"In the history of nations, greatness is forged, or opportunity squandered, not by natural evolution or by the hand of mysterious Fate, but by decisions leaders make in times of potential or imminent peril. A common view in America is that these decisions are thrust on us - the world wars, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the attacks of September 11th - and we find meaning, and honor, in our response. As Americans, that response is guided by faith in our founding principles, in our love of freedom, and the blessings of justice.
"Yet leaders always have choices, and history teaches that hard choices deferred - appeasing Hitler, choosing not to deter Saddam Hussein in 1990, failing to act sooner against al Qaeda - often bring about the very circumstances we wished to avoid by deferring action, requiring us to react in freedom's defense.
"America's leaders today have a choice. It will determine whether our people live in fear behind walls that have already been breeched, as our enemies plan our defeat in time we have given them to do it. It will answer the fundamental question about America's purpose in the world - whether we perceive our beliefs to be uniquely American principles or universal values, for if they are so dear to us that we believe all people have the right to enjoy them, we should be willing to stand up for them, wherever they are threatened..
"It will reveal whether we are brave, and wise, or reluctant, self-doubting, and in retreat from a world that still, in its cruelest corners, possesses a merciless hostility to our values and interests. It will test us, as did September 11th - except that we can choose to engage the enemy on our terms rather than wait for the battle to be brought to us.
"Our choice is whether to assume history's burden to make the world safe from a megalomaniacal tyrant whose cruelty and offense to the norms of civilization are infamous, or whether to wait for this man, armed with the world's worst weapons and willing and able to use them, to make history for us.
"It is a question of whether preemptive action to defeat an adversary whose designs would imperil our vital interests is not only appropriate but moral - and whether our morality and security give us cause to fire the first shot in this battle. It will help determine whether the greater Middle East will progress toward possession of the values Americans hold to be universal, or whether the Arab and Islamic worlds will be further influenced by a tyrant whose intent is to breed his own virulent anti-Americanism in all who fall under his influence, and use that influence to hurt us gravely.
"The government of Saddam Hussein is a clear and present danger to the United States of America. Would that he were just another Arab dictator, pumping oil and repressing his people but satisfied with his personal circumstances within the confines of his country's borders. That situation alone would offend our sense of justice and compel us to militate for a regime change, but by means short of preemptive military action. But Saddam Hussein has shown he has greater ambitions.
"His ambitions lie not in Baghdad, or Tikrit, or Basra, but in the deserts of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They lie in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where he sponsors suicide bombings by Palestinians he calls "martyrs" and the civilized world calls terrorists, using murder by proxy to advance his aspirations to lead the Arab world and fan hatred of Israel, America, and the universal ideal of freedom. These ambitions have led him to attack his sovereign neighbors - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, and Bahrain. His will to power has so affected his judgment that he has started two major wars and lost them, each time imperiling his own grip on power.
"His moral code is so spare that he has gassed his own people - horror the world thought it had left behind at Auschwitz and Treblinka. We are told that he enjoys watching video of his opponents being tortured, for fun. He kills not just his political opponents but their families, cruelly.
"He has developed stocks of germs and toxins in sufficient quantities to kill the entire population of the Earth multiple times. He has placed weapons laden with these poisons on alert to fire at his neighbors within minutes, not hours, and has devolved authority to fire them to subordinates. He develops nuclear weapons with which he would hold his neighbors and us hostage.
"No, this is not just another self-serving, oil-rich potentate. He is the worst kind of modern-day tyrant - a conscienceless murderer who aspires to omnipotence who has repeatedly committed irrational acts since seizing power. Given this reality, containment and deterrence and international inspections will work no better than the Maginot Line did 62 years ago.
"He has unrepentantly violated sixteen United Nations Security Council resolutions, defying the will of the international community so consistently, so compulsively, so completely that no leader who professes allegiance to the values the United Nations was formed to uphold can sanction his audacity. His defiance, if not ended, is a threat to every nation that claims membership in the civilized world by virtue of its respect for law and fundamental human values.
"Because Saddam Hussein respects neither law nor values, advocating inspections of his weapons facilities as an alternative to war posits a false choice between ending the threat he poses peaceably or by force of arms. His character, his ambition, and his record make clear that he will never accept the intrusive inspections that, by depriving him of his arsenal of dangerous weapons, would deprive him of his power. This power gives him international stature, feeds his fantasy of being a Saladin for our time, and sustains his ability to repress his people and thus remain the ruler of Iraq.
"Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon - as he was in 1981 when Israel preemptively destroyed his reactor at Osirak, enabling U.S. forces to go into Iraq a decade later without the threat of nuclear attack, and as he was in 1990, when he thought development of such a weapon, if completed in time, would have deterred American military action against him, allowing him to secure his control over his neighbors and dominate the region.
"Saddam has masterfully manipulated the international weapons inspections regime over the course of a decade, enabling him to remain in power with his weapons of mass destruction intact, and growing in lethality. He knows how to play for time, and how to exploit divisions within the international community, greased by the prospect of oil contracts for friendly foreign powers.
"His calculated ambiguity about his willingness to accept a new inspections regime are intended to stave off military attack until such time as he is able to deter it through deployment of an Iraqi nuclear weapon. He is using opponents of war in America, including well-intentioned individuals who honestly believe inspections represent an alternative to war, to advance his own ends, sowing divisions within our ranks that encourage reasonable people to believe he may be sincere.
"He is not. He has had ten years to prove otherwise, and he has transparently failed. His regime would be secure if he would only acquiesce to the international community's demands to disarm, but he has not. It is Saddam Hussein who puts his own regime at risk by developing these weapons. The burden is not on America to justify going to war. The burden is Saddam Hussein's, to justify why his regime should continue to exist as long as its continuing existence threatens the world.
"Giving peace a chance only gives Saddam Hussein more time to prepare for war - on his terms, at a time of his choosing, in pursuit of ambitions that will only grow as his power to achieve them grows. American credibility, American security, and the future of the United Nations Security Council rest on the will of the United States to enforce the legitimate demands of the international community for Iraq's disarmament, by means that match the menace posed by his ambitions.
"Saddam Hussein's regime cannot be contained, deterred, or accommodated. Containment has failed. It failed to halt Saddam's attacks on five sovereign nations. The sanctions regime has collapsed. As long as Saddam remains in power, he will be able to deceive, bribe, intimidate, and attack his way out of any containment scheme.
"Some say we can deter Saddam Hussein - even though deterrence has failed utterly in the past. I fail to see how waiting for some unspecified period of time, allowing Saddam's nuclear ambitions to grow unchecked, will ever result in a stable deterrence regime. Not only would deterrence condemn the Iraqi people to more unspeakable tyranny, it would condemn Saddam's neighbors to perpetual instability. And once Iraq's nuclear ambitions are realized, no serious person could expect the Iraqi threat to diminish.
"As for accommodation, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's characterization of appeasement: continually feeding the alligator in the hope that he will eat you last.
"I do not believe the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime will be eliminated until he is removed from power. Congress made the same point in 1998 when we passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made regime change in Baghdad a priority of American policy.
"Our regional allies who oppose using force against Saddam Hussein warn of uncontrollable popular hostility to an American attack on Iraq. But what would really be the effect on Arab populations of seeing other Arabs liberated from oppression? Most Iraqi soldiers will not willingly die for Saddam Hussein. Far from fighting to the last Iraqi, the people of that tortured society will surely dance on the regime's grave.
"I wish the Bush Administration and its predecessor had given more serious support to internal and external Iraqi opposition than has been the case. But it's a safe assumption that Iraqis will be grateful to whoever is responsible for securing their freedom. Perhaps that is what truly concerns some of our Gulf War allies: that among the consequences of regime change in Iraq might be a stronger demand for self-determination from their own people.
"I commend the President for making a strong case for bringing Iraq into compliance with its international obligations to the United Nations. The Security Council bears the responsibility for enforcing the obligations it has imposed on Iraq in order to uphold international peace and security. The President was right to tell our friends and allies on the Council that if it does not act, America will.
"Diplomacy is important, and I welcome the diplomatic campaign the Administration is waging to solicit the support of other nations. At the end of the day, we will not wage this war alone. Many nations are threatened by Saddam Hussein's rule, and many nations have a stake in the new order that will be built atop the ruins of Saddam Hussein's fascist state. Our friends and allies will help us construct this new order, and we should welcome that.
"Our friends and allies must know that we do not target Saddam's regime simply because he is a bad man, although his continuation of his tyranny is a rebuke to every decent value of humanity. We contemplate military action to end his rule because allowing him to remain in power, with the resources at his disposal, would intolerably and inevitably risk American interests in a region of the world where threats to those interests affect the whole world. For the United States to accept Saddam's continued rule is to acquiesce to the certain prospect of strategic blackmail when, soon, Saddam wields a nuclear weapon and threatens the destruction of Israel or the invasion of Saudi Arabia, or demands the withdrawal of all American forces from the region, and America finds itself forced to respond at much more terrible cost than we would pay today.
"Failure now to make the choice to remove Saddam Hussein from power will leave us with few choices later, when Saddam's inevitable acquisition of nuclear weapons will make it much more dangerous to defend our friends and interests in the region. It will permit Saddam to control much of the region, and to wield its resources in ways that can only weaken America's position. It will put Israel's very survival at risk, with moral consequences no American can welcome.
"Failure to end the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq makes it more likely that the interaction we believe to have occurred between members of al Qaeda and Saddam's regime may increasingly take the form of active cooperation to target the United States.
"We live in a world in which international terrorists continue to this day to plot mass murder in America. Saddam Hussein unquestionably has strong incentives to cooperate with al Qaeda. Whatever they may or may not have in common, their overwhelming hostility to America and rejection of any moral code suggest that collaboration against us would be natural. It is all too imaginable. Whether or not it has yet happened, the odds favor it - and they are not odds the United States can accept.
"To those who argue that America's threat to Saddam's rule makes it more likely that he would collaborate with terrorists to attack our homeland, I would ask: how can we sanction the continuing existence of a regime whose ruler has the capability to inflict such damage on us and would even consider doing so?
"Standing by while an odious regime with a history of support for terrorism develops weapons whose use by terrorists could literally kill millions of Americans is not a choice. It is an abdication. In this new era, preventive action to target rogue regimes is not only imaginable but necessary. Who would not have attacked Osama bin Laden's network before September 11th had we realized that his intentions to bring harm to America were matched by the capability to do so? Who would not have heeded Churchill's call to stand up to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, while Europe slept and appeasement fed the greatest threat to Western civilization the world had ever known? Who would not have supported Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 had we then known, as Israel knew, that Saddam was on the verge of developing the bomb?
"Opponents of this resolution offer many questions that are designed to persuade the President to wait before moving against Saddam Hussein. They have every right to do so. But there is one question I don't want to be asked in the months and years ahead: "Why did you give Saddam Hussein time to harm us?"
"Weighing the costs of inaction is as important as chronicling the costs of action in blood and treasure as we prepare to confront Iraq in 2002. In an age of weapons of mass destruction and global terrorists bent on acquiring those weapons, the costs of inaction could well be catastrophic.
"As we hold this debate today, this future is not preordained. We have choices. I hope we make the right one.
"Politics has no place in this debate. Voting for a course of action that will send young Americans off to fight and die for their country is the most solemn responsibility every member of this Congress will undertake. Those of us who have the honor of bearing that responsibility must weigh our words, and consult our consciences carefully. By voting to give the President the authority to wage war, we assume and share his responsibility for the war's outcome. Others have neither that burden nor that privilege.
"We have a choice. The men and women who wear the uniform of our country, and who might lose their lives in service to our cause, do not. They will do their duty, as we see fit to define it for them.
"We have a responsibility to these men and women to judge responsibly when our security is so threatened that we must call on them to uphold their oath to defend it. When we call them to serve, they will make us proud. We should strive to make them proud by showing deliberation, judgment, and statesmanship in the debate that will determine their mission.
"There is no such thing as a Democrat or a Republican war. We vote on this resolution in the same way brave young men and women in uniform will fight and die as a result of our vote - as Americans. The freedom and security Americans will continue to enjoy as history's greatest nation will be their legacy, and their honor.
"They will do their duty. Ours lies before us. Its outcome will determine America's course in this new century, in an age when waiting for imminence of attack is catastrophic.
"In this age, liberating oppressed peoples from the tyranny of those who would do us harm serves not only narrow American interests but the ordered progress of freedom. The global success of liberty is America's greatest strategic interest as well as its most compelling moral argument. All our other interests are served in that cause. In it rests our faith in the greatness of America, the last, best hope of earth.
"What ensures our success in this long struggle against terrorism and rogue leaders who conspire against us is that our military strength is surpassed only by the strength of our ideals. Our enemies are weaker than we are in men and arms, but weaker still in causes. They fight to express an irrational hatred for all that is good in humanity, a hatred that has fallen time and again to the armies and ideals of the righteous. We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that is invincible. We will never surrender. They will. All we must do is stay true to our faith."