September 21, 2002
War support traces party lines
By Dana Wilkie
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – When the president starts talking war with Iraq
this close to an election, it can put some members of Congress in
a political tight spot.
No matter what their personal beliefs, politicians know it is good
form to unite behind a war-minded president – especially one as
popular as Bush – and it is risky to urge restraint against a public
enemy like Saddam Hussein.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, for example, clearly has
reservations about letting Bush use military strikes – especially
if the United States does not have the full backing of the United
But Davis is also running for re-election. And she undoubtedly
knows that ever since Bush began discussing war against Iraq,
his job approval has bounced back from the low 60s to 70
percent or more. Recent polls also show an increase in general
support for his Iraq policy, as well as the belief that he's
explained his goals.
So Davis, in the words of a spokesman, is "reserving judgment"
on whether to support a Bush resolution seeking power to make
war on Iraq to halt any threat of Hussein producing nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons.
"There is no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat," Davis said
when asked if she would support the Bush resolution, which also
is an explicit restatement of U.S. policy that Hussein must be
overthrown. "In Congress, we are asking tough questions before
we commit our troops."
California's senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein,
approaches the question with similar caution.
Feinstein, a member of the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, has asked the CIA to assess the threat posed by
Iraq and the expected results if America attacks the country. But
she, too, is "reserving judgment," she said.
"I deeply believe that such an assessment is vital to
congressional decision-making, and most specifically, any
resolution which may come before the Senate," said Feinstein,
who stopped short of saying whether she would vote for the
Bush resolution if those reports are not available.
California's Barbara Boxer, considered among the more liberal
senators, "does not support a blank check for unilateral action"
by the United States, said her spokesman, David Sandretti.
Asked if this means she will vote against the Bush resolution,
Sandretti said only that a Boxer statement released Thursday
"speaks for itself."
The statement reads that the Democratic senator "supports
multilateral efforts with the U.N. and our allies to compel Iraq to
meet its promise to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction."
Neither Feinstein nor Boxer is up for re-election this year. But
when they are – Boxer in 2004 and Feinstein in 2006 – their
GOP rivals would likely portray a vote against Bush's resolution
as a failure to defend America against a tyrant.
Ron Faucheux, editor in chief of Campaign & Elections Magazine, said Bush's resolution poses "a very difficult political problem" for a
lot of Democrats.
"The American people are strongly in favor of the president on
this," Faucheux said. "Th e safe place for Democrats (is to)
support the president. Democrats vote against this at great
Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego is one of the few House Democrats
who has expressed unequivocal opposition to the Bush
resolution. He believes the Constitution allows only Congress to
declare war. And he said the call to topple Hussein "scares me to
"If you want to disarm this guy, and I think he should be, that's
one thing," said Filner, a liberal. He denounced Bush's plan as
"another Gulf of Tonkin resolution" – the 1964 vote by Congress
used by then-President Lyndon Johnson to plunge America into
10 years of bloody conflict in Vietnam. "But if you tell him he's
going to be dead, he's going to go down in flames. I don't want to
corner a guy who's crazy."
At the other end of the spectrum is California Rep. Duncan
Hunter, R-El Cajon, a defense hawk who just led hearings where
he denounced "Saddam Hussein and his ilk" for pursuing
weapons of mass destruction.
"We're going to have to do whatever it takes to eliminate their
nuclear weapons complex, and that may take a very thorough
occupation of the country," said Hunter, who recently chaired
House Armed Services Committee hearings on Iraq's weapons
capabilities, and who believes ground troops may be needed.
"This may be something that can't be done from the air."
Hunter's Republican colleagues from San Diego were predictably
supportive of Bush. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of
Escondido said he was "in absolute agreement with President
Bush that we must remove Saddam Hussein from power and
disarm the Iraqi arsenal."
Cunningham added, "After a decade of unsuccessful diplomatic
efforts, I am convinced it will take force to succeed."
Darrell Issa of Vista said it is important to give Bush war
authority now because Congress may be in recess when Hussein
indicates whether he'll comply with U.N. mandates to forfeit
weapons of mass destruction.
"I am supportive of language that would give the president . . .
authority to take action should Hussein back off – as he has
repeatedly done – on promises to allow full and unfettered
inspection," Issa said.
Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.