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Congress debates Iraq resolution

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress passionately debated the wages of war and peace Tuesday, while hawks and doves argued about whether President Bush has made his case against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

A resolution authorizing the possible use of military force enjoys support in both houses of Congress, though Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has threatened to filibuster what he called a "blank check" for President Bush, saying he left too many unanswered questions in his speech Monday.

"I didn't hear anything new," Byrd said.

White House aides said they believe Bush made progress persuading the nation and world of the dangers posed by Hussein, though they acknowledged he reached only a limited audience because the administration did not ask the broadcast networks for airtime.

During a trip Tuesday to Tennessee to stump for Republican candidates, Bush said he is pleased with the progress of the debate over world security and Saddam Hussein.

"He is a threat to the United States," Bush said. "He's a threat to our friends in the region."

Bush is expected to win congressional approval of a resolution authorizing the use of military force if Iraq refuses to honor decade-long agreements that it not develop weapons of mass destruction, pledges it made after the Gulf War of 1991.

Iraq has denied it is engaging in such activity, and accused Bush of using "misleading information" to justify an "illegitimate attack."

The House opened debate Tuesday, as supporters of the resolution cited evidence that Hussein is expanding its chemical and biological stockpile, and is trying to build a nuclear weapon. They said Hussein's tyranny proves he is willing to use such weapons.

Critics, while not defending Hussein, warned that war will have any number of unintended consequences: A full-blown conflict in the Middle East, a long and costly occupation of a post-Hussein Iraq, and possibly the specter of Hussein using chemical and biological weapons.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Cal., mocked the "hand wringers" who "always find an excuse for doing nothing," and said the Iraqi people will welcome liberation from Hussein.

"They will be dancing in the streets waving American flags," Rohrabacher said.

Better ways

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, opposed the resolution, saying diplomacy and deterrence are better ways to rein in Hussein.

"The most effective way of combating this menace is by solidifying the support of the international community and acting within the auspices of the United Nations -- not by acting unilaterally," Johnson said.

The Senate is also expected to give Bush his resolution. While Byrd's threat of a filibuster may complicate matters, senators said there are probably enough Democrats to break such an action.

Byrd said Congress should hold off until the American people get more answers about possible war with Iraq.

"'What's it going to cost me?' they'll say," Byrd said. "'What about my son, what about my daughter, what about my grandson? How many American lives are going to be lost if we invade Iraq? What is going to be the cost?'"

Bush sought to answer some of those questions during his speech Monday night in Cincinnati.

Bush said Hussein is a unique threat because he is a "homicidal maniac" who has used chemical weapons on his own people.

While Bush said he did not know how close Hussein might be to developing nuclear weapons, he said the United States cannot risk waiting to find out.

While White House aides billed the address as a major address, but they did not ask the broadcast networks for airtime, and ABC, CBS and NBC did not carry the address.

Aides said requesting the time might have given the public the false impression that war is imminent, and they chose not to second-guess themselves or the networks.

"The White House did not request them to do so, so I think it would be unreasonable for anybody to think they should have," said Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.


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