The U.S. Congress has begun its debate on a proposed resolution that would authorize President George W. Bush to take action, including declaring war, against Iraq if it does not get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. Bush says passage of the measure could persuade the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions regarding Iraq, which Iraq has ignored for the past 11 years. According to Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, this pressure alone could force Iraq to comply and avert war altogether.
Washington, 9 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is increasing pressure on Congress and the United Nations to make it clear to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that he must abandon weapons of mass destruction or face a military strike.
The move comes as both the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday began debating a proposed resolution that would give Congress's advance approval of whatever action Bush might decide to take against Iraq, including war. The debate is expected to last for three days.
At the same time, the United States and Britain are trying to persuade the three other permanent members of the UN Security Council to agree to a resolution that would require Iraq to accept weapons inspectors unconditionally. The proposal also would include consequences, including the possibility of military action, if Iraq does not comply.
On 7 October, Bush addressed the country in hopes of easing any doubts Americans may have about confronting Iraq and threatening war. He said Hussein is a unique threat who has ignored previous UN resolutions requiring him to get rid of his programs to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
And he said the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001 vividly demonstrate the United States' vulnerability to a man who can muster not merely fuel-laden planes but weapons designed to kill tens of thousands of people in one strike.
The U.S. president said that if Congress approves the war-powers resolution, it would send a strong signal to the United Nations that Americans are speaking with one voice and perhaps persuade the world body to summon the resolve to enforce its own resolutions regarding Iraq. And this, he said, could avert war altogether.
Yesterday, Bush repeated that message in a speech in Knoxville, Tennessee. "My message and the message from the Congress -- people of both political parties -- will be for the sake of peace and [will] emphasize, for the sake of peace, if [the United Nations] won't deal with this man, the United States of America will lead a coalition to disarm him -- for the sake of peace," Bush said.
In Congress, there is broad bipartisan support for the war-powers resolution, which urges the United Nations to impose the strict new rules on weapons inspections in Iraq but authorizes Bush to take whatever action he decides is necessary against Hussein if the United Nations does not act.
The resolution also would require Bush to notify Congress within 48 hours of any military action he orders and to certify formally that his administration has exhausted all available diplomatic alternatives to war.
Bush wants this resolution to be passed before the Senate and the House recess for the year sometime later this month. But some members, including a few from Bush's Republican Party, say there is no need to rush into a vote on a matter so important.
One senator, Robert Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia), said during yesterday's debate that it would be overly hasty to vote on war so soon at a time when Americans' concerns focus on more immediate domestic issues, including a shaky U.S. economy and even the intensive hunt for a sniper in the suburbs of Washington who has struck at least eight times, killing six people. "People are concerned about things here at home, and we should not try to divert their attention to a threat -- there is the threat. I don't say Saddam is not a threat, but I say he is not the immediate threat that the [Bush] administration is trying to make him out to be at this point," Byrd said.
Bush's supporters acknowledge that the exact extent of Hussein's arsenal is not known, nor is there any evidence that he was involved in the 11 September attacks, or that he is now likely to mount a strike against the United States or its allies.
But they contend that to delay a confrontation with Iraq would only serve to appease him, just as countries like Britain and organizations like the now-discredited League of Nations appeased Adolf Hitler as he rearmed Germany in violation of international law before World War II.
During debate yesterday in the House, Congressman Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), a native of Hungary who experienced the horrors of World War II, described the situation this way: "If the costs of war are great, the costs of inaction and appeasement are greater still. Had the United States and its allies confronted Hitler earlier, had we acted sooner to stymie his evil designs, the 51 million lives needlessly lost during that war [World War II] could have been saved," Lantos said.
Bush's secretary of state, Colin Powell, was on Capitol Hill yesterday to thank the members of both houses who support the war-powers resolution. He said that if Congress passes the measure, his arguments for a strict UN Security Council resolution would be more persuasive.
Besides the United States and Britain, the permanent members of the Security Council are China, France, and Russia. All five have veto power over any proposed resolution. Most observers say they believe China will abstain on the issue.
France has proposed an alternative resolution that would impose a strict inspections regime but would omit mention of any consequences. The consequences would be the subject of a subsequent resolution if Iraq does not comply. Russia says it supports the French proposal.
During his meeting with legislators yesterday, Powell said it is important that both the terms of the inspections and the consequences be contained in the same UN resolution and that the resolution be passed quickly. "We're faced with a dangerous situation, we're faced with a regime which has ignored UN resolutions these many years, and it will continue to ignore them unless they are dealt with now," Powell said.
Last month, in a speech before the UN General Assembly, Bush challenged the United Nations to enforce its existing resolutions regarding Iraq. Immediately after his address, many countries that had previously expressed reluctance to confront Hussein expressed support for UN-backed military action against Iraq if it continues to ignore the resolutions.
But Hussein soon announced that he was willing to readmit weapons inspectors after refusing them entry for nearly four years. That quickly eroded the international support for Bush's plans. Powell said yesterday that no one should be fooled by Hussein's invitation to the inspectors and the reason he issued it. "The only reason Iraq is trying to respond now is because the threat of force is there, and we have to keep that in place. We have to make sure [Iraqi officials] understand there are consequences if they fail to act this time," Powell said.
The secretary said it appears that most members of the Security Council, including permanent and rotating members, agree upon a resolution that would impose a tough new inspection regime in Iraq. All that is left, he said, is for these members to accept the idea of linking that with the consequences of noncompliance.
Besides the five permanent members, there are 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council: Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Guinea, Ireland, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, and Syria. A resolution cannot pass unless it has at least nine votes in favor and no veto from a permanent council member.