Opposition to bombing Iraq is gaining ground as Congress struggles over how far it should go in supporting military action.
Catholics and Protestants, former military and intelligence officers, longtime anti-war groups and Arab Americans say air attacks would do little more than kill Iraqis.
Opponents are scattered across the political spectrum. Some insist the bombing wouldn’t go far enough, including conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe the ultimate goal should be to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Others fear a U.S. attack would go too far, killing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, destroying Middle East peace efforts and bypassing Congress in making war on another nation - all to punish the Iraqi president.
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., one of the capital’s most-respected foreign affairs voices, said he backs Clinton’s Iraq policy but doesn’t think force will diminish the threat of Iraq’s weapons or its ability to threaten its neighbors.
“The administration, I think, has a very heavy responsibility now to articulate with very great precision what our purposes are in Iraq,” Hamilton told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who trooped to Capitol Hill nearly every day last week to talk about Iraq.
To bolster support, President Clinton plans a speech today at the Pentagon to make the case for why the United States may launch airstrikes on suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons making sites in Iraq, which Saddam has ruled off limits to U.N. inspectors. His foreign policy team, including Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, will hold town hall meetings this week in Ohio and Tennessee, too.
The one thing bombing opponents and proponents have in common with Clinton is abhorrence of Saddam, who had agreed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to allow U.N. inspections to ensure he didn’t rebuild his nonconventional war machine.
Those feelings initially translated into strong congressional support for Clinton. But support wavered last week, with Republicans and Democrats raising questions about what an airstrike could accomplish and at what cost. A supportive resolution was put off until Congress returns from a break next week.
A few members of Congress strongly oppose Clinton’s Iraq policy.
Conservative Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, last week introduced emergency legislation to stop Clinton from using force in the gulf.
“There is absolutely no moral or constitutional reason to go to war with Iraq at this time,” said Paul, a former Air Force flight surgeon.
A liberal, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., also balked, saying, “How many people are we going to kill this time just because we don’t want to set a precedent for having a country dictate … who can do an inspection?”
And Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., who is trying to build support for a 2000 presidential campaign, said Monday in Iowa that Clinton has lost “moral authority” to order military action. Citing the president’s strong denials of an alleged affair with a White House intern, Smith said: “If he can’t tell me the truth about this, is he telling the truth about Iraq?”
Beyond the capital, opposition also is growing.
All seven active U.S. Roman Catholic cardinals cautioned in a letter to Clinton that bombings could be impossible to justify. About one-fifth of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops already had signed on to a campaign to end U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq.
On Monday, the executive board of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, meeting in New York, approved a letter to Clinton urging the president to seek a diplomatic solution. The board includes more than 40 representatives of 32 mainstream Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations.
Two former CIA directors who served under Clinton joined a different sort of opposition chorus, advocating more than airstrikes.
“The problem with Iraq will not be solved by an air campaign,” former CIA Director John Deutch said. His predecessor, James Woolsey, criticized Clinton’s “flaccid responses” and advocated a combination of bombs, support for Iraqi opposition groups and imposition of a countrywide no-fly zone over Iraq.
Sam Husseini of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee criticized the news media for holding Clinton up to intense scrutiny on the allegations of a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky while “rationales for the Iraq policy go unchallenged.”
He said Arab Americans are baffled by the kind of diplomacy Clinton is conducting and the disregard for Iraqi casualties.
“Comply or die - that’s not diplomacy,” Husseini said. “This isn’t ‘Wag the Dog.’ The blood will be real,” he added, alluding to a current movie in which a fake U.S. war is waged to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal.
Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action, an anti-war group, said military action could scuttle Mideast peace efforts, spawn terrorism and probably increase the chance that the weapons Clinton seeks to destroy will be used.
“The only consequence we can be sure bombing will bring is that we will kill thousands more innocent people who have no control whatsoever over what Saddam Hussein does,” Clark said.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TODAY’S DEVELOPMENTS Some key developments Monday in the Iraq crisis: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that he intends to go to Baghdad in search of a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but said that he would delay his trip in the hopes of winning support for the mission from the United States, which has blocked approval for Annan’s trip. Iraq warned Kuwait it will “bear the consequences” if it allows U.S. forces to stage attacks from its soil. Egyptian and Libyan lawmakers met with Iraqi Parliament speaker, then joined in a march to a U.N. office in Baghdad, shouting “We are with you, Saddam!” About 3,000 infantry soldiers based at Fort Stewart, Ga., received orders to deploy to Kuwait. French President Jacques Chirac said a peaceful solution is close at hand but didn’t provide details. From wire reports