Bush speech elicits relief, support, ire
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reaction among U.S. lawmakers Monday to President Bush's speech on Iraq ranged from fear and criticism to applause and relief.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Baghdad, worried that a pre-emptive first strike would set an unfortunate international precedent "in a situation where there appears to be no immediate danger to people here in the United States."
The House Armed Services Committee member called the upcoming vote on the resolution, which is expected to pass in Congress and would grant Bush authority to effect "regime change" in Iraq, "the most important vote I'm ever going to cast."
Thompson questioned Bush's contention that some al Qaeda leaders fled Afghanistan and went to Iraq, and that a senior al Qaeda leader associated with planning for chemical and biological weapons attacks received medical treatment in Baghdad this year.
"We haven't seen any proof that any of this has happened," he said. "If there is substantiation, we need to see that in Congress, not hear it over the television monitor."
Though Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is "a bad guy," Thompson said, "I just do not believe, unless there is an immediate threat to Americans, that we need to do a pre-emptive first strike."
Action must be taken, he said, "but we need to go through all the diplomatic options before we go to war."
But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said Saddam has had plenty of opportunities to renounce the use of weapons of mass destruction and has not done so.
"He's proven himself to be utterly untrustworthy," Sessions said, noting Saddam's use of chemical weapons against his own people. "We cannot continue this way."
Sessions, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Bush was doing all he could to resolve the issue diplomatically rather than militarily.
Resolution will pass easily, McCain predicts
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, lauded the speech for laying out in convincing fashion "the rationale that Saddam cannot remain in power while maintaining his pursuit of the development of weapons of mass destruction."
But, he said, besides the mention of an al Qaeda operative receiving medical treatment in Baghdad, "there wasn't anything new."
Saddam is working toward acquiring or developing a nuclear weapon, said McCain, another Armed Services Committee member. "It's not a matter of whether, but a matter of when."
Had he simply dropped that goal, "he would have guaranteed his own survival, as odious as his regime may be."
McCain predicted the Senate would pass by an "overwhelming margin" a resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq.
"The president is taking us through the proper procedures: Go through the Congress, get an endorsement ... get a resolution from the United Nations Security Council so that all Americans are convinced that military action is the last option."
He held out little hope that Saddam must give free rein to weapons inspectors to avoid being overthrown. "His record over 11 years indicates that he will play a game of hide and seek."
McCain, who was a prisoner of war for six years in Vietnam, said any fight would result in American and Iraqi civilian casualties, but he predicted "it will be minimal."
Sessions, however, said the United States should not let the United Nations dictate its path.
"We ought not to allow our policy to be totally blackballed by a single vote in the United Nations or the Security Council," he said, referring to the power of France, China and Russia to veto resolutions.
Byrd: Bush trying to distract voters
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, was adamant in his opposition to Bush's plan. "The U.S. Senate is being asked to vote on a resolution that puts the stamp of approval on the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive attack," the president pro tempore said. "I think that's wrong."
The Armed Services Committee member said that weapons inspectors, who left the country in 1998, should be given another chance, and he urged Bush to recruit allies to his cause rather than threaten to take unilateral action.
He also said Bush is beating the drums of war to distract voters from the real issues facing the nation.
"They're just hellbent to get a vote on this war resolution right here at election time in order to take the people's eyes away from the real problem that the president has with respect to the economy," Byrd said.
But with midterm elections just weeks away, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, a member of the Select Intelligence Committee, called this "the very best time" for voters to find out how their representatives feel about such a weighty issue.
"Better to have that debate occur during this season, so they can make an informed decision about what you decided" prior to a vote, he said.
He added: "The point is, would you rather do it now, when we have the capability of taking him out, or wait until he has a nuclear weapon, when it's too late?"
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she thought Bush made a persuasive case for regime change but said she hoped he would not go it alone.
"I'm hopeful this will be able to be done through the United Nations," the Select Intelligence Committee member said, adding she is not persuaded action is needed now.
"The fact that Saddam Hussein hasn't used chemical weapons for 12 years indicates something to us" about the immediacy of the threat, she said.
Instead, she said, Saddam should be disarmed by U.N. inspectors carrying the message, "If you don't allow this on an unfettered basis, then the might of all of our nations will back this up."
The fact that more than a decade has passed without Saddam using chemical weapons did not impress Kyl. "So, we're going to trust Saddam? That's what we're basing our self-defense on? I don't think so.
"Clearly, he is a very dangerous man. If he were to do something before we attack, every one of us would be sitting around this table and saying, 'Look, the evidence was there. Why didn't we do something?'"
Warner cites 'growing network of terrorists'
Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee and former secretary of the Navy, disputed characterizations of the Bush speech as containing nothing new, and fretted aloud that Saddam could work with terrorists to inflict harm on Americans.
"What's new is a growing network of terrorists who are willing to inflict harm on the United States, and they're hungry to get those weapons that he's manufactured."
Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Maine Democrat, called the speech "more effective and persuasive than previous rhetoric," and applauded the fact that "the president seems to have made a decision to go the United Nations route."
There was no immediate government response in Iraq, where the speech was not run on national television.
In London, CNN Senior Political Correspondent Robin Oakley noted that polls show 60 percent to 70 percent of Britons would back action against Iraq if it were authorized by the United Nations.
But that figure would drop to 20 to 30 percent if the United States and Britain were to take action without such backing, he said.
European leaders, some of whom see Bush as trigger-happy, will be pleased that the speech did not portray war with Iraq as inevitable, he predicted.