U.S. President George W. Bush has picked up significant support from Congress in his efforts to disarm Iraq. Bush now has bipartisan backing from the leaders in the House of Representatives on a resolution that would authorize him to take whatever action he deems necessary against Baghdad, including military force. Senate leaders are also said to be close to agreement with the White House.
Washington, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush made concessions to members of the opposition Democratic Party in order to win support for a proposed congressional resolution that would grant him broad powers to deal with Iraq -- including making war.
Bush, a member of the Republican Party, persuaded Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives to accept most of his earlier language for a resolution. The White House is close to a similar agreement with Democratic leaders in the Senate.
This new support comes because Bush added a clause that says the president would formally certify to Congress that diplomatic means to deal with Iraq have been exhausted before any military strike, or, if necessary, within 48 hours of such a strike.
The resolution also would require Bush to report to Congress every 60 days on Iraq, and it reaffirms the longstanding U.S. policy of removing Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, from power.
Only a week ago, the Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress had accused Bush of playing partisan politics with Iraq. But yesterday they were commenting on how close the two sides were on the issue, and were pledging their full cooperation with the president.
Senator Tom Daschle, the leader of the majority Democrats in the Senate, said there were few differences between Bush and Senate Democrats on Iraq. And Congressman Richard Gephardt, the leader of the minority Democrats in the House, said the issue transcends party politics.
"You all know that we have a lot of differences on many issues, we disagree on many domestic issues. But this [dealing with national security] is the most important thing that we do. This should not be about politics. We have to do what is right for the security of our nation and the safety of all Americans."
Bush made an appearance outside the White House with several congressional leaders to predict that the United States would soon be speaking with unanimity to challenge Saddam to rid his arsenal of any nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons he possesses, in accordance with UN resolutions. And he reminded the Iraqi president that his time for defying the United Nations is running out.
"The statement of support from the Congress will show to friend and enemy alike the resolve of the United States. In Baghdad, the regime will know that full compliance with all UN Security [Council] demands is the only choice, and the time remaining for that choice is limited."
Bush also said the United States does not want war, but merely to disarm a man he called a tyrant, a man he accused of butchering and torturing his own people, and even members of his own family. He said military force would be a last resort, but he was emphatic that he was prepared to use it if necessary.
"America's leadership and willingness to use force, confirmed by the Congress, is the best way to ensure compliance and avoid conflict. Saddam must disarm, period [without question]. If, however, he chooses to do otherwise, if he persists in his defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable."
Although congressional leaders from both major parties support the proposed resolution, it still must be debated, then brought to a vote in both the Senate and the House. And both houses must make sure that the wording of the resolution that may be passed by both houses is the same.
Congressional leaders say they want to recess for the year by the middle of this month so they can campaign for the elections to be held on 5 November. To expedite their work, the two houses would need to debate and vote on virtually identical proposals, and observers say they probably will.
That means they will likely ignore an alternate resolution proposed by Senators Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), which would have required the president to make more of an effort of engaging the leaders of other countries to force Saddam to disarm.
Biden, the chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he now accepts that the alternative resolution has no chance of consideration.
At the White House, Bush said it is now time for Congress to begin playing its active role in disarming Iraq.
"The issue is now before the United States Congress. This debate will be closely watched by the American people, and this debate will be remembered in history. We didn't ask for this challenge as a country, but we will face it, and we will face it together."
Members of Congress who appeared with Bush at the White House said they support the compromise proposal because it meets the security needs of Americans while making sure their representatives take part in the conduct of any war.
Hastert -- the speaker of the House -- expressed the security concerns by invoking the shock and sorrow that Americans still feel about terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001.
"We've been through September 11, we've visited 'Ground Zero' [the site of the terror attacks in New York], we've been at the Pentagon the day after [the attacks there], and we don't want that type of tragedy to happen in this country again. And we will do everything in our power to prevent it from happening again."
"Iraq's use and continuing development of weapons of mass destruction, combined with efforts of terrorists to acquire such weapons, pose a unique and dangerous threat to our national security. Many of us believe that we need to deal with this threat diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must."
But members of Congress were not unanimous in their desire to take up the issue now. Some say it is unwise for members to rush into a war-powers resolution at a time when Election Day looms. One, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-California), had urged her colleagues to postpone a vote on the Iraq resolution until after the elections.
Now, she says, a postponement appears out of the question, and she has ended her effort.