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The Homefronts

The British Parliament debated for 10 hours today about whether to join the offensive against Iraq. Kwame Holman reports on discussions in Britain and the conversations in Congress about the threat of war.

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    On the eve of almost certain war members of the British House of Commons packed the chamber for a full ten hours of debate on whether Britain should participate. A vote was scheduled for the end of the day.


    The prime minister.


    Prime Minister Tony Blair didn't need the approval of members to commit British troops to the conflict. But opposition to the war– and there is a great deal of it in Britain– has come primarily from within his ruling Labor Party, threatening Blair's leadership. Following yesterday's resignation of senior minister Robin Cook, two junior cabinet ministers resigned today in protest of Blair's pro-war stance. However, Clare Short, the international development secretary, said today she would not resign as she had threatened, and was seated near Blair as the prime minister made a final plea to members for support.


    The outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime, more than the future of the Iraqi people, who were so long brutalized by Saddam — It will determine the way Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way that the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important.


    Those Labor members opposed to military action insisted the case for war still hadn't been made. John Denham was one of the two ministers who earlier in the day had resigned the cabinet.


    But it is not simply a question of whether we take action. How we take action is also important. The reason is simple: If we act in the wrong way, we will create more of the problems that we aim to tackle. For every cause of insecurity we try to deal with, we will create a new one.


    But a majority of Labor members do support Blair, as do almost all the conservatives sitting across the chamber. Still, William Hague couldn't help but give Blair some good- natured ribbing about the cabinet resignations.


    And on the subject of which– and I'm sorry to see that our right honorable lady, the secretary for international development, is not here– on the subject of which, I have never seen a more spectacular failure to resign than we have seen over the last 24 hours. It was whispered in the corridors last week when she said the prime minister was reckless, that he would take his revenge in due course. And I believe that by persuading her to stay in the cabinet, even for this last 24 hours… ( Laughter ) …he has now taken his revenge.


    Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the United States Congress, having given Pres. Bush authority to go to war back in October, went about its normal legislative business. But on the floor of the Senate, where next year's budget was a matter at hand, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin expressed his frustration.


    You know, I find it almost surreal that we are here debating the budget. It's important obviously for what's going to happen to the future of our country, but I note at least the British House of Commons just that at least the British House of Commons just today completed a whole day of debate on Iraq. You'd think that that would be happening here in the United States Senate — that we'd have at least one day of debate about whether or not our president is doing the right thing.


    However, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan managed an easy transition from the budget debate to the war.


    On the eve of military action, should we pass a budget resolution that says, by the way, what we propose at the moment as is the case with Pres. Bush's budget and the budget that came out of the Budget Committee, let's have very large tax cuts. Let's have the huge costs of war and reconstruction and all the consequence of that, and let's attach to that additional tax cuts.


    Off the floor, the debate turned partisan. Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum criticized Democratic leader Tom Daschle for his comments yesterday that the president had failed miserably in diplomatic efforts to avoid war.


    I think Sen. Daschle clearly articulated the French position. I just don't think that's what most… how most Americans see it. I don't think that's how most members of Congress see it. I don't think that's how most Democrats here in the United States Senate see it.


    But Daschle stood by his words.


    A diplomatic success is getting a large coalition of countries. We had nearly 20 countries in 1991. A diplomatic success is having 200,000 international troops present instead of the 225,000 U.S. troops, which are present today. A diplomatic success is getting other countries to pay 90 percent of the costs incurred, all of that happened in 1991. None of that is happening in the year 2003.


    Just as in the Senate, there was no debate in the House today on Iraq, only words f support for the troops, but late this evening in the British House of Commons, and despite sizable opposition from the ruling Labor Party, members voted overwhelmingly to support Prime Minister Blair's intent of using all means necessary to disarm Iraq.

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