Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2002 / 6 Tishrei, 5763
No Mirror for Europe; US is a picture of unity
Much of the discussion of America's confrontation with Iraq has focused on
domestic opposition to a war. The picture we get is of a political stage
There is indeed tension inside the Bush administration: Colin Powell,
secretary of state, prefers diplomacy to escalation. But Republican and
Democratic opposition is relatively muted.
The real story about America is the consensus within US leadership on the
matter of toppling Saddam Hussein.
This unity becomes clear when we consider the debate in the run-up to the
Gulf War. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US deployed
thousands of troops to scare Mr Hussein into retreat. But as the prospect
of military action increased, any number of lawmakers mobilised in
opposition, either to call for Congressional approval or to block action
outright. The tone and content of their arguments were more sceptical or
confrontational than those of arguments heard today.
On the Republican side, a number of leaders had hesitations about the
project. As Bob Woodward recalls in his book The Commanders, both Senator
Robert Dole and Richard Lugar fought for explicit congressional approval,
with Senator Lugar telling President George Bush it was better to determine
early whether Congress was behind him. From within the administration,
then, as now, Mr Powell called for caution.
On the Democratic side, the opposition was public and outright. Richard
Gephardt, then House majority leader, repeatedly challenged the very notion
of military action, even going so far as to threaten blocking the
president's funding for the war.
Nor was Mr Gephardt alone. Fifty-three House Democrats and Tom Harkin, a
Democrat senator from Iowa, moved one step further: they went to court to
ask for an injunction to stop the president from initiating an attack on
Iraq. Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, then co-chairman of the
Democratic Policy Committee, voiced his "uncertainty" about an anti-Iraq
mission; he later voted "No" in the decisive vote to authorise offensive
action, along with Senators Bill Bradley, Sam Nunn and Joseph Biden, all
leading Democrats. Only 52 senators supported authorisation.
In the House, meanwhile, 183 members of Congress voted to deny
authorisation - a minority but a sizeable one. This split reflected public
opinion - at certain moments, at least: a USA Today poll of November 1990
showed only 51 per cent of respondents supported Mr Bush's handling of the
Things look a little different today: the president enjoys stronger support
from the public and objections tend to be about detail rather than overall
thrust. A New York Times poll at the weekend showed 68 per cent of
Americans supported Mr Bush on Iraq.
On the Democratic side, there has been much sympathy for the notion that
aggression may be necessary, particularly from prominent Democrats. Thus,
for example, the same Mr Gephardt who led the opposition last time around
is today a vocal advocate.
Just last month, even before it became clear that the White House would
seek congressional approval of military action, Mr Gephardt, now House
minority leader, said: "President Bush was right Saturday to say we are
fighting a new war and will have to be ready to strike when necessary." A
few months ago Mr Gephardt laid out his support in a long speech at the
Wilson Centre, saying, "I share President Bush's resolve to confront
head-on the menace".
Of course, many Democrats have been silent on the matter, spending their
stage time assailing the president on the economy. But this should be
interpreted in the context of the forthcoming congressional elections. It
tells us one of two things. The first is that the Democrats think that they
can win by differentiating themselves on the economy and lose by
differentiating themselves on the war. The second is that they support the
showdown but do not want to highlight that support, since that would also
Among Republicans, to be sure, there are the dissenters: Gen Powell; Dick
Armey, House Majority leader; and Brent Scowcroft, the former national
security adviser. But it is important to note, that, excepting Gen Powell,
these critics are not big "players". Mr Armey probably feels free to
express his opinion because he knows it does not matter much: he will
retire this winter. Gen Scowcroft's power base exists - he heads the
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board - but it is not a mighty one.
So both houses of Congress are likely to vote more heavily in support of
presidential authority than they did in 1991.
This should not be surprising. For one thing, Democrats remember what a
political loser opposition to the Gulf war turned out to be. Their
prognostications of thousands of US casualties proved wrong. The two
important members of the party who broke early from the pack and backed the
administration in launching Desert Storm - Senator Al Gore and Senator
Joseph Lieberman - were rewarded with the chance to run for president and
vice-president six years later.
The real motive, though, behind Democratic support, and public support
generally, is the recognition that this war must be fought if necessary.
The lesson that US leaders have taken from September 11 is that it is time
to stop trouble that emanates from the Middle East. Washington views
al-Qaeda-type terror and a nuclear or chemical weapons attack from Iraq in
the same class: as threats that must be smothered.
Europe is divided over this proposition and may seek a mirror of its
divisions in the US. But an accurate review of America's leadership reveals
a picture of striking unity.
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JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times
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