WASHINGTON, D.C.—Although a growing number of Republican backbenchers are now openly opposed to Bush’s resolution demanding approval of armed intervention in Iraq, GOP leaders still think they can pull off a win for the president. This morning, Republicans counted an easy House victory, with only 50 House members (mostly Democrats) voting nay. In the Senate, John McCain, who Bush supporters once derisively labeled a kook, now leads the congressional forces for the president. He has predicted 78 to 80 senators will back the war resolution.
But the battle is by no means over. Tom Daschle and other senators are raising questions about Bush’s policy. Yesterday the South Dakota Democrat, who himself is a Vietnam vet (he never saw combat duty), made an impassioned demand for the president to apologize for suggesting on Monday that the Senate didn’t care about homeland security. The dean of the Senate, the venerable Robert Byrd of West Virginia, is up in arms against the Bushites. Byrd, who went on TV to rip Clinton during the impeachment proceedings, rose in the Senate yesterday and, brandishing a copy of the Constitution, declared, “This administration is making the war their battle cry; that’s their bumper-sticker politics.”
Byrd was continuing an attack on the administration he began last Friday, when he said: “The [political] polls are dropping, the domestic situation has problems . . . so all of a sudden we have this war talk, war fervor, the bugles of war, drums of war, clouds of war.”
“Don’t tell me that things suddenly went wrong,” he continued. “Back in August, the president had no plans. . . . Then all of a sudden this country is going to war.”
On the Republican Right, there are continued signs of unease, but many members are reported to be too scared of the political repercussions to make their mutterings public. “I’m looking for more information,’’ Illinois congressman Ray LaHood told The Washington Times. Added Delaware’s Republican rep Michael Castle: “Members of Congress are not getting the information they want.” In the Senate, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island says he’s not sure just how dangerous Saddam really is. “I don’t think the case has conclusively been made as to the threat,” he said. “I’ve attended all the hearings, and it’s a big decision to make this step, to vote for a resolution when not convinced of the threat.”
Meanwhile, experts were taking a dubious view of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “dossier” of particulars on the Iraq menace. Regarding Saddam’s nuclear capabilities, Frank von Hippel, the Princeton nuclear physicist who has previously served in the White House on technical national security matters and currently is co-director of Princeton’s Program in Science and Global Security, claims: “They say that Iraq is one to five years away from having a nuclear weapon; I guess my cynical comment would be that they’ve been one to five years from having a nuclear weapon for the last 15 years.” As for the possible purchase of uranium in Africa, he said, “I think that’s an indicator . . . that they do have a nuclear weapons program, but it’s not an indicator that they’ve made any progress.”
Jonathan Tucker, a fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a former UNSCOM inspector, thinks Blair’s dossier left one great gaping hole—the threat of smallpox and hemorrhagic fever drizzled out of small drone planes. The fact that Blair never mentioned any of this seems especially odd since the Centers for Disease Control here in the U.S. released its plans for mass smallpox vaccinations. Rather than attack Iraq, Tucker thinks more progress can be made with inspectors back inside the country operating on classified intelligence information.