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Congress Backs War on Iraq

Bipartisan Vote Gives Bush Broad Power; President Lauds Clear Message Sent

October 11, 2002|JANET HOOK and NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A measure to authorize the use of military force against Iraq won final congressional approval early today, giving President Bush a strong bipartisan mandate and broad power to challenge an adversary who has bedeviled the United States for more than a decade.

Ending a somber debate that pushed past midnight, the Senate voted, 77 to 23, for the resolution. The action came hours after the House gave its approval on a 296-133 vote.

The votes gave Bush a decisive victory as he attempts to build international support for a concerted effort to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of his regime's suspected weapons of mass destruction. It was the second time in his presidency that Bush has won congressional authorization to use force, a development that could lead to a major new phase of military action for a nation already at war against terrorism.

In a statement after the House vote, Bush said:

"The House of Representatives has spoken clearly to the world and to the United Nations Security Council," Bush said. "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally."

If diplomacy fails, the congressional resolution clears the way for Bush to launch a military strike in one of the most volatile regions of the world. The measure is a foreign policy milestone that could mark the beginning of a long, potentially costly U.S. commitment in the Middle East.

With that in mind, many lawmakers expressed the hope that the resolution will make it less likely that force will actually need to be used.

"I strongly believe that our diplomacy will achieve its purpose only if the Iraqi regime knows that a sword of Damocles hangs over its head," said Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) on Thursday.

But opponents warned that, by allowing Bush to launch a unilateral first strike if he chooses, the resolution represents a troubling shift away from long-standing U.S. strategy of eschewing preemptive attacks.

The resolution gives Bush the power to use any means he determines necessary and appropriate--including military force--to respond to the perceived threat posed by Iraq.

Bush has said repeatedly that he has not decided whether to resort to war. If he does, the resolution requires Bush to certify to Congress, within 48 hours after the launch of a military strike, that diplomatic avenues had proved fruitless and that an attack was "consistent" with ongoing efforts to fight terrorism. In the Senate, key lawmakers who voted for the resolution included Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) voted against the measure.

The Senate debate stretched deep into the night as senators rose, one after another, to go on the record in one of the most significant votes of the last dozen years. Shortly before midnight, for instance, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) declared that the time had come to face down Hussein.

"The longer we wait, the stronger he becomes and the harder he will be to defeat," Ensign said.

But Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blasted the resolution as "too timid," arguing that Congress should have broadened the resolution to give Bush even greater authority to attack international terrorists.

In the final Senate roll call, 29 Democrats joined 48 Republicans in backing Bush. Twenty-one Democrats, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont were opposed.

In an earlier vote that signaled a big Bush victory, the Senate early Thursday voted, 75 to 25, to end delaying tactics and bring debate to a close. That was a defeat for impassioned critics of Bush's Iraqi policy, who complained that Congress was being buffaloed into authorizing war even before the White House has decided to prosecute one.

"I'm in my 50th year in Congress and I never thought I would find a Senate which lacks the backbone to stand up against this stampede, this rush to war," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). "I think we are making one horrible mistake."

GOP Skeptics

Just a month ago, as Bush pressed his case for confronting Iraq, he had faced a phalanx of such skeptics, who included members of his own party. Although he made some concessions to congressional concerns, the final resolution gave him most of the broad powers he sought. In the House vote, only six Republicans voted against him.

Bush's ability to sway Democrats proved more limited--81 of the party's House members supported the resolution, with 126 opposing it. Also voting against the measure was independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

It was a stronger showing of opposition than expected by anti-war Democrats, who had predicted about 100 votes for their side.

"This represents a great accomplishment for the Americans who have expressed their concern with this rush to war," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).

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