Congressional Dissent Comes to Life

The Bush administration's irrational belligerence toward Iraq finally has awakened some of the "loyal opposition" to initiate a serious debate on the matter of war with that damaged nation.

On Thursday, a lineup of about 30 Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the Capitol building to detail their displeasure for a resolution that would authorize President Bush to use any force against Iraq that he deemed necessary and appropriate to defend the U.S., and to enforce UN Security Council resolutions.

Leading members of the House, including Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), already had reached an agreement with the Bush administration to support the resolution. The emergence of what seems to be a growing anti-war faction, organized primarily by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, revealed some serious divisions within party ranks.

"I am completely at a loss to explain to you why the minority leader of the House, the Democratic leader, would join with President Bush in this kind of activity," noted Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the news conference. Conyers, a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the resolution "the most disturbing arrogation of constitutional power by any president in my memory."

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) made the point that the resolution proposes a "leap before you look" strategy that ultimately jeopardizes American security.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown said the proposed resolution allowing pre-emptive unilateral action represents a radical change in our military doctrine.

"[Unilateral action in Iraq] sends a message to our allies and to others around the world that if the United States, the world's superpower, a member of the UN Security Council, is willing to do that, then why can't we?" Brown said. He added that Bush never once mentioned his plans for such a dramatic departure from military tradition in his presidential campaign.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) displayed two uneven stacks of e-mails and letters, claiming those opposing war represented the largest stack by far. Like many of the other House members, she argued that she is being bombarded by messages urging her to oppose the Bush administration's war resolution.

Some observers trace these ripples of dissent to a Sept. 23 speech by former Vice President Al Gore in which he argued that an Iraq attack will damage the war on terrorism, weaken U.S. leadership in the world and create new enemies.

But many members of Congress had expressed opposition to the logic of the "Bush Doctrine" long before Gore's well-publicized comments. Some members also blame the media for minimizing dissenters.

"Let's see how much media coverage there'll be of this news conference," shouted one voice in the audience.

"People have been asking `Where are the Democrats?' Well, here are the Democrats," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Waters has been a consistent critic of the administration's overall Middle East policies and has often urged her party mates to be more vocal.

Waters said the Bush administration has failed to provide the proof that Iraq has possession of nuclear weapons and is willing to use them. The U.S. keeps pushing for an intrusive inspection regime, yet, she noted, we seem to forget that the CIA was caught spying on Iraq during the last spate of inspections.

The California lawmaker expressed considerable cynicism regarding Bush's plans for an invasion of Iraq. "Seems like no matter what we do, the determination has already been made," she said.

But there were hints that this ripple of dissent may move beyond the progressive elements of the Democratic Party. Rep. Jim Moran, a centrist Democrat from Virginia with a hawkish record, joined the crowd of dissenters.

"Saddam Hussein is the one who should be marginalized, not the U.S. Congress," Moran said. The basis of his dissent is the new powers the resolution grants to the president. He said our new national security strategy that allows for "unilateral, pre-emptive military action upon the president's own authority has implications for the rest of the world that will come back to haunt us."

There also has been an uptick in anti-war demonstrations around the U.S., including two in Chicago last week.

In addition to the usual left-leaning suspects, there is considerable opposition to the Bush administration's war plans among conservatives. Pat Buchanan has used some of that aggressive opposition to help fuel a new magazine called the American Conservative.

The voices of dissent are rising and just may prevent the U.S. from becoming the 21st Century's leading warmonger--but don't bet on it.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times


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