By Erik Minyard, Byrd Center Student Intern
The United States has engaged in two wars with Iraq, the latter ongoing conflict becoming the longest war in American military history. The first conflict with Iraq, the Persian Gulf War, was widely opposed by the American public, who felt that while Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was wrong, it was not cause for the United States to involve itself with the conflict between the two Middle Eastern nations. The second conflict was less opposed by an American public reeling from the tragedy and paranoia of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. However, Senator Robert C. Byrd and 22 of his colleagues in the Senate felt that the Iraq War of 2002 was unjust and would forever change the way the United States handles foreign policy and the decision of going to war.
The United States first war with Iraq took place in the early- 1990s after the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, violating rules that were placed by the United Nations. Iraq invaded Kuwait after accusing them of drilling into Iraqi oil fields in Rumaila. Demanding $100 billion from the Kuwaiti government, Iraq threatened an invasion over the oil dispute. Global concern arose with Iraq’s severe response to Kuwait because they violated many of the terms that were placed by the United Nations and they showed no signs of heeding any warnings to halt their offensive tactics. Of growing concern was Iraq’s stated interest in the development of weapons of mass destruction which included chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The Persian Gulf War lasted five months with much of the United States Armed Forces involvement taking place during Operation Desert Storm in early-1991.
While many Americans generally opposed our involvement in the Persian Gulf War, opinions surrounding our second and ongoing conflict with Iraq were more mixed. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Congress passed an authorization of the use of force against any nations, organizations, or people harboring or supporting terrorist organizations. The first war entered under this arrangement was in Afghanistan where the government was harboring Al Qaeda, the organization which planned, executed, and claimed credit for the attacks. This caused America to send troops to many countries and would make it harder for political relations and diplomacy to take place in the Middle East. The renewed military focus in the Middle East also led some Americans to feel that the government was overstepping its power. In late-2002, the Bush Administration pushed for an authorization of use of force against Iraq on allegations of aid to terrorists and the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
The second war with Iraq was seen as a dangerous precedent by 23 members of the Senate who believed that the executive branch was making a massive overreach of power and that an unprovoked attack on Iraq would only make matters worse. While some Americans shared this point of view, many others supported the war out of fear that something needed to done to prevent another terrorist attack like that of September 11, 2001.
Senator Byrd chastised his fellow members in a floor speech in February 2003 because there was little debate or serious oversight of the war in Iraq. Senator Robert C. Byrd felt that going to war with Iraq was unjust because there was no cause for the war apart from the U.S. claiming that they could be a problem in the future. The war in Iraq also represented a dangerous precedent of the United States entering a conflict without any provocation and acting unilaterally without the support and against the advice of our global allies. Byrd felt that the best course of action was to stay out of a war with Iraq and to make deals with them to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Reflecting on his vote nearly forty years prior supporting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, Senator Byrd felt that he had made the wrong choice then and now he wanted to make the right choice and try to stop the U.S. from entering another conflict that would only cause more trouble than good.
Despite Senator Byrd’s speeches and the twenty-two other Senators who voted with him, the United States determined to reenter a state of war with Iraq, staging the first invasion in early-2003. The Iraq War has become America's longest-lasting conflict and many on the national and global stages view the actions taken in Iraq as being short-sighted in the larger diplomatic situation in the Middle East that continues to stir conflict today. Since the passage of authorizations of the use of force in the Middle East following September 11, 2001, the United States has been embroiled in conflicts with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Islamic State.
“War in Iraq Begins.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, November 24, 2009. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/war-in-iraq-begins.
“FRONTLINE/WORLD . Iraq - Saddam's Road to Hell - A Journey into the Killing Fields . PBS.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed July 28, 2020. https://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/iraq501/events_kuwait.html.
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