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Jewish Journal

Jewish Legislators Back Iraq Resolution

by Wendy J. Madnick

October 17, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Stop Saddam Hussein now, before it's too late. That is the message elected officials, ranging from local members of Congress to President George W. Bush, worked to get across to the Americans these past few weeks.

"We have to confront him sooner or later," Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) told The Journal. "Even though it is risky and we are worried about all the things that could go wrong, it is less risky, less costly and less dangerous to do it now than it would be later, both for our military and for the Iraqi people."

It is a position shared by many in Congress. Despite fierce debate in the House and the Senate, both houses last week passed a joint resolution giving Bush the authority to use military force, if necessary, to compel Iraq to destroy its biological and chemical weapons and disband its nuclear weapons program.

Support for the measure was mixed among California representatives and senators, but strong among the state's Jewish elected officials. Sen. Diane Feinstein was vocal about what she deemed Bush's politicizing of the Iraq issue this summer, but the Democrat surprised many by voting to support the president. Of the Jewish congressional representatives from California, only Sen. Barbara Boxer voted against the measure, saying she disagreed with the premise of the resolution.

"If our founders wanted the president, any president, to have the power to go to war, they would have said so," Boxer, a Democrat, told the Senate. "How can I vote to take our country to war alone, which is the authority the president wants, without allies and without the facts I need to fulfill my responsibilities to the people of California?"

But, as evidenced by the vote, the majority of congressmembers believe that there is enough information to justify extreme measures against Iraq. In terms of building worldwide support for an invasion, many representatives expressed their hope that a show of unity will force the United Nations to back the United States.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who had voted to oppose Operation Desert Storm, supported the resolution. "Despite my misgivings about the president's approach," he said in a speech to the House, "I believe it's essential that Congress send the strongest bipartisan signal of unity possible so the U.N. will act.... In a post-Sept. 11 world, it is important we speak with one voice and send one message -- particularly when the lives of our men and women in the armed forces are at stake."

Unlike Waxman, Berman had no misgivings and has considered the Iraqi leader a threat to both the United States and the world for 20 years. A member of the House International Relations Committee since 1983, Berman said the roots of the present situation lay in the Iraq policies of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

He said the policies of Reagan and the elder Bush "were to ignore Saddam's repression and his support of terrorism, and [instead] subsidize his government through agricultural credits, and supply him with military equipment throughout the 1980s, out of a terrible, misplaced belief that he was a moderate Arab leader."

Berman said his criticism of U.S. policy to support Iraq -- because it opposed our other enemy, Iran -- was largely ignored by Reagan and the elder Bush, but that the present administration is on the right track.

"I don't like having to take preemptive action by military force, but there are times when this is necessary," Berman said, pointing out that it is getting more difficult to obtain accurate intelligence reports from the region. "Saddam's capacity to hide what he is doing is greater than our capacity to find out what he is doing."

"We do know, if he were to get nuclear weapons, he would have the capacity to deter us in the Middle East," Berman said. "The other countries and leaders in that region would fall in line with his policies, because they would be scared of the consequences if they did not. Knowing what his capabilities are, and what his history is, anyone would understand why we are contemplating this very grave decision."

Other local representatives agreed with Berman's assessment of the situation, but they voiced their concerns regarding a military invasion and its effects up until the Oct. 10 vote.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) backed the joint resolution only after changes were made to ensure an attack would not dilute resources from the nation's war against Al Qaeda. A ranking member of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Harman said she still believes "we are paying inadequate attention to the war on terror."

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who like Berman is a member of the International Relations Committee, drafted legislation prior to the vote that would have given Iraq until Oct. 31 to comply with a complete inspection and would have prevented the president from using military force until that date. The measure failed to win committee approval. Sherman still believes weapons inspections could prevent war, but is prepared to support an invasion if it is necessary.

"No solution is perfect," Sherman said. "Even if Iraq does have a regime change, whatever secrets Saddam has, he's going to give to the worst scoundrels on the planet."

"I put forward my draft as an illustration of what we should be doing," he continued. "But when it failed and the choice was to do nothing or to give the president a blank check, I voted to give the president a blank check."

Sherman, who also serves on the Middle East subcommittee, said that the United States will need to examine how an invasion of Iraq would affect Israel, and take steps to ensure the country's safety. He believes Israel will support the United States in its endeavors.

In speaking with Israeli officials, Sherman said, "those concerned with Israel's security believe that any action against Iraq is in the interest of Israeli security. They understand there could be Israeli casualties if war occurs, but they also understand that if Saddam Hussein is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, the threat to Israel is overwhelming."

One benefit of achieving a regime change in Iraq would be its impact on the war on terrorism, congressmembers said. Although direct links to Al Qaeda have been scant, Saddam has made no secret of his longtime support for terrorism, particularly against Israel, from ordering the assassination in 1982 of Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov to his current financial support for Hamas.

Even more than international terrorism is the terror perpetrated on citizens of his own country, legislators said, including using chemical weapons in attacks on the Kurds, one of which wiped out a town of 5,000 civilians.

"If it is done right, we can be the liberators of the Iraqi people and not the enemy of the Arab world," Berman said. "But that will take very wise and carefully planned policies."

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