WASHINGTON — A top Senate Republican joined Democratic lawmakers Wednesday in urging President Bush to seek Congress's approval for any attack on Iraq.
As the Senate opened hearings on Bush's plans to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said the president should do as his father did before the 1991 Persian Gulf war and seek congressional authorization if he decides that "large-scale offensive military action is necessary against Iraq." Two Democrats, Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, introduced a resolution this week opposing the use of force in Iraq without Congress' approval. The debate over whether to invade Iraq and what consequences might result is heating up as the Pentagon moves forward with military planning and Bush aides publicly hint that they believe only an invasion will stop Saddam's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested Tuesday that even if Iraq allows them to return, United Nations weapons inspectors could never uncover all of Baghdad's biological weapons programs. And he said members of the al Qaida terrorist network may be in Iraq, which a senior U.S. official said was a reference to a small militant Islamic group of ethnic Kurds called Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam). Citing the latter contention, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that after Sept. 11 Congress authorized Bush to use force in pursuit of al Qaida members "wherever they may be found." The Feinstein-Leahy resolution is "pure partisan politics," Lott charged.
"You know, what do they want us to say, 'Oh, Mr. Saddam Hussein, we're coming, we're coming! Get ready! You can expect us, you know, two weeks after election day. And by the way, here's the way we're coming. But before we do that, we'll have a huge debate so you'll know full well exactly what's going on," he said. "Give me a break!"
But at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, former U.S. and U.N. officials urged a public discussion of the best way to counter the threat from Saddam. Some suggested non-military options.
The Bush administration declined to send any witnesses to testify until September, but committee chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Bush told him Tuesday that he welcomed the hearings.
Australian diplomat Richard Butler, a former head of the U.N. commission charged with disarming Iraq after the Gulf War, said Saddam is almost certainly moving ahead with nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs.
"We do not know and never have known fully the quality and quantity of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," particularly since no weapons inspections have taken place since late 1998, he said.
But Butler, dismissing a scenario Bush and his top aides describe as one reason to strike Iraq pre-emptively, said he has never seen evidence that Saddam has shared weapons of mass destruction with terrorist groups. Butler said he suspects that "Saddam would be reluctant to share with others what he believes to be an indelible source of his power."
Butler criticized Rumsfeld's comments as "overstated" and said they sounded as if the defense secretary made them "to justify a coming invasion." He suggested that diplomacy should be given a final chance, with the United States and Russia telling Iraqi leaders to accept unconditional weapons inspections "or you're toast."
Others emphasized the risks of delaying action, noting that the United States would likely never get conclusive proof of Saddam's weapons stockpiles or forewarning of his intentions.
Asked by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., whether the policy of containing Saddam has exhausted its usefulness, former Iraqi nuclear engineer Khidhir Hamza replied: "Iraq is working to defeat containment and in the end, it will achieve its purpose." Hamza defected in 1995.
Military strategist Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington public policy group, said the administration may never get the "smoking gun" it needs to convince European and Arab allies of the wisdom of an invasion.
"I think we have to be prepared for the fact that if we do this, it will in many ways be our first pre-emptive war," said Cordesman.
Others, including former U.S. diplomat and weapons inspector Robert Gallucci, the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, suggested that an invasion might bring about the scenario officials fear — Saddam using weapons of mass destruction in a last-ditch bid to maintain power.