Springfield State Journal Register

September 21, 2002

Illinoisans in Congress cautious on Iraq 

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Neither Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., nor Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., is willing to rubber-stamp President Bush's request for broad war-making authority against Iraq.

But they, as well as Illinois House members, are cautious in their criticism of the politically popular president who is waging a showdown with a well-known enemy like Saddam Hussein.

Bush asked Congress on Thursday for unlimited authority against Iraq, including the use of military force, without further congressional approval.

Durbin, who is up for re-election in November, said he and other Senate Democrats want to work with the White House to place some limitations on the use of force.

"This draft resolution we received from the president includes no
restrictions whatsoever," Durbin said. "It calls for a go-it-alone, unilateral approach by the United States and frankly expands the prospects of such a war beyond Iraq to the region, which I'm not sure what that means. That's something that even the White House has not explained.

"I want to see a commitment to building a coalition to bring Saddam Hussein under control," Durbin said. "I'd rather have a global coalition with us than against us.

"What we've done traditionally, and what we should do here, is to say that the president - before he ever uses force - would have to exhaust all diplomatic alternatives and all diplomatic options," Durbin said.

Durbin added that the president should give the United Nations a chance to work out the situation diplomatically.

"I think we should give them a chance to put together a credible weapons inspection program so that we can discover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and destroy them," Durbin said.

Even Republicans such as Fitzgerald said they want more information before agreeing to grant the president the broad authority he seeks.

Bush, he said, is "well within his prerogative" to request broad authority to enforce the U.N. resolutions on calling for Iraqi disarmament. "The president is serious about protecting lives," Fitzgerald said. But, he said, "there are still questions that remain to be answered."

Bush proposed wording for a congressional resolution that would give him authority to use "all means he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions (on disarmament), defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and restore international peace and security in the region."

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said he's moving closer to giving the president the broad authority he is seeking.

"I'm closer to it. But I'm not there yet," Shimkus said.

Shimkus, a West Point graduate, said he is convinced that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction and that he is "beginning to believe" the administration's argument that the only way to get rid of them is through ousting Hussein.

His opponent in the election, Rep. David Phelps, D-Eldorado, said he, too, is "inclined to be supportive," particularly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

However, he said, "I've got all kinds of questions."

"Show me, as a member of Congress, what the urgency is now and why we're dealing with this this week," Phelps said.

"This is a serious vote when you're committing troops and young people to not only being killed but to the risks of chemical and biological capabilities that we know they had in past," Phelps said.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, a former Marine who is the senior Democrat on the House Veteran Affairs Committee, wants to take closer look at the White House proposal and to see what changes might be made to it before taking a position, spokesman Steve Vetzner said.

"He feels it's important we do have U.N. support as well as support from other countries," Vetzner said.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, previously had urged the Bush administration to rally support for its actions against Iraq both in the United States and abroad. He wasn't available for comment Thursday and Friday.

Earlier this month, he proposed a resolution that would give the president the authority to commit the United States to war "to repel a military attack against the United States, to participate in humanitarian rescue missions or after a declaration or resolution approved by Congress."

Freshman Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Urbana, said he is still unsure what the response to Iraq should be.