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Iraq: Bush Gets Backing From U.S. Lawmakers

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. President George W. Bush says the strong support of Congress for a resolution authorizing him to make war on Iraq could help persuade the United Nations to take action requiring Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have given him the backing he wants.

Washington, 11 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Both houses of the U.S. Congress have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that would give its advance approval to President Bush to mount a military strike against Iraq.

Early this morning, the Senate voted in favor of the war powers resolution, 77-23. Earlier, the House of Representatives voted 296-133 in favor of the resolution.

Bush thanked Congress, saying the strong votes will send a message to the world, and particularly the United Nations, that Iraqi President Hussein can no longer defy UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction.

"The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end," Bush said.

Although final approval in both houses of Congress was assured for weeks, debate was vigorous, and at times passionate.

Supporters argued that Hussein must be stripped of his nuclear-, biological-, and chemical-warfare programs quickly, before he decides to use them -- perhaps against the United States -- as he has against his neighbors and even his own people.

Opponents said there is no need to rush into a possibly bloody confrontation with Iraq. And some cited a letter to Congress written by George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), suggesting that Hussein is unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction unless he is provoked.

The resolution 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.

It 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.

The debate in the House lasted three days. One supporter, Congressman Randy Cunningham (Republican, California), spoke emotionally of his own experience as a combat pilot during the Vietnam War, witnessing the agony of his colleagues wounded or killed in battle.

Cunningham said no American should favor war, but all Americans should have the courage to accept war when it becomes necessary: "I know the horrors brought on the men and women that we will ask to go to war, but I also know the heartache and the pain of the families that are left behind, and I would say to my colleagues, 'Do we want to subject them to the horrors of war in our own country?'"

An opponent in the House, Congressman Peter DeFazio (Democrat, Oregon), countered that Bush is approaching Hussein with more swagger than good sense, and that he is disregarding the wishes of the United States' allies in pressing for war with Iraq with or without the approval of the United Nations.

"Intrusive, unfettered inspections with our allies will work. This cowboy, go-it-alone, the-heck-with-our-allies, the-heck-with-the-rest-of-the-world principle, with an attack before we try this alternative, is wrong," DeFazio said.

Even though passage was assured in the Senate as well, there was a measure of suspense to the debate. The leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, Tom Daschle (Democrat, South Dakota), withheld how he would vote until yesterday, when he made his contribution to the exchange.

Daschle said he still believes the resolution is not entirely to his liking, but he added that it is an improvement over the proposal originally submitted by the White House. He said he decided to vote in favor of it because he wants the United States to address the Iraqi threat unanimously.

"Because this resolution is improved and because I believe that Saddam Hussein represents a real threat and because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment, I will vote to give the President the authority he needs, but I respect those who reach different conclusions," Daschle said.

Immediately, another Democratic senator, Robert Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia), asked permission to address the Senate. Byrd has passionately opposed the resolution as a document that gives Bush carte blanche to make war. Yesterday, he thanked Daschle for making his decision thoughtfully, even if his decision differs from Byrd's.

At the same time, Byrd noisily held up a copy of the resolution, and referred to it as a "rag."

"He hasn't rushed pell-mell to shake [publicly applaud] this piece of rag [Byrd noisily brandishes a copy of the proposal]. He has done what a leader should do. He has stood aside and waited, and helped to advise us and counsel with us," Byrd said.

Bush said a large margin of support from both houses of Congress may persuade the United Nations to take a serious look at Iraq's 11 years of ignoring UN resolutions requiring it to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. But so far, the American president's success on Capitol Hill could not be matched on the diplomatic front.

The United States and Britain want the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that would make all of Iraq accessible to weapons inspectors and would include the threat of military force if Iraq does not comply.

Russia and France, however, say they are reluctant to include an automatic military response in the resolution. They prefer to leave the consequences of noncompliance to a subsequent resolution, if necessary.

Yesterday, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush insists that the terms of the inspection regime and the consequences of noncompliance be in the same resolution: "The consequence clause must be in it [the UN resolution], the president has made that clear. A resolution that was passed that failed to say that there were any consequences is another excuse for Saddam Hussein to play games with the world."

Britain, France, Russia, and the United States are permanent members of the Security Council, and as such have veto power over any resolution. China also is a permanent member, but many observers say they expect China does not want to get involved in the Iraq issue and therefore will probably abstain in any vote.