No mandate for war
Jenny Brown
October 2002

The Bush administration's months-long focus on Iraq as an immediate threat has not yielded the support it hoped, and may be backfiring. Critics increasingly argue that it's not about Iraq but about control of the region's oil, about distracting people from the economy and corporate scandals, and about consolidating executive power.

Administration officials are discovering their ability to ram through policies since September 11 is fading. Even charges of 'not caring about national security' and 'irresponsibility' don't carry the weight they once did, as a majority of Democrats in the House and 23 senators voted against Bush's war powers bill.

The Bush administration, arguing for a resolution to give the president power to wage war anywhere, anytime, made the case that if the country did not appear unified it would give aid and comfort to the enemy, which is apparently now Iraq. What they got was extorted and tepid support from some, and outraged opposition from a growing number of others.

First there were the polls, showing that a majority of Americans thought the U.S. should not 'go it alone' without the U.N. And majorities thought U.N. weapons inspectors should be given a chance.

Then there was a series of diplomatic missions, in which only Tony Blair of England (known there as Bush's poodle) promised support for the Bush war on Iraq. In reaction, 100,000 protested in London that Blair did not represent them. Administration officials were reduced to sounding hopeful that as of October 14 they had secured limited agreements of compliance from Qatar, Bulgaria and Romania.

Then a series of U.S. reps went to Iraq on factfinding missions, and criticized the president's war plans while there. Denounced by White House allies as "Bagdad Jim," Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington State wavered when he was accused of treason but then became more steadfast in his public statements. "What we are dealing with right now in this country is whether we are having a kind of bloodless, silent coup or not," McDermott said at a town-hall meeting back in his home state.

"This president is trying to bring to himself all the power to become an emperor - to create Empire America," he said, referring to the bill then before Congress to give the president power to wage war.

"People that I trust say if we don't derail this coup that is going on, we are going to wind up with a government run by the president of the United States and all the rest of us will be standing around just watching it happen."

Constituents visited the offices of their congressional reps and refused to leave if the public official didn't commit to vote against the war resolution. The tactic started in Minnesota and Washington State and spread to California, Illinois, Massachusetts, "Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Mexico, Maine and "Wisconsin and finally in Hillary Clinton's New York office during the Senate debate.

20,000 gathered in New York to denouce the war resolution, under the banner of Not in Our Name, which started as a slogan of the families of victims of September 11 and has now become the sentiment of much of the country.

10,000 gathered in the San Francisco Bay area on two consecutive weekends. IMF/World Bank protests in Washington became another anti-war protest, drawing tens of thousands more, including 2,000 on a march to Dick Cheney's house.

The deflating support from a still-cowed Congress culminated in a vote in which a majority of house Democrats opposed the 'go ahead to war' resolution, bucking the pleas of the Democratic house leadership and the threats that Republicans would accuse their opponents of buckling under to terrorism come election day. "We can move out of the phone booth now," joked Texas Rep.

The resolution was much less broad than that originally put forward by the White House. Still awful, it authorizes Bush to use the military "as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" to defend the nation against "the continuing threat posed by Iraq," and to enforce "all relevant" United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq. He is required to mention any military action to Congress within 48 hours of an attack, a bizarre provision given that the U.S. has intermittantly been rocketing what it claims are Iraqi military installations over the last month.

In Florida, Reps. Corinne Brown, Kendrick Meek, and Alcee Hastings voted against the war resolution. Sen. Bob Graham did also, but this seemed to be because he felt it was too weak, and didn't give Bush full power. When Bush spoke in Denver, telling us that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat, 3000 protested outside. When he spoke to 700 in Cincinnati, 4000 lined the streets in protest.

Finally, in what must have been irritating timing for the White House, the CIA released a report saying that it was unlikely Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons, unless the U.S. invaded, creating a situation in which the Iraqi leadership felt it had to defend itself.

If Bush pushes ahead, it will be without the support of the majority of the U.S. population. There's an uneasy sense, and not just among traditionally anti-war folks, that the Texas oilmen are using the fear and grief of September 11 to prosecute a petroleum war and to put young Americans in a position where they will kill and die in a war which is not in their interests.

What this past month indicates is that he more we protest, the less they're be able to get away with.

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