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Background: Talk of War Against Iraq

October 7, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the Senate came to the floor this afternoon to take advantage of time set aside specifically to debate Iraq policy.

SPOKESPERSON: Under the previous order the Senate will now resume consideration of SJRes 45, which the clerk will report.

CLERK: Calendar No. 618, SJRes 45, a joint resolution to authorize the use of United States armed forces against Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd has been to the Senate floor every day for the last week, chastising President Bush for pressuring the Congress to act on Iraq before the November elections. Today however, Byrd was relatively subdued in anticipation of the President’s speech this evening.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Rather than hearing more about Saddam Hussein– we know enough about him– what we need to hear from the President are answers to our questions about what he plans to do in Iraq. We need to know why the President is demanding to know that Congress act now. We need to have some idea of what we are getting ourselves into, what the costs and the consequences may be, and what the President is planning to do after the fighting has stopped, after Iraq, after Saddam Hussein. It is not unpatriotic to ask these questions, especially when they are already on the minds of all Americans.

KWAME HOLMAN: Utah Republican Robert Bennett also came to the Senate floor to say he didn’t need the President to answer all of those questions on Iraq.

SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Mr. President I will be voting in favor of the resolution, not because I have figured out all the unknowables and imponderables relating to it, and not because I’m absolutely sure that the Presidential power will be used in the right possible way in every possible circumstance. I will be doing it because I trust George W. Bush’s instincts as outlined, as clearly as any President has ever outlined America’s role in the post-war world. He will use his power to expand and defend liberty throughout the world. He may use it by mistake, he may do things that do not produce that result. But that will be his poll star that should be America’s poll star; that should be the policy that we lay down and hold now for generations to come.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter said the most difficult question for him was whether to grant the President the authority to act unilaterally against Iraq.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I have not made up my mind as to my own approach as to whether it is preferable to condition the use force on a United Nations resolution. And I am cognizant of the difficulties of giving up sovereignty and being subject to the veto of China, which I don’t like at all –or being subject to the veto of Russia, which I don’t like at all, or being subject to the veto of France, again something that I do not like. But I think we have to recognize that when we are authorizing the use of force, and if the President takes the authorization and is not successful in going to the United Nations to get a coalition, that we will be establishing a precedent, which may have ramifications far into the future at some point in time when the United States may not be the superpower, and is very much significantly in control of the destiny of the world with our great military, with our great military power.

KWAME HOLMAN: But while Georgia Democrat Max Cleland also urged the President to build an international coalition against Iraq, he said he wouldn’t insist on it.

SEN. MAX CLELAND: I believe most Senators share the view that diplomacy is far and away preferential to the use of force, and that proceeding with the inclement support of the entire international community including the United Nations is far better and more effective than going it alone. I’ll be supporting the resolution backed by the President, and opposing the alternative, because I believe it is imperative that we now speak with one voice to Saddam Hussein, to the entire international community, and most importantly to our servicemen and women. A strong bipartisan vote for the pending resolution will strengthen the President’s hand in his efforts to get the international community to step up to the plate and deal effectively with the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and give the diplomats one last chance to secure Saddam Hussein’s final, unconditional surrender of those weapons as he pledged in 1991.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said the world would condemn the United States if it launched a unilateral, preemptive strike against Iraq.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: We can deal with Iraq without resorting to this extreme. It is impossible to justify any such double standard under international law. Might does not make right. America cannot right its own rules for the modern world. To attempt to do so would be unilateralism run amuck. It would antagonize our closest allies whose support we need to fight terrorism, prevent global warming, deal with many other dangers that affect all nations that require international cooperation. It would deprive America of the moral legitimacy necessary to promote our values abroad. And it would give other nations, from Russia, to India, to Pakistan an excuse to violate fundamental principles of civilized international behavior.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate leaders are working on a schedule that will allow every Senator the opportunity to speak on the Iraq resolution before a final vote expected later in the week.