In the face of growing public opposition and a divided Congress, President George W. Bush continued a fanatical drive towards war with Iraq pushing a bipartisan resolution giving him free reign to launch unilateral military action. Despite captiulation by some leaders of Congress, members of Congress are mounting a campaign reflecting the overwhelming calls and e-mails that have swamped their offices from constituents saying no to war.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who just returned as part of a delegation to Iraq accompanied by Reps. David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), told the press, “We went to Iraq because we care about Americans. … Disarming can be done without war.” He said that the administration wants to go to war, but the issue must be fully debated in Congress.

A McDermott spokesperson, John Larmett, told the World calls to his office are 90 percent in support of McDermott’s efforts. “Phones have been ringing nonstop,” he said. “Back in the district more and more churches are joining the cause and when Jim gets back he’s going to get one heck of a reception.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said that 40 members have vowed to vote against the resolution but predicts that by the time of the vote the number will reach 100. The Oakland, Calif., City Council unanimously voted to oppose war with Iraq and back Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) sponsorship, along with 34 other congresspersons, of an alternative congressional resolution opposing unilateral first-strike military action, calling instead for cooperation with the United Nations and “resumption of arms inspections, negotiation, regional cooperation, and other diplomatic means.”

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer heated up the administration’s unilateral war rhetoric by proposing assassination of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as an acceptable, “cheaper” alternative to a military invasion to bring about “regime change” in Iraq.

The National Organization for Women urged lobbying of Congress this week.

The organization said, “women would be greatly affected if Congress gives a blank check to the Bush administration to invade Iraq with a unilateral, preemptive strike. As has happened during previous wars, funds will be diverted from education, health, welfare and other vitally needed social programs from an already downsized budget.”

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), in a speech at Johns Hopkins University Sept. 27, assailed Bush’s rush to unilateral war. “War should be a last resort, not the first response,” he said. “When it is the people’s sons and daughters who will risk and even lose their lives, then the people should hear and be heard, speak and be listened to.”

Polls show an increasing number of Americans are not ready to go to war without exhausting efforts to conduct peaceful weapons inspections. The United Nations weapons inspection commission and the Iraqi government reached agreement enabling unrestricted weapons inspections to start within two weeks. The Bush administration is opposing this effort.

Peter Lems, American Friends Service Committee program assistant for Iraq, told the World people “aren’t buying” war with Iraq. “They want to know why we need to spend billions on a military response and yet we don’t seem to invest enough time and effort in a diplomatic response.”

Many Democrats and others are charging that the Bush administration Iraq war campaign is a “wag the dog” strategy to take the focus off the November elections and urgent economic issues. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, “This war strategy seems to have been hatched by a political strategist intent on winning the midterm election at any cost – even if that cost places this nation on the brink of battle.”

Bush has used every appearance at candidate campaign events to drum up support for war with Iraq. Matthew Dowd, senior pollster for the White House and the Republican National Committee, told a GOP Victory Dinner “the number one driver for our base motivationally is this war.”

But Bill Beck, Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesperson, told the World,” No matter what is on CNN or Fox, it doesn’t distract [people] from being concerned about whether they’re going to be laid off, whether they are unemployed and unable to keep up with house payments. As much as the Bush administration tries to hide the fact that they don’t know what to do about the economy, the American people are dealing with it on a daily basis. That is what’s going to drive this fall’s elections.”

Opposition to the Bush war drive may bring out more concerned voters, too. Washington State Democratic Party Chair Paul Berendt told the World, “In eight years as chairman, there has been nothing that has made people more angry or passionate than the possibility of this war. This concern about going into Iraq is very widespread. I believe it will result in greater turnout.” He continued,” We are trying to harvest the volunteers from the activist movement to work the phone banks and canvass precincts to drive turnout up.”

After his party state committee passed a resolution condemning a unilateral attack on Iraq, Berendt said, “The fear is the Congress will act and we will be heading down this path before there is a real debate among the American people. The feeling is that left unchecked, the president is going to go way too far.”

Asked what it will take to defeat the GOP Nov. 5, the DNC’s Beck said, “A strong turnout.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org

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