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US Congress Continues Debate Over Iraq - 2002-08-22


As the Bush administration considers whether to use military force to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, members of the U.S. Congress are using their August recess to publicly debate the issue. There appears to be no consensus among lawmakers, even those in President Bush's Republican party.

The views of House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the man who will succeed him in the leadership post in January, fellow Texan Tom Delay, highlight the split among Republicans about the need for U.S. military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

Congressman Armey, who retires in January, does not consider Iraq enough of a threat to U.S. and regional security interests to warrant military action, as he made clear in comments to reporters.

"Let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants," he said. "Let that be a matter between him and his own country. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack of resources against him."

But Congressman DeLay sees it differently, echoing White House support for Saddam Hussein's ouster. He outlined his views in a speech in Houston this week.

"He manufactured anthrax, and VX nerve gas, he applied the substantial resources of his country toward developing nuclear weapons and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons," he said. "He used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and killed 5,000 in 1998. He persecutes and murders religious leaders in southern Iraq, he represses Iraqi minorities in southern Iraq by razing their villages. For 12 years he has fired at American aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone. What more evidence do you need?"

Congressman DeLay argues the Iraqi leader should be toppled before he has the chance to use his weapons of mass destruction against U.S. or regional interests.

But Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is concerned about the precedent that would be set by pre-emptive action. He made his comments in a recent interview on CNN's Late Edition.

"This is a huge deal," he said. "If we would exercise the military option to pre-empt, inverting our doctrine by the way that we have always had in this country - pre-emptive strikes are now the new doctrine, that of course would set in motion a lot of other possibilities: India hitting Pakistan, maybe Israel striking, others could use that excuse to say 'Well, I'm sorry but they are a threat to my nation [and we can do this] because the Americans did it.'"

Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, agrees. In a separate Late Edition interview, he said he would like to give weapons inspections, which broke off in 1998, another chance.

"I have talked to high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, and there is some thread of hope that if we had unlimited discretion to inspect, if we could move in on a surprise basis, and it is true that he moves a lot of his equipment around, but let's try that," he said. "I think when you have so many of the nations of the world saying this is something we ought to explore, well, let's explore it."

But other Republicans say inspections are a waste of time, arguing that Saddam Hussein circumvented arms inspections in the past and would do so again. Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee addressed the issue in a recent Fox News Sunday program.

"We know he's got biological, chemical, and undoubtedly working on nuclear [weapons], and it will probably be just a matter of time before he has the fissile material necessary to pose a threat if not to the mainland United States, certainly to Israel, certainly to troops in the area," he said. "Now do we sit back and hope to negotiate our way out of that situation with Saddam? I don't think so, not to mention the thwarting the agreement with the U.N. after the last war there."

Democrats, too, appear divided over the threat that Iraq poses.

Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, downplays the threat, saying he does not believe Saddam Hussein would use his weapons in a first strike. He spoke in a recent CBS Face the Nation interview.

"The key question is whether or not Saddam is more interested in his own survival, does he love himself more than he hates us? I think the answer is probably yes, and if that is true, then it would be unlikely that he would initiate an attack with a weapon of mass destruction, because it would be certain that he would be destroyed in response," he said.

But Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes the Iraqi leader might make first-strike use of his weapons.

"One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein must be dislodged from power," he said.

Senator Biden conducted hearings on Iraq in July, and plans more when Congress returns from its August recess.

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