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Excerpts From Congress Debate on Using Force

January 11, 1991

Excerpts from Thursday's debates in the U.S. Senate and House on the question of whether to authorize war with Iraq:

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.): "In short, the Congress decides whether to make war, and the President decides how to do so.

"The meaning of the Constitution in this case is clear, direct, and indisputable: Before President Bush can launch an offensive of 400,000 U.S. troops, he must obtain a congressional declaration authorizing the attack. To do less is to flagrantly violate the very document that our troops are sworn to defend.

"If this crisis is really about upholding the law of nations abroad, the President must start by upholding the law at home. And our law begins with the Constitution. . . .

"How can the President contemplate initiating a military action of this magnitude without the clearly expressed support of the American people through their elected representatives? Without that support, whatever policy the President chooses--though wisdom or folly--cannot possibly succeed."

Sen. George J. Mitchell (D.-Me.): "In the event of war, why should it be an American war, made up largely of American troops, American casualties, and American deaths?

"Just this morning I heard it said that there may be 'only' a few thousand American casualties.

"But for the families of those few thousand--the fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, daughters and sons--the word only will have no meaning.

"And the truly haunting question, which no one will ever be able to answer will be: Did they die unnecessarily? For if we go to war now, no one will ever know if sanctions would have worked if given a full and fair chance."

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.): "What kind of victory will it be if we unleash forces of fanaticism in the Middle East? . . . What kind of victory will it be if we shoulder this responsibility, if the alliance fractures, if there's an explosion of anti-American fury throughout the Arab world accompanied by widespread violence and terrorism?"

Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.): "Sanctions alone will not lead to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein or restore the status quo in Kuwait. . . . Sanctions have no chance of expelling Iraq from Kuwait. . . .

"It is indeed a supreme irony that it is only though the threat of force that a stable world can be maintained. . . .

"The captain cannot abandon the ship. It is not an option of the U.S. Congress to disapprove what we for months have asked others to support."

Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee: "On a vote to authorize the President to use force to liberate Kuwait, the right vote is 'yes.'

"(But) I believe there is little possibility of achieving a 'bloodless victory.

"In truth, I believe that the political risks of a war in the Persian Gulf probably exceed the military risks. The long-term implications in the region and for U.S. interests are uncertain. . . ."

Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: "It is essential, to comply with the Constitution and to commit the nation, that Congress give its consent before the President initiates a large-scale military offensive against Iraq.

"I continue to favor President Bush's original strategy--economic sanctions, a continued military threat, and patience.

"What guarantees do we have that a war will be brief and that American casualties will be light?

"We must avoid 'instant victory' demands and expectations that could cause a premature and high casualty assault on heavily fortified Kuwait by American ground forces."

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.): "The only debate here in the Congress is over whether we slowly strangle Saddam with sanctions or immediately pursue a military solution. We say we can win without war, and the evidence is on our side. Once a decision is made, we will close ranks."

Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.): "The Republicans' strategy is to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I fear some of the Democrats' strategy is to get the President out of the White House."

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.): "I do not believe it is time to commit American forces to battle in the Persian Gulf now."

Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.): "To use massive force now would be a serious error, for even victory has a high price. First, there could be a power vacuum and civil chaos in Iraq because of the U.S. military action."

Sen. John W. Warner, (R-Va.): "This is a historic opportunity to send a unified message to Saddam Hussein . . . in the hopes that that unified message will tilt the balance and induce him to evacuate and avoid the use of force and avoid any deaths unnecessarily."

House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.): "There is a real understanding that this is a moment of profound decision . . . affecting . . . the whole planet."

Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.): "At this late hour in the crisis, the last, best hope for a peaceful resolution (is to) leave no doubt in the mind of Saddam Hussein that the United States is united."

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