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Analysis: Senate Resumes Its Debate Over The Use Of Force In Iraq

All Things Considered: October 7, 2002

Senate Debates Iraq


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.


And I'm John Ydstie.

Tonight, President Bush plans to give a speech detailing his case against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush will speak in Cincinnati, Ohio. The venue, a historic railway station where, according to White House officials, many American soldiers boarded trains on their way to fight World War II.

LYDEN: Here in Washington, Congress is moving closer to giving the president the legal authority to start a conflict with Iraq. NPR's Steve Inskeep reports that congressional opposition to the president is fading.

STEVE INSKEEP reporting:

Some lawmakers who made headlines by questioning the president last summer say their questions may not all be answered, but they're closer to supporting the president's policy. In August, House Majority Leader Dick Armey said it was dangerous for the United States to be the aggressor and wrong for the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike. Today Armey met a room full of reporters and said he can back the war resolution requested by the White House.

Representative DICK ARMEY (Republican, Texas; Majority Leader): No American wants to go to war, but the president's proven leadership has shown that the conflict may be our only option to defend freedom. I will cast my vote without reservation.

INSKEEP: Armey says he still doesn't agree with launching a pre-emptive strike, but he says White House officials have convinced him that Saddam Hussein has already defied so many United Nations resolutions that this war would hardly qualify as a pre-emptive strike.

Over the summer, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel sharply questioned the need to attack Iraq, warning that a war could damage US interests in the Islamic world. Today Hagel still harbors doubts, but says he is encouraged that the president is working through the United Nations, and he's moving closer to supporting the war resolution.

Another Republican, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, was worried about giving the president too much war-making power. But today Lugar's staff says he may not even seek a vote on an alternative resolution because there's not enough support.

There is still one other alternative. This week the Senate could vote on a plan by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin. It would require the president to win UN support before starting a fight, but it's not clear how much support Levin's proposal has.

On the Senate floor today, the most vocal opponent of the war urged his colleagues to slow down, but West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd appeared to acknowledge that Congress might not heed his advice.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): We're going to be stampeded, rushed pell-mell into showing down right here in the Senate and in the House within the next few days. Why all the hurry?

INSKEEP: A Republican supporter of war says there's no point in waiting. Jon Kyl of Arizona argues that nobody knows what Iraq may be doing.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): We cannot wait until we are sure that Iraq has a nuclear weapon and is about to use it because it's unlikely we will ever have that evidence, and it will be too late when we do.

INSKEEP: Senate aides say they still hope to vote on a war resolution by the end of the week, though under Senate rules it is still possible for opponents to slow down the process.

In the House, Republican and Democratic leaders plan to start debate tomorrow and approve a resolution by Thursday. Lawmakers will be voting on an enormously complicated subject, but Senator Bob Bennett of Utah says that is exactly the reason that Congress should give the president the broadest possible authority.

Senator BOB BENNETT (Republican, Utah): I can find experts that will tell us that this would be the very best thing we could possibly do. I can find other experts that will say this is the greatest disaster we could possibly bring upon the Middle East. So this is a truly presidential decision, and it will be made not in George Bush's head, but the ultimate decision will be made in the president's gut.

INSKEEP: Today lawmakers got a reminder of just how complicated the decision may be. If the US goes to war against Iraq, some officials fear that Iraq could use its chemical or biological weapons. Today a presidential spokesman urged Saddam Hussein's military not to deploy those weapons. `Think before you act,' the spokesman said, implying that Iraq's military should defy Saddam's orders or face the consequences. President Bush may repeat that warning in a speech he delivers tonight. Steve Inskeep, NPR News, the Capitol.

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