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Iraq Debate: "This is Another Gulf of Tonkin"

by Jeff Elliott

A remarkable moment in Congress
Whatever happens (or doesn't happen) in a U.S. conflict with Iraq, the historic moment came on the Senate floor on October 4, 2002.

On that day, three senior members of the U.S. Senate stood in that chamber and debated what President Bush has recently insisted is the most pressing issue before the nation. The colloquy that unfolded on that Friday afternoon was remarkable -- although the event was scarcely noticed at all by the press.

Pressing the White House case for war was Senator John Warner (R- Virginia). On the other side was Sen. Robert Byrd (D- West Virginia) and Ted Kennedy (D- Massachusetts).

If America should indeed make its first-ever preemptive attack on another nation, Warner laid out the best case for it. But it was the elderly Byrd, his palsied hands seemingly barely in control, who scored points with a chilling comparison:

Let's go back to the war in Vietnam. I was here. I was one of the Senators who voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Yes, I voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. I am sorry for that. I am guilty of doing that. I should have been one of the two, or at least I should have made it three, Senators who voted against that Gulf of Tonkin resolution. But I am not wanting to commit that sin twice, and that is exactly what we are doing here. This is another Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

It was the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that gave Lyndon Johnson carte blanche to wage war in Vietnam. The famed "incident" led to an immediate escalation in the war -- a conflict that left millions dead, including about 60 thousand U.S. soldiers. As Norman Solomon noted in a 1998 column, that incident was a cynical PR operation by the White House. Murrey Marder, the reporter who wrote much of the Washington Post's coverage of August 1964, told Solomon that the news coverage of events in the Tonkin Gulf "was all driven by the White House. It was an operation -- a deliberate manipulation of public opinion. ... None of us knew, of course, that there had been drafted, months before, a resolution to justify American direct entry into the war, which became the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution."

Senator Byrd does not choose his words lightly. Regarded as the greatest historian in Congress, he knows full well how they were manipulated by Johnson, and he thus makes a damning accusation against the sitting president.

unedited transcript
No matter what your opinion on Iraq or Bush, this debate is key to understanding the issues as our nation stands on the brink of war. To help disseminate this information, we offer a lightly-edited and formatted web presentation of the Congressional Record.

Remarks of the three speakers are represented by color changes to make the change in speakers easier to follow. Senator Warner is shown in red, Byrd is blue, and Kennedy is green.

If you only have time to see one section, read part 3, as Senators Warner and Bush engage in a true debate over the issues.

This is essential reading.

Part I: Sen. John Warner: How Can This Nation Just Sit And Wait?
Part II: Sen. Robert Byrd: It Is Not Unpatriotic To Ask Questions
Part III: Sen. Robert Byrd: This is Another Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Part IV: Sen. Ted Kennedy: If Attacked, Saddam Will Have Nothing to Lose
Part V: Sen. John Warner: Hopefully, We Will Have Allies

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Albion Monitor October 4 2002 (

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