(A speech delivered to the Yadkin River Patriots Chapter of the DAR, Albemarle, North Carolina, on the occasion of Constitution Week, September 17, 2004.)
Madam Regent, members of the Yadkin River Patriot Chapter of the DAR, and friends: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you once again on the occasion of your observance of Constitution Month.
How often we think of the U.S. Constitution in the abstract, about James Madison, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other founding fathers laboring in Philadelphia to craft this our most cherished American document, about the Federalist Papers, and the Bill of Rights, and the individual state legislatures struggling to ratify this document.
However, we seldom consider in a reflective manner how the US Constitution affects our everyday lives. In recent months many books have been published to help us reflect upon our government and how it has functioned – wisely or imprudently – during the post 9/11 period. A general election is coming soon, one in which we shall elect a President to lead us for the next four years. We have heard from both Republicans and Democrats that this election may be the most important election of our lifetimes. I agree with this assessment.
For today’s program, let us consider two recently published books that speak to the U.S. Constitution and our current national state of affairs. Both authors are well-known, well-respected opinion makers – one a staunch conservative thinker who has run for President of the USA on three occasions, the other a liberal thinker who is the longest serving member of the US Senate. These authors are Patrick J. Buchanan, a Republican columnist and political commentator, and Robert C. Byrd, a Democratic Senator from West Virginia. What is extraordinary about their books is the similarity of their opinions respecting the current administration’s abuse of the U.S. Constitution concerning the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of our government.
These books are: Where The Right Went Wrong, How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency, by Mr. Buchanan, and Losing America, Confronting A Reckless And Arrogant Presidency, by Senator Byrd.
In choosing a topic for today’s program, I wanted one that might instruct us on contemporary issues. Last week, I discovered that topic while listening to a radio talk show featuring Patrick Buchanan’s new book. I had found two genuine American leaders, who usually represent opposing sides of the political spectrum, who agree fundamentally with my own opinions. Of course, in these few moments there is time to present only brief excerpts from these books, but perhaps you will be encouraged to read these books for yourselves. (Senator Byrd’s book can be found in the Stanly County Library. Perhaps Pat Buchanan’s will be there soon; it was published only recently. My copies are available for any of you to borrow.)
In Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress is given the exclusive power “To Declare War ---; To raise and support Armies ---; To provide and maintain Navies; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasion; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States ---“
In his Introduction, Buchanan writes, “President Bush has declared it to be U.S. policy to launch preemptive war on any rouge regime that seeks weapons of mass destruction, a policy today being defied by North Korea and Iran, both of which have programs to produce nuclear weapons. The president has also declared it to be U.S. policy to go to war to prevent any other nation from acquiring the power to challenge U.S. hegemony in any region of the earth. It is called ‘the Bush Doctrine.’ It is a prescription for permanent war for permanent peace, though wars are the death of republics. ‘No nation,’ warned Madison, ‘can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’
Buchanan continues, “In 2003, the United States invaded a country that did not threaten us, did not attack us, and did not want war with us, to disarm it of weapons we have since discovered it did not have. His war cabinet assured President Bush that weapons of mass destruction would be found, that U.S. forces would be welcomed with garlands of flowers, that democracy would flourish in Iraq and spread across the Middle East, that our triumph would convince Israelis and Palestinians to sit down and make peace.
“None of this happened. --- Now our nation is tied down and our army is being daily bled in a war to create a democracy in a country where it has never before existed.
“With the guerrilla war,” Buchanan writes, “U.S. prestige has plummeted. --- In spring 2004, revelations of the sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison sent U.S. prestige sinking to its lowest levels ever in the Arab world. We may have ignited the war of civilizations it was in our vital interest to avoid. Never has America been more resented and reviled in an Islamic world of a billion people.”
Moving on into Chapter 1, Buchanan says, “September 11 changed Bush. As his father had found his mission when Iraq invaded Kuwait, George W. Bush seemed to have found his when he stood in the rubble of the twin towers in Lower Manhattan. That mission: Lead America in a worldwide war on terror that would continue through his presidency and for the rest of our lives.
“Nine days after September 11, Bush went before a joint session of Congress and in the most powerful address of his presidency laid down the principles and strategy America would pursue:
Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. ----- Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.
Later, “In his State of the Union in 2002, President Bush went further, identifying Iran, Iraq, and North Korea by name as the “axis of evil” and delivering virtual ultimatums to all three:
We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.
Buchanan continues, “With this threat, President Bush stunned many who had supported his leadership. What did Iran, Iraq, and North Korea have to do with 9/11? Why was he widening the war by issuing ultimatums to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea before Al Qaeda and its collaborators had been eradicated? When had Iraq, Iran, and North Korea threatened America with “the world’s most destructive weapons? ---
“The Bush threat of war upon nations that had not attacked us was unprecedented. Truman never threatened war to stop Stalin from building atomic bombs after Russia tested one in 1949. LBJ did not threaten war on China when it exploded a nuclear weapon in 1964. While it had been U.S. policy to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan had all acquired nuclear weapons without serious retribution from the United States.
“Yet Bush had put Iraq, Iran, and North Korea on notice. Should any of the three seek to enter the circle of nations possessing nuclear weapons, or the larger circle possessing biological or chemical weapons – some of which dated back to World War I – they risked a preemptive strike and war to disarm them and effect ‘regime change’ in their countries. Though the president may not have known it when he issued his ultimata, North Korea and Iran already had secret nuclear programs underway.
“Still,” Buchanan informs us, “President Bush had no authority to issue those threats. The Constitution does not empower the president to launch preventive wars. To attain Churchillian heights, Bush’s speechwriters had taken him over the top. But, as events would demonstrate, Bush fully intended to go where his rhetoric was leading him. ---
“In dealing with terrorists the president was right. No threat will deter a suicide bomber determined to give up his life driving an airliner into the World Trade Center. But in dealing with nations, containment and deterrence had never failed us. We contained Stalin and Mao though both had large arsenals of nuclear weapons.
“Yet, with the ‘unbalanced dictators’ of today, like Kim Jong Il, the Iranian mullahs, and Saddam, President Bush was saying, deterrence could not be relied upon to keep us secure. But why not? After all, not one of these rogue regimes ever openly or directly attacked the United States.”
These statements come from the pen of a three-time conservative candidate for President, who began his political career as a speech-writer for President Richard Nixon. Previously, I gave Mr. Buchanan’s opinions scant consideration. Today, however, I find them worthy of my attention and that of our nation. Mr. Buchanan is one who chose to speak-up early and often in opposition to this radical, dangerous policy of preemptive and preventive warfare.
Now to Senator Byrd’s book. He too spoke early and often opposing the Bush Doctrine and the Administration’s disdain for working with Congress. At the conclusion of his book are printed eight of his speeches delivered from the floor of the U.S. Senate. In Chapter Six Byrd writes, “It can be difficult getting intelligence right. Intelligence gathering is a dangerous, slippery, shady business that depends on information from society’s outsiders. Seemingly unrelated bits of data must be analyzed and pieced together to produce a coherent picture. What’s there is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, particularly in the Middle East, where the language and its dialects can be challenged. We often have a dearth of people who can speak and understand well. Murky details can be misused or misinterpreted. Imagine the folly of espousing a doctrine of preemption, which, to be effective, must rest on a pillar of near-perfect intelligence information, but more often rests of pillars of sand. Disaster, a needless loss of life, fear and hatred of the United States – all lay ahead. Moreover, such a doctrine is completely contrary to accepted international law. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the unilateral use of force unless such force is authorized by the UN Security Council or the nation undertaking the action is acting in self-defense against an armed attack. Under our own U.S. Constitution, the president has inherent authority to repel an imminent attack, but beyond that only if there is a declaration of war or other authorization by Congress. Thus, a doctrine of preemption erodes Congress’s role in declaring or authorizing conflict.---
Senator Byrd continues, “Let us ponder the words of the greatest Republican of them all. While serving as a member of the U.S. House, Representative Abraham Lincoln penned prophetic words on the wisdom of presidential war-making. In a letter written to William H. Herndon, his friend and partner in their Illinois law firm, Lincoln refuted Herndon’s view that President James K. Polk’s aggressive protection of the newly annexed territory of Texas, resulting in a war with Mexico, was necessary. Lincoln disputed whether Polk had acted to repel invasion:
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability to the British invading us’ but he will say to you, ‘Be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
In the opinion of Senator Byrd, “The doctrine of preemption claimed by Bush should have incited a major debate in the Congress and across the country. Radical, having no basis in existing law, this new foreign policy was dangerous in the extreme. Preemption had consequences far beyond the “axis of evil” countries – unintended consequences which make the world a vastly more dangerous place as countries scramble to acquire nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deter the new trigger-happy United States from unprovoked attacks. --- Our metamorphosis on the world stage from powerful, peaceful giant to swaggering Wild West bully, with little regard for cooperative agreements, sensitivities, or diplomacy in general, means a different kind of world in years to come. When we were attacked on September 11, 2001, we had the world’s support against a common enemy. Now, we were quickly losing friends who feared our new aggressiveness. And when your friends fear you, you are in trouble.”
These excerpts I’ve presented to you today scarcely begin to describe the fury with which Mr. Buchanan and Senator Byrd express their fears for our nation’s future under the current policies of the Bush Administration and the Bush Doctrine. In closing, I encourage you to read these two books. Strive to understand what these men say to us. In a Democracy, we the people Rule. It is our voices and our votes that determine the direction our nation follows. We can turn onto a new direction. We can honor our U.S. Constitution.