Union Tribune

October 10, 2002

Cunningham in tears during speech on Iraq
S.D. lawmakers central to debate


WASHINGTON Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Escondido Republican and former "Top Gun" fighter pilot, cried on the House floor yesterday as he argued that President Bush should have authority to use military force against Iraq.

And Rep. Susan Davis, the San Diego Democrat for whom Iraq has become a re-election issue, said she could not support the pending resolution to give Bush authority to go to war because it is "dangerously broad and counterproductive."

The two San Diego County lawmakers yesterday became central figures in a debate that could thrust America into war with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Cunningham made a teary plea to his colleagues that was one of the most moving of the day, while Davis was among a handful of lawmakers who kept House leaders guessing how she would vote.

Cunningham, 60 a conservative who is often blunt about defense matters became misty as he acknowledged during his speech yesterday that troops in Iraq might face horrors like those he witnessed in Vietnam.

Cunningham stopped abruptly, bent his head, stared hard at the lectern in front of him, and did not speak for a long time as he tried to compose himself. When he resumed speaking, he wiped tears from his cheeks.

"I know the horrors brought on the men and women that we will ask to go to war," Cunningham said. "But I also know the heartache and the pain of the families that are left behind. And I would say to my colleagues, do we want to subject them to the horrors of war in our own country?"

Shortly after, Cunningham cut his speech short and walked off the floor. He returned about an hour later to finish his speech.

Cunningham, one of the most decorated pilots in the Vietnam War, shot down five enemy planes and was himself shot down over North Vietnam. He was a director of the "Top Gun" school at the former Miramar Naval Air Station the inspiration for the movie of the same name and often adopts the swaggering, cocky lingo of the fighter pilots he taught.

"I hate not being in control," Cunningham said when he returned to finish his speech. "Imagine what it's like to see a friend or friends go down in flames. But I believe with every fiber of my heart that it's necessary to give the president the flexibility to stop not only terrorists, but Saddam Hussein."

Davis' decision was no doubt complicated by the district she represents that includes large military installations, such as the Point Loma Submarine Base, North Island Naval Air Station, the Naval Amphibious Base and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

"We must continue to seek options to unilateral force, to work with the United Nations and the world community, and to use force only when all other options are exhausted," said Davis, who emphasized that she supports disarming Hussein. "We must consider our young men and women in uniform. Before sending them into harm's way, we must explore every other avenue to achieve our goals without risking their lives."

San Diego County's other GOP congressmen Duncan Hunter of El Cajon and Darrell Issa of Vista support the Iraq resolution. Democratic Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego opposes it.