Congress grants war request

WASHINGTON – Despite misgivings about “going it alone,” Congress moved resolutely Thursday toward granting President Bush the authority he sought to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.The House of Representatives voted 296-133 in support of the president, and the Senate was certain to do the same by a similar margin, probably late Thursday night or early Friday morning.On a somber day filled with many forceful and a few tearful words, lawmakers from both parties authorized Bush to send American troops into battle to enforce United Nations resolutions that prohibit Iraq from amassing weapons of mass destruction.It is the same power that Congress gave former President George Bush, the current president’s father, 11 years ago, shortly before he launched and won the Persian Gulf War. Many members said they viewed today’s problem as a continuation of the past war.”Iraq is a problem that must be dealt with diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must,” said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who opposed the Gulf War. “In 1991, no one knew the extent to which Saddam Hussein would sacrifice the needs of his people in order to sustain his hold on power,” said Gephardt, D-Mo., one author of the new war resolution. Now, he said, “Saddam Hussein’s track record is too compelling to ignore.”But even as they cast their votes, House Republicans and Democrats alike admonished Bush to seek support from the U.N. Security Council and to work, as his father did, to build an international coalition before invading Iraq. War, they said, should be a last resort.”There are members here who caution the president and are expressing some concern about going it alone, acting unilaterally and not having the sanction of the Security Council,” said Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., who voted for the war resolution after his own, more restrictive proposal was defeated.In two key test votes Thursday, the Senate set the stage for a strong vote of support for Bush’s resolution. First, senators voted 75-25 to limit debate and thus block opponents from stalling. Senators then easily cast aside the only alternative, a proposal from Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. that would have required the United Nations to authorize force against Iraq before the United States could go to war. If the world body did not act, under Levin’s proposal Bush would have had to return to Congress for a new resolution authorizing war. Levin lost, 75-24.The lopsided votes were a resounding victory for Bush, whose advisers initially had argued that he didn’t even need congressional authorization to use military force against Iraq. They also offered a historic contrast with Bush’s father, who won support for his war on Iraq by much narrower margins, 52-47 in the Senate, 250-183 in the House.Though Bush won the authority he wanted, the resolution’s final wording did contain caveats that helped sway early skeptics. The measure acknowledged the role of the United Nations and required the president to notify Congress when he determines that diplomacy with Iraq has failed.However, it authorizes him to use force “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate,” without requiring U.N. or further congressional approval. “Saddam Hussein is committed to one day possessing nuclear weapons,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. “If that should happen, instead of simply bullying the gulf region, he could dominate it. … “The threat posed by Saddam may not be imminent. But it is real. It is growing. And it cannot be ignored.”

(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Diego Ibarguen contributed to this report.)