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Background: Debating Iraq

Kwame Holman looks at the Senate debate over a resolution authorizing the U.S. to use military force in Iraq.

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    A day after President Bush and House leaders agreed on language for the Iraq resolution, several members of the House International Relations Committee attempted to clarify, broaden, narrow, and/or replace the language; but all in vain.


    I think this is a poison pill, and I respectfully request a "no" vote on it.


    For instance, California Democrat Brad Sherman said he wanted the language in the resolution restricted to mention only Saddam Hussein's most egregious acts.


    If we identify in this resolution a host of crimes of Saddam that are not the reasons for the use of force, then we leave the image that oppressing one's own people or providing money to suicide bombers– that these are crimes that justify American invasion. And then we pass a resolution that begs the question, "why are we invading Iraq and not Syria?"


    Fellow Californian Howard Berman echoed the feelings of many colleagues, saying he agreed in principle with Sherman's amendment, but didn't want to tamper with the resolution's carefully-crafted language.


    So I would argue that if we would come to… start looking at this text as lawyers and which amendment better defines our feelings about all this, we are defeating the bigger picture, which is to put together a political consensus in this country that says we stand with the administration in his effort in the President's efforts to get the United Nations to take this issue seriously and ultimately if necessary to use force.


    Outside the committee room, on the steps of the Canon Office Building, some two dozen members of the House staged a noontime rally against what they called the rush to war. Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky:


    I bring to you the communications that I have gotten by mail or e-mail from my district. Now I show you. These are in support: In support of the President's resolution for unilateral pre-emptive strike on Iraq. And this is the mail that I've gotten against from my district.


    Meanwhile, the leadership in the Senate remained divided over Iraq policy. Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he still hoped to improve on the resolution now moving through the House.


    You know, I said to the President yesterday, and I feel very strongly about it, it's not where you begin, but where you end. And I am still confident that at the end of the day we're going to be able to develop a broad, bipartisan consensus about this authorization, this resolution, and that is every bit my expectation. In my view, there is still improvement that I think can be made. And as long as I think there is at least a chance that we could make additional improvements, I want to try to do that. I think it's too early to give up on making the effort.


    One alternative resolution has been proposed by Senators Biden and Lugar, the chairman and senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. They would limit the President's authorization to use force only to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. This morning, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, weighed in with a resolution of his own, one that emphasizes multilateral action against Iraq through an authorization by the United Nations.


    I think there's some real concern in the country about authorizing a go-it-alone approach at this time.


    Levin's resolution would urge the United Nations to authorize U.N. members, including the United States, to use force if Iraq does not allow unconditional access by weapons inspectors; and would require Congress to return to session to consider unilateral military action against Iraq if the United Nations fails to act. Debate in the Senate on an Iraq resolution began this afternoon.


    Mr. President?


    The Senator from West Virginia.


    West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd was on the floor first, arguing passionately against granting the President the authorization he's asked for to launch a unilateral attack against Iraq.


    A unilateral pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the President's authority under the Constitution of the United States — not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the United Nations on its head. What a shame! Fie upon the Congress, fie upon some of the so-called leaders of the Congress for falling into this pit. Mr. President, this rushing to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq without asking why.


    Assistant Republican leader Don Nickles spoke in support of the President's Iraq resolution.


    This body and the United Nations has passed several resolutions telling Iraq that they must comply and not enforcing it. And now… and we've done it year after year. In 1998 we passed a resolution unanimously saying we should enforce the existing resolutions requiring Iraq to disarm. Unfortunately, that resolution was good on paper but it wasn't enforced. Now we have an administration that says they're willing to enforce it. I believe this Congress will stand behind President Bush in saying, yes, we will give you the authorization to enforce it. These resolutions mean something.


    The Senate continues debate on the Iraq resolution tomorrow, and into next week.