Amid widespread questions about the wisdom of threatened U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein, the top leaders of the House and Senate pledged that Congress would back President Clinton if he orders strikes against Iraq.
With the majority Republicans delaying resolutions of support for Clinton’s actions, all four congressional leaders took to the floor to stand behind the president.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said that “an overwhelming majority” of congressional Republicans support the use of military force, if that’s what it takes, to destroy Saddam’s biological and chemical weapons sites.
“We support the president,” Gingrich said in a joint appearance on the House floor with Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.
Gephardt expressed regret that Gingrich and other GOP leaders had not produced a formal resolution of support from Congress for the president, and he asked that Republicans present the resolution when Congress returns from a recess in 10 days.
But by then, congressional leaders anticipate that the United States may have launched its first round of attacks on Iraqi targets - a combination of bombs and missiles, but not troops on the ground.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the Clinton administration’s long-range goal is to remove Saddam Hussein as Iraqi president.
“Iraq would be better off without Saddam Hussein,” Albright testified before the House International Affairs Committee. “We look forward to working with a post-Saddam regime.” But she underscored that the United States would not do it by committing U.S. combat troops.
Elsewhere, though, there was widespread skepticism that Clinton had chosen the right strategy in trying to stop Saddam and his suspected production, in violation of United Nations resolutions, of biological and chemical weapons.
Several Republicans expressed doubt that force could effectively end Saddam’s threat. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called on Clinton to “explain our intentions to the American people - including that there will be civilian casualties” in Iraq.
Assessing divisions within his party over its view toward a military strike at Clinton’s order, Gingrich said House Republicans “want to know what are the plans, what are the goals? Is the president prepared to pay for this?”
Officially, though, Clinton got straightforward support.
The rank-and-file were more sharply critical.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said he had withdrawn his support for a congressional resolution backing an attack on Iraq because he has a “total lack of confidence” in the administration.
House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., said the Clinton administration should do more than threaten to bomb Iraq. Gilman proposed recognition of anti-Saddam movements in Iraq and tougher restrictions on the backbone of Saddam’s military, the Republican Guard.