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Copyright The Washington Post Company Oct 11, 2002

The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to grant President Bush the power to attack Iraq unilaterally, remove Saddam Hussein from power and abolish that country's nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry.

Moving the nation closer to a possible second war with Iraq, 77 of 100 senators and 296 of 435 House members voted to authorize the president to "use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

The president needs no further congressional approval to deploy troops, order airstrikes and wage a ground war with Iraq. "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally," Bush said after the House vote yesterday afternoon . "The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end."

With Congress's debate behind him, the president will focus on the United Nations. He is pressing the world body to adopt a new resolution demanding that Hussein immediately dismantle his weapons of mass destruction or face possible military action.

Not since Congress passed the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution -- which helped bring expansion of the Vietnam War -- has a president won such broad and flexible authority to carry out an undefined military operation, historians say.

The bipartisan endorsement of Bush's Iraq strategy shows how dramatically the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, have changed U.S. foreign policy and altered views about preemptive military action to disarm hostile regimes. "The events that tragic day jolted us to the enduring reality that terrorists not only seek to attack our interests abroad but also to strike us at home," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) told the House.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D- Del.) said the country's new enemies -- terrorists and the nations harboring them -- warrant a new response. "The speed and stealth with which an outlaw state or terrorists could use weapons of mass destruction, and the catastrophic damage they could inflict, require us to consider new ways of acting, not reacting," Biden told the Senate. He fought unsuccessfully to limit Bush's military options to disarming Hussein.

Still, 126 of 208 House Democrats yesterday objected to the resolution, a higher number than some had expected. In the Senate, 22 Democrats and one independent opposed the president in a vote just after 1 a.m. Friday. Many cited concerns that Bush might take military action without U.N. approval and provoke a terrorist reprisal from Hussein or from al Qaeda or other militant groups.

Six House Republicans -- including Constance A. Morella of Maryland -- and one Senate Republican, Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), opposed the resolution.

A decade ago, Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), Gephardt and nearly three-quarters of their fellow congressional Democrats objected to President George H.W. Bush's deployment of troops to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Yesterday's debate often lacked the passion and unpredictability of the 1991 affair, when members sat late into the night listening attentively to a war of words. By contrast, the House chamber was largely empty most of yesterday: the arguments familiar, the outcome certain, the conclusion anticlimactic.

The Senate debate featured more drama, punctuated by sharp- tongued protests from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) that pushed the debate deep into the dark of night.

Amid chest-thumping warnings to Hussein and others who wield tools of terrorism, Republicans and Democrats alike insisted that war with Iraq should come only as a last resort. But if Hussein refuses to readmit weapons inspectors promptly to verify the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction, Congress signaled that military action is highly likely.

"The war on terrorism will be fought here at home unless we summon the will to confront evil before it attacks," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "Only regime change can remove the danger from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Only by taking them out of his hands and destroying them can we be certain that terror weapons won't wind up in the hands of terrorists." Many of the House's most respected military and intelligence experts made similar remarks.

Daschle raised concerns throughout the debate about Bush politicizing national security, but in the end he backed the president "because this resolution is improved, because I believe that Saddam Hussein represents a real threat, and because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment."

A U.S. military buildup is underway in the Persian Gulf, with munitions and other equipment being sent to strategic sites throughout the region. Defense officials would prefer to attack during the winter, when the desert en route to Baghdad is cool enough for troops to wear more comfortably the heavy suits designed to protect them from chemical and biological weapons.

"Confront Saddam Hussein now, or pay a much heavier price later," said Rep. Howard Berman, a liberal Democrat from California. "The idea of Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon is too horrifying to contemplate, too terrifying to tolerate."

Yet most lawmakers urged Bush to exhaust all diplomatic options, especially ongoing consultations with the world's most powerful countries at the United Nations, before striking Hussein.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is negotiating with Britain, France, China and Russia -- along with the United States, the U.N. Security Council's permanent members -- on a new U.N. resolution that would require Hussein to submit to immediate, unfettered weapons inspections.

The Iraqi government has agreed to inspections conducted under current U.N. guidelines, but has objected to the more stringent resolution sought by the United States and Britain. It is unclear whether France, China and Russia, which have veto power at the United Nations, will agree to enforce a new inspections regime including the threat of swift military action. If the U.N. talks collapse, Congress's actions provide Bush the authority to strike Hussein even if world leaders protest.

The president lost some Democratic support earlier this week when a CIA memo was declassified. It concluded that Hussein is more likely to strike the United States with weapons of mass destruction if he is attacked first.

"Once the battle is joined, however, with the outcome certain, [Hussein] will have maximum incentive to use weapons of mass destruction and give what he can't use to terrorists who can torment us long after he is gone," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- N.Y.), who, like so many others who expressed severe reservations, nonetheless voted for the resolution.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) voted no after learning in a military briefing this week that U.S. soldiers do not have adequate protection against biological weapons. "As a veteran, that's what hit me the hardest," Baca said. "Would you send someone, knowing they're going to be killed?"

Even as members debated, retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, was telling the Middle East Institute in Washington that Hussein is "deterrable and containable at this point."

On the floor of the House and Senate, critics said Bush has failed to make a case that Hussein poses a clear and imminent danger to the United States; to delineate plans for a post-Hussein government in Iraq; to outline how the United States would keep a war with Iraq from spilling into Israel and other nations; and to convince them that the broader war on terrorism won't suffer.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said: "The power to declare war is the most solemn responsibility given to Congress by the Constitution. We must not delegate that responsibility to the president in advance."

But in a poignant reminder of the deep divisions inside the Democratic Party, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) broke with his father and sided with the president.

With the backing of many Democrats, the House soundly defeated two attempts to restrict Bush's options. One, by Rep. Barbara T. Lee (D-Calif.), would have urged the president to use diplomacy and work through the United Nations rather than launch a military strike. It failed by 355 to 72.

A second, sponsored by Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), would have authorized U.S military action only if it were sanctioned by the Security Council or by a second congressional vote later this year. It lost 270 to 55.

A similar resolution, proposed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was defeated 75 to 24 in the Senate.

On the final vote, five of Maryland's eight House members voted for Bush's version. Voting no were Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Elijah E. Cummings (D) and Morella, who faces a tough reelection fight. Moran was the only Northern Virginia lawmaker to oppose the resolution; GOP Reps. Jo-Ann Davis, Tom Davis and Frank Wolf voted in favor of it.

In the Senate, Republicans John W. Warner and George F. Allen of Virginia voted for the resolution. In Maryland, Democrats Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski opposed it.

Minority House members were nearly unanimous in opposing Bush's resolution. Every Hispanic Democrat voting yesterday voted against the resolution, as did all but four of 31 African American Democrats who voted.

Among the dozen most vulnerable Democrats in next month's elections, just two -- Reps. James Maloney (Conn.) and Julia Carson (Ind.) -- opposed the measure. In the Senate, Paul D. Wellstone (D- Minn.) was alone among incumbents facing tough reelections who voted against it.