Officials in many U.S. cities are debating the use of force in Iraq, if it does not comply with U.N. resolutions to surrender its weapons of mass destruction. The local actions are symbolic, but reflect a debate that is taking place around the United States.
A recent opinion poll shows U.S. public support for using force in Iraq has topped 60 percent, but about one in four Americans are opposed to a possible war. As millions of Europeans protested over the weekend, tens of thousands joined anti-war protests in New York, San Francisco, and other U.S. cities.
Some 90 U.S. cities have passed resolutions opposing military action against Iraq, despite the fact that U.S. foreign policy is a federal, not a local, prerogative. Los Angeles officials debated the issue Tuesday.
Councilman Eric Garcetti wants his city to join others opposed to war. "Let me read some of the names of them: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Portland, Des Moines, Newark, Cleveland, Providence, Seattle, Milwaukee. If it isn't any of our business, it isn't any of theirs," he said. "But they have clearly said "it is our business," and we sense the tide turning."
Supporters of the measure to oppose war in Iraq include the actor Ed Asner and some local religious leaders. But the measure failed to pass. With a vote of seven to six, it fell one vote short of the eight votes needed to become city policy. Council members will take up the issue again Friday.
The measure's opponents say Los Angeles has enough problems of its own without getting involved in international issues. And some support the position of the Bush administration, that force against Iraq should be used as a last option. City Councilman Hal Bernson says Iraq's Saddam Hussein, like dictators before him, needs to be dealt with.
"I remember the days of World War II," he said. "I remember Adolph Hitler. I remember seven million Jews being exterminated in the camps, just as Saddam has exterminated tens of thousand of his own people, the Kurds, with poison gas and other types of extermination. And there is a parallel."
As the city officials debated, a State Department official was conducting a briefing for international reporters in another part of the city. He said the anti-war debate is part of the discussion that surrounds important issues in a democracy.
Deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker adds that no one in the administration is pro-war. "Nobody wants a war, and the president said it again today," he said. "It's a last resort, I don't want to resort to armed conflict, but sometimes that is what it comes down to."
The official said it is not too late for Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors. "To fully come forward, provide the scientists, drive the mobile biological weapons labs to the borders, say here, we want to get rid of these, we want to get rid of these, we want to make a strategic change," said Mr. Reeker. "Here are the 30,000 warheads that we've never explained, here is the VX nerve gas, here is what we did with the anthrax."
The State Department spokesman says U.S. officials believe the Iraqi leader responds to diplomacy only when it is backed by a credible threat of force.