Congress debates over strike on Iraq

Posted 9:11 p.m. Sept. 21

by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

U-WIRE (WASHINGTON)–President George W. Bush sent a resolution to key congressional leaders this week, asking for the authority to use “all means” in a possible attack on Iraq.

With a U.S. military attack on Iraq pending, the debate between the Bush Administration and key members of Congress over the use of force has intensified in recent weeks. Bush is pushing for a quick resolution, despite a wave of skepticism from Capital Hill, where congressional leaders are warning against a rushed decision.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld restated the Bush administration’s desire for a quick strike this week, imploring Congress to act before it’s too late.

“The goal must be to stop Saddam Hussein before he fires a weapon of mass destruction at our people,” Rumsfeld said.

Not all federal lawmakers agree with the Bush administration though, and are comparing a potential strike on Iraq to the Vietnam conflict of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

“We learned the lessons of secrecy during Vietnam,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) this week.

After a handful of security briefings so far, lawmakers from both parties are arguing that they are hearing nothing new to back up Bush’s case against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

“I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “It has us wondering if the administration does really have real, substantial, compelling information that, if shared, would change attitudes with Congress, the public and our allies,” Menendez said.

“It becomes almost insulting after a while,” said Senator John McCain (R-AZ.). “Everyone that goes to [the security briefings] is frustrated.”

McCain, who has been a critic of Bush in the past, appeared with longtime White House supporter Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) to voice his backing of the Bush administration on its military plans against Iraq, but McCain does have his own reservations.

“I worry about the secrecy issue,” McCain said. “The more information the administration has the more it should share.”

“My support for regime change has a lot to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein is a guy who doesn’t keep his word and broke arms inspection agreements [in the past]. Others want to see more evidence, and they have a clear right to that. I don’t think anything should be withheld,” said McCain.

The odd marriage of McCain to adamant Bush supporters has been questioned by GOP leaders, but McCain has advocated the removal of Hussein for over a decade.

“McCain is standing with a Republican president today and he was standing with a Democratic president a few years ago. It is just McCain being McCain,” said one long-time advisor.

“I think the president has embarked on a well-planned effort to rid the world and this country of the threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein,” McCain said.

Other members of Congress who have also been skeptical of the Bush administration in the past have voiced their backing of the use of military force against Iraq.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT.) and John Edwards (D-NC) who are both possible presidential contenders in 2004, have voiced their support of Bush. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) has also said that he stands behind the president in a military action against Iraq.

“I am fully supportive of such military action now,” Lieberman announced this week.

Not everyone is on board though, including Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and John Kerry (D-MA), who disagree with many of their colleagues and have urged the administration to slow down before sending troops to Iraq. Kerry is another possible presidential contender in 2004.

“If you’re really making a decision about invading or going to war, there are still unanswered questions that the president himself has not put before us,” Kerry said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Many members of Congress have kept a low profile on the issue.

“There’s not exactly a surplus of political courage being shown in Congress. The fact that we are at war makes it more difficult for the Democrats to sound a skeptical note and congressmen in both parties are always extremely wary of being embarrassed if they take a really clear position before force is used,” said Harvard Professor Steven Walt, a prominent foreign policy specialist.

Bush had mounted a good deal of support in the international community after his speech to the United Nations last week but a letter from Iraq earlier this week announcing that they are allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back in has somewhat muffled support for the president.

Leaders of Russia, France, China and other nations are questioning the need of a new U.N. Security Council resolution after the offer from Iraq permitting weapons inspections.

The Bush administration rejected the offer from Iraq and cited it as a possible ruse. They urge global leaders to be skeptical of the offer.

“I’m convinced that when we continue to make the case about his defiance, his deception, the fact that time and time again- dozens of time- he has told the world, ‘Oh, I will comply’ and he never does, that nations who care about peace and care about the validity of the United Nations, will join us,” Bush declared this week. “Reasonable people understand this man is unreasonable,” said the president of Hussein.

Daschle said he expected a vote on the Iraq situation before the elections in November but attacked Bush for “injecting election-year politics” on the issue.

“I expressed the concern weeks ago that the closer we get to the election the more likely this whole grave matter could be politicized. And I think that would be very, very destructive and harmful to the long-term message this country out to be sending,” Daschle said.

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