HOUSE MINORITY Leader Richard A. Gephardt acceded to the drums of war on Wednesday,
agreeing to an overly broad resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to
attack Iraq. In the process, Mr. Gephardt undermined efforts in the Senate to
limit the war authority to disarmament, rather than regime change.
Mr. Gephardt -- who was joined by other centrist Democrats, including Sen.
Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut -- claimed to have won important concessions
from Mr. Bush, and waxed on about how "this should not be about politics."
But the concessions he won were minor, and his actions appear to be driven by
the political imperatives of the coming election.
The compromise language that Mr. Gephardt agreed to would authorize Mr. Bush
to wage war for violation of any of the past United Nations' resolutions that
Saddam Hussein is violating. Those resolutions include matters that do not justify
war -- such as the requirement that Saddam pay reparations to Kuwait, and that
he treat his citizens more democratically. A far better proposal by Sens. Richard
Lugar, R-Ind., and Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., would limit the war authorization
to enforcement of the resolutions requiring the elimination of weapons of mass
Among the concessions Mr. Gephardt trumpeted was one requiring Mr. Bush to
certify to Congress, either before war began, or within 48 hours afterward, that
"diplomatic and other peaceful means alone are inadequate to protect Americans
from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction." That's no real impediment to
the president. It's a foregone conclusion that Saddam will not comply with every
one of the dozen resolutions that the United Nations has passed.
Before Mr. Gephardt decided to cave in on the war resolution, Senate Majority
Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. had hoped to make the Biden-Lugar resolution the basis
of a vote in the Senate. That now appears unlikely. Mr. Biden said Wednesday that
he was a realist and knew that the new compromise, ballyhooed Wednesday afternoon
in the White House Rose Garden, pretty much meant the end of his approach.
Mr. Gephardt has long favored regime change in Iraq and called Saddam a serious
threat. But as recently as two weeks ago he said that Mr. Bush was not justified
in waging war to overthrow Saddam, only in disarming him -- a position exactly
in line with the Biden-Lugar resolution he has torpedoed.
Undoubtedly Mr. Gephardt believes he is acting in the best interests of the
nation. But he protests too much when he says he is rising above politics. He
wants to be speaker of the House -- or president. He can't achieve either goal
taking an unpopular stand against a war against Saddam.
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