Some lawmakers fret about Iraq resolution’s scope

Libby George

The last time a war powers resolution was granted to a President Bush, it gave him powers to use “all appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means,” to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

But President George W. Bush is demanding much broader authority and has some members of Congress feeling worried and pressured to act before the Nov. 5 election break.

“This Congress is being asked to pre-approve a blank check for the President to do whatever, whenever and wherever, and we are being criticized for not voting on it,” said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Some politicians say they are concerned the resolution, which demands authority “to use all means he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to Ö restore international peace and security in the region,” will give Bush too much power.

“It’s much too broad. There’s no limit at all on presidential powers,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., said he thinks the U.S. public and members of Congress are ready for more presidential authority.

“I do sense that public opinion and congressional opinion is in favor of giving the president the authorization to use military force,” Gutknecht said. “There is a growing consensus that we have to face (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein), or he’s going to face the consequences.”

Martin Sampson, director of graduate studies and international and foreign policy professor in the political science department, said he does not see the resolution giving Bush such sweeping powers.

“It’s business as usual in presidential-congressional relations,” Sampson said.

He also said Bush would likely receive these powers from Congress without a resolution.

“The constraints on the president are going to be political,” Sampson said. “If Bush wants to do something – at the beginning at least – Congress will give him those powers.”

Political science professor Colin Kahl also said the resolution would not give Bush new powers.

“The president can engage in all sorts of ways that aren’t war,” Kahl said. “It is political cover. If a war is unpopular, the president can spread the blame.”

However, some senators say they are agitated by the prospect of launching attacks on a nation that has not taken aggressive action against the United States.

“The standard for a pre-emptive strike must be that Saddam poses an eminent threat to our national security,” said Dean Peterson, spokesman for Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn.

“(Ramstad) intends to be fully briefed by U.S. intelligence officials before making a decision,” Peterson said.

Dayton said he had similar concerns with the Bush administration’s intentions.

“If we attacked another country because we believed it might threaten our future national security, how would we dissuade other countries from doing likewise?” Dayton said.

Sampson said other ramifications of U.S. action in the area, including concerns that U.S. aggression could prompt Israel to take more aggressive moves against Palestine, might upset the stability of the entire region.

“Other countries are going to stand up for the lack of attention to the Palestinians if we are enforcing sanctions on Iraq,” Sampson said.

Reworking the resolution

despite what Sampson described as “articulate reservations” to the resolution, there does not appear to be congressional doubt that the resolution, in some form, will pass.

“It would be an electoral disaster for people in a midterm election to oppose action in Iraq,” Kahl said. “It doesn’t appear to be overwhelming public support, but it doesn’t appear to be overwhelmingly in opposition either.”

Current congressional democrats, including Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and John Spratt, D-S.C., the top-ranking democrats on the Armed Services Committee, are working on a resolution they are more comfortable with.

“Our goal is a bipartisan resolution that most members can vote for,” Spratt said.

Beyond passing the resolution, some congressional leaders say they also worry about financing the war and the prospect of unilateral action.

“The coalition we had in 1990 and 1991 does not exist,” Sampson said. “Pulling the Israelis, the Egyptians and the Saudis on the side against Iraq was pretty impressive, and there is nothing comparable to that at this time.”

He also said the only U.S. ally thus far is Great Britain.

Gutknecht said he does not see the lack of U.S. allies as much of a concern.

“Obviously we’d love to have the allied forces we had in the other war on Iraq Ö but somebody has to make it clear that we will enforce (the sanctions) and that is one of the consequences of being a superpower,” Gutknecht said.

Bush’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, said last week that the Bush administration understands the economic costs of a war with Iraq, which he said could reach $200 billion.

“Yes, we are stretching ourselves thin, but throughout history, you will see we have stretched ourselves much thinner,” Gutknecht said, citing U.S. involvement in World War II.

“Not only did we win the war, but we fed, clothed and rebuilt our enemies,” Gutknecht said.

However, Sampson said his primary issue with the resolution is its goals of controlling nuclear weapons.

“Weapons of mass destruction are becoming more plentiful every day Ö and (attacking Iraq) doesn’t lay out any strategy to control this,” he said.