknowledgment that Saddam is a world problem and should be addressed in the world arena, and that we are in a stronger position to disarm Iraq and even possibly avoid war if Saddam sees the world at the other end of the barrel, not just the United States.
Some have suggested that we also commit ourselves to unilateral action in Iraq and that we do so now. In the middle of our efforts to enlist the world community to back a U.N. resolution or resolutions enforcing Iraqi compliance with unconditional inspections and disarmament requirements, they say that, although we told the U.N. that their role is vital just a week ago, we should now say we are just fine in proceeding on our own. I believe if we really mean it when we say that we want the U.N. to be relevant, then we should not act in a manner that treats them as irrelevant.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, the United Nations, at the urging of former President Bush and with the full support of Congress, condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces, and, in November of 1990, passed a resolution authorizing member states to use all necessary means to free Kuwait. Two months later, in January 1991, after debate and a close vote, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the participation of U.S. Armed Forces in that effort. The military campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1991 by the U.S.-led coalition was carried out with the active participation of most of our NATO allies, the ground forces of several Muslim nations, and the support and backing of virtually every nation in the world.
U.N. resolutions paved the way for the establishment and enforcement of the no-fly zones over Northern and Southern Iraq and for the air and missile attacks on Iraqi facilities related to weapons of mass destruction programs that it had in December of 1998 following Iraq's expulsion of the U.N. weapons inspectors.
The experience of the last decade teaches us that, in dealing with Iraq, the United States has been able to work with the world community through the United Nations. A go-it-alone approach where we attack Iraq without the support and participation of the world community would be very different. It would entail grave risks and could have serious consequences for U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world.
If we go it alone, would we be able to secure the use of air bases, ports, supply bases, and overflight rights in the region important to the success of a military operation against Saddam Hussein? If we go it alone, would we continue to enjoy broad international support for the war on terrorism, including the law enforcement, financial, and intelligence cooperation that has proven to be so essential? If we go it alone, what would be the impact on the stability of moderate Arab nations, and what would be our future relationship with moderate Arab and Muslim nations? If we go it alone without U.N. authority in attacking Saddam, would he or his military commanders be more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations in the region and against U.S. military forces in response than would be the case if he faced a U.N.-authorized coalition, particularly if that coalition included a number of Muslim nations, as the coalition did during the Gulf War? If we go it alone, would other nations use our action as a precedent for threatening unilateral military action against their neighbors in the future?
Members of this Senate Armed Services Committee are ever mindful of the fact that confronting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein could ultimately lead to committing U.S. military forces, including ground forces, to combat. How and under what circumstances we commit our Armed Forces to an attack on Iraq could have far-reaching consequences for our interests throughout the world and for the future peace and stability in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
I want to echo the statement that General Myers makes in his prepared remarks. “America's military is the most capable and professional fighting force in the world.” There is no doubt in my mind—and there should be no doubt in Saddam Hussein's mindthat, once committed, our Armed Forces will prevail in any conflict. None of us seeks such a conflict, but, if it comes, our military will have the full support of every member of this body, whether they favor committing to a go-it-alone approach at this time or not.