Congress Debates Iraq
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GWEN IFILL: The House resolution may be agreed to, but the debate is far from over.
We turn now to three members of Congress. Republican Rob Portman of Iowa is a member of the House International Relations committee. He supports the resolution finalized today. Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington State just returned from a trip to Iraq. He says the Bush administration should give United Nations weapons inspections a chance to work before taking any military action. And Democrat Ellen Tauscher of California is a member of the Armed Services Committee. She announced her support for the House resolution this afternoon.
Congressman Portman, what is it about this resolution that works for you?
REP. ROB PORTMAN: Well, Gwen, I think it’s extremely important that we give the president the ability to use force if necessary because I think that will maximize not only the protection of the country but the possibility of a peaceful solution. Without strengthening the president’s hand in that way we’re instead risking the possibility of even more damage in the Middle East and I think that the Congress’s role right now is to unify behind the president and strengthen his hand to enable us to destroy the weapons of mass destruction hopefully through peaceful means.
This resolution is very specific in encouraging and supporting diplomatic efforts first but then, if they do not work, having the use of force as a last resort. We know from Saddam Hussein’s performance over the last decade and really over the last 20 years that only with that kind of coercive action, with only that kind of strengthening of the president’s hand, through the possibility of using force are we likely to see any movement by Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Congresswoman Tauscher, as a Democrat who has been trying to decide what you were going to do about this resolution, you decided to support it. Were the reasons that Congressman Portman just outlined the reasons you had as well?
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, I worked hard with many other people to get a better resolution – not a resolution that was an act of war but a resolution that gave the president the ability to use force if we were unable – with the world community – to disarm Saddam Hussein. I don’t think anybody belongs to the Saddam Hussein defenders club, but I do think that we needed to have Congress and the U.N. and a geographically scoped resolution that was specific only to Iraq in order to gain a bipartisan group of people to support this in the Congress.
And I am happy to say that have we moved this resolution very far away from where he where it was originally, which was almost a blank check and where we effectively gave the president a rubber stamp — where Congress has really inserted itself – and I think that’s in the best interest of the American people.
GWEN IFILL: Congressman McDermott you just returned from Iraq, what do you see there that leads to you not support this resolution?
REP. JAMES McDERMOTT: Well, I believe that this country is faced with probably the biggest vote that any of us in Congress have ever made or perhaps will make because we’re changing the rules in the civilized world. We are saying that the United States can decide to wipe out another country’s leader whenever we don’t like them.
We are not saying there has to be a vote of the Security Council. The president, when he has this resolution in his hand, will have a blank check that whenever he feels, he, one person, can make the decision that diplomatic means will not work, he can move.
Now from my point of view that is way too much power. I do not intend to give them that power until it’s been demonstrated that there is a need and the inspections have failed, and we have not let the inspections go forward. The Iraqis have agreed. Mr. Blix has said he’s going in in a couple of weeks.
We ought to let that process play out and let the world be convinced also that Saddam Hussein is untrustworthy. We may think of that him but until we let him demonstrate that in the inspections regime, we will not be able to convince the Security Council and we will be out there all alone — putting Americans at risk.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. McDermott, I have to give you a chance to respond from this because some people have said you came back from Iraq an apologist for Saddam Hussein.
REP. JAMES McDERMOTT: Well, people like that are stupid because I am somebody who served in Vietnam, in the Vietnam era. I took care of casualties; I know what war is about. And anybody who wants to go to war has never been near it.
And I think that — I don’t think Saddam Hussein is believable. That’s nonsense — his whole record is bad. But the fact is that if we’re going to convince the rest of world to support us, we have got to allow those inspectors to go in and not with a gun at their head or some threatening resolution.
Let it work out and if it doesn’t work, Mr. Blix will come back to the Security Council and say look, he wouldn’t let me into the palaces, he wouldn’t let me in here and at that point then we have a different set of facts and we can make a decision; right now the president has not made a case.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Portman, do you believe, as Mr. McDermott does, that there is some question that perhaps there’s a rush to judgment here; that the threat is not an urgent enough one to justify the kind of power that you’ve given the president today or that you’re preparing it give the president today?
REP. ROB PORTMAN: I don’t agree at all. In fact, I think just the opposition; I think you can’t look at Saddam Hussein’s behavior and actions over the past ten years and conclude anything other than the fact that he is not going to on his own comply with these U.N. resolutions.
I would take great issue with what Jim McDermott just said on a different issues: first of all, we’re not talking about unilateral United States action without going through the diplomatic channels. This resolution and I hope you’ll read it, Jim, specifically says the president of United States should go through diplomatic channels and if those are not successful as a last resort have military force as an option. I think that’s the only way we’re going to get Saddam Hussein to comply with these U.N. resolutions, which he has defied consistently over the last 10 years. The United States will not be there unilaterally in any case because we will have allies; we will have a coalition with us. Even if we do not have a Security Council resolution, which I believe we will get in the end, even if we did not, we would not be doing this alone.
So I think the president has made the case very clearly. I think the case has been made clearly to the U.S. Congress for years. In 1998 the U.S. passed a resolution with a large bipartisan vote saying number one the policy is we should have a regime change in Iraq but, second, that we must do what we can to get the Iraqis to clay with these U.N. resolutions and gave the president the authority at that time to do so — another president – President Clinton.
We swept these problems under the rug for too long, Gwen, we need to address them, and the only way to address them being a realist and looking at what has happened over the last ten years is to have this threat of the use of force.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Tauscher, do you believe that by taking this action and supporting the resolution that the United States Congress is fundamentally changing U.S. policy in terms of preemption — moving in first instead of waiting to be struck by an enemy?
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER: I think it’s unfortunate that the administrations heated rhetoric got a little ahead of what is good policy for the American people and what is the moral high ground that we have to maintain as the American people.
We are not going to have to perhaps inevitably remove Saddam Hussein because he will not disarm because he is a bad guy. It’s because it’s a penalty. Regime change is not a policy of the United States. It should never be because we don’t like someone because they don’t conform to us. He will be removed because having him in power and having that money from the Food for Oil Program and other things makes him go and buy weapons of mass destruction. We cannot sustain that for the American people. It’s a penalty.
So when the rhetoric got overheated and when the administration started talking about regime change has a goal, I thought that was a mistake; it is a penalty for his non-compliance of the U.N. Resolution.
GWEN IFILL: The Senate today, as Senator Biden and Senator Lugar have suggested – and you heard Senator Biden pretty much say he doesn’t think this is going to go anywhere anymore because of the House action – that there should be proof that there are weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s possession before any of this takes effect; this is not what the House resolution says?
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER: No, but we include I think very, very strong language where we have made sure that the president and everyone understands that this is a use of force resolution that can only be used when the president declares that diplomacy has completely failed. That includes working through the U.N., that includes perhaps inspections – perhaps coercive inspections in the short term. I think we’re all interested in tighter U.N. resolutions regarding resolutions with real-time penalties and with real penalty for non-compliance. And we want those inspections to move forward. I think everyone agrees on those things.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. McDermott, do you believe that if this resolution passes the House as it is currently written and something similar passes the Senate that Americans should be preparing for the notion of war?
REP. JAMES McDERMOTT: Absolutely that’s what the president wants. That’s what the president has been pushing for. He has been pushing for a regime change and the only way you’re going to get that is with a war. Everybody should be thinking this way: What is it going to be like when we have soldiers on the ground in Detroit, Michigan — a city of five million people fighting house to house to take Saddam Hussein out?
For anybody to think that when we land the troops that suddenly the people are going to run out with flowers and put them in the ends of our rifles is stupid — it’s silly — it’s so naive I can’t believe it. This country is preparing to fight back and for us to think it’s going to be some easy job – I mean — I don’t want to send people into something like this when there is no proof. There is no proof. First the president says it’s tied to al-Qaida. That didn’t work so let’s say it’s tied to weapons of mass destruction. That didn’t work, so let’s go with al-Qaida. He has been all over the map looking for some reason. It’s like that play “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in this case it’s six people looking for a reason for war.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Portman, let me pose that question to you? Are you satisfied that there is enough proof to justify the actions which the House is authorizing the president to take?
REP. ROB PORTMAN: Gwen, I’m absolutely convinced as are the American people if they look at the record of Saddam Hussein. But let me respond very specifically to what Jim McDermott just said.
First, this president does not want to go to war. He has made that clear; he’s made that clear in his public statements; he’s made that clear in his private statements to me and others. He would much prefer to see this resolved without a shot being fired.
Second, to say that there’s no connection with terrorism in Iraq flies in the face of everything we know. For the last 20 years Saddam Hussein has been on our terrorist watch list. The State Department has turned them as a state that harbors and supports terrorism for over 20 years.
With regard to al-Qaida we know for a fact that there have been high level contacts between al-Qaida and the Iraqi government. We know for a fact that they have provided training to al-Qaida in their county. We know for a fact that there are members of the al-Qaida organization in Iraq today being provided support and comfort by the Iraqi dictatorship. They are provided for — they are harboring these terrorists today. These are facts. These are not things that come out of top secret briefings out there in the public. These are out in the public. There are other things that we can’t talk about because they are not things that have been revealed to the public.
But I will tell you I think the president has made the case but he is also totally focused on getting a diplomatic solution. That’s why he is pursuing a U.N. Security Council resolution; that’s why he asking the other members of the Security Council to go along with inspections first and if inspections work to detect and destroy these weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein agreed to destroy back in 1991 there would be no need for military action.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Tauscher –.
REP. ROB PORTMAN: But that’s not likely to happen based on the record as we’ve seen it.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Tauscher, are you convinced there’s been a case made for immediate action and that Americans should but prepared for war and that proof has been offered to support that?
REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER: I am convinced that the President needs to be speaking to the American people not about many of the different muddying the waters kind of issues that we’ve heard. I think that this is a clear violation of the cease-fire from 1991. Saddam Hussein knew what the repercussions would be if he got weapons of mass destruction that he would be removed. I think the stakes have increased dramatically since September 11. He clearly did not move with the rest of the world community into the bosom of the United States after the attack of September 11. He clearly is on the side of terrorism. Do we know where this factory is and where that plant is, perhaps not but we certainly have his past behavior. And in this environment he is too much of a risk if he will not comply to disarm. That’s why it’s important to have the U.N. inspectors go back. That’s why we need to trust but verify and verify and verify and verify; and if we cannot verify, then he needs to be removed.
But that is the last course of action. If the meantime we can build an international partnership, we can build an international coalition and we can do everything we can to protect our fighting men and women.
GWEN IFILL: That will be the last word. Ellen Tauscher, Rob Portman, Jim McDermott, thank you all for joining us.