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War and Politics

October 4, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Fridays are traditionally quiet days inside the U.S. Capitol. Few votes are taken, attendance is sparse, and so, as a result, is the debate. But today those same conditions permitted a rare face-to-face exchange between two of the Senate’s most senior members, Republican John Warner and Democrat Robert Byrd; they stand on opposing sides of the Iraq debate. Here’s a sampling of their hour- long debate beginning with an exchange about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: If I might say to my good friend, I think it’s helpful that Senators engage as you and I are, and I hope throughout this debate there’s a great deal of that. Senator to Senator, eye to eye, to talk about these issues. But this biological, I say to my good friend,, the ability to manufacture it and move those sites around to conceal his industrial base, the ability to package it in such a way that it now can be transported long distances, that, I think, is new technology which is troublesome to me. We know full well of the willingness and the capability of terrorists to hit us as they did on 9/11. We saw them attack the “U.S.S. Cole” — what is to prevent those biological weapons being placed into the hands of this growing network of terrorists, people who hate the united states, and bring it to our shores and distribute it?

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: We knew about their packaging. Why didn’t the CIA Director say to me when I asked him twice asked him twice, once up in 407 and once in my own office, what is there that’s new, from your standpoint of intelligence, that we didn’t know three months ago? Six months ago? He’s not been able to come one anything. So I say to my distinguished friend from Virginia, yes, I’m concern beside packaging and all that. But that’s not new. That shouldn’t make it all compelling that we vote on this matter of peace or war or preemptive strike before we go home. The people out there want us to come home. Let’s go home to the people who send us here. Let’s talk with them in town meetings. Let’s tell them what we know. They have questions. They want answers. Let’s go to our people the bosses, the people we represent. Let’s go back to them before we make that fateful decision once and for all, which involves so much of the treasure and blood of the people who send us here. Let’s go back to them. Let’s get their feelings, and then we can come back and make this decision.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: The timing of the work that we’re doing on this resolution is important, is now for many reasons. But I draw to the attention of my colleague that the United Nations is now deliberating at this very moment on the possibility of another resolution providing for yet another attempt for an inspection regime. If we show our strength and we show resolve as a unified Congress behind the President, to the extent that we do that, to the extent that resolution could be meaningful and have teeth in it and enforceability in such a way that we can avoid the conflict of war to resolve this question of weapons of mass destruction, which I know my good friend may have shared a view different than mine. But we know now he possibly doesn’t have an operative nuclear weapon, but he is doing everything he can to get the materials to construct one or the materials to incorporate in such technology as he has in place now.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: I say to my friend, let’s let the United Nations, that forum of world opinion, speak. Let it make its decision. Let’s see where those people stand. Let’s see where those other nations stand, and then come back to this body and the body across the hall, the Capitol, and let the Congress make its decision after the United Nations has taken a position. Otherwise we get the cart before the horse.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: What was the quote of a Frenchman who said one time, “oh, tell me in which direction the crowd is surging so that I can run out and get in front and lead.” Do you remember that quote?

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: No, but I remember Caesar when he saw one of the Roman soldiers running away from the battle, he took that Roman soldier and he turned him around and he said usual’ running in the wrong direction. That’s what I’m afraid we’re doing.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: No, I say to my friend -

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: We’re running in the wrong direction.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: What the President has done to hope the United Nations will move in the right direction is to go there and speak to them and to lead, together with others, the prime minister of Great Britain. Lead, not wait and see what direction they go off in. No, that’s the reason of the timeliness. Mr. Byrd, I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you. We’ll have more on this floor in the days to come.