A Congressional vote is not a national mandate

Robert W. Snyder
22 October 2002

The victory of President Bush in the US House of Representatives and Senate votes authorising the president to make war on Iraq resembled the victory of Republican candidate Bush in the presidential election of 2000. Both efforts were tactically shrewd, forcefully executed, and more concerned with winning the fight at hand than winning over the opposition. But in the face of battle, the president will have to do much more to plausibly represent a united nation in a just war.

Congress backed the president by wide margins, but this is not the same as winning over a solid majority of American citizens. President Bush still has to overcome a strong streak of ambivalence in the American electorate over the prospect of imminent war against Saddam Hussein. And that will take not only a stronger rationale for war than the president has so far presented, but also a campaign of prudent and consensual persuasion – something that has been in short supply among Republicans in recent years.

The Bush team, then and now, proceeds with a strong sense of tactics. In the Florida recounts and the Congressional vote on Iraq, the Bush team succeeded by forcing the Democratic opposition to fight on Republican terms. In Florida, this was achieved by resolutely defending the initial Florida tallies – however flawed by incompetent voting procedures – that indicated a Bush victory. In the Iraq vote, Republicans conducted the debate so that it emphasised areas of broad national accord – the loathsome qualities of Saddam Hussein and the need to protect the United States against terrorism – and ignored areas of real disagreement over Bush policy.

The Bush administration likes to trumpet statistics such as the Gallup poll that shows 79% of Americans supporting an invasion of Iraq – if it is backed by the United Nations (UN). The White House takes little public note of the fact that the same poll shows 37% of Americans supporting an invasion of Iraq opposed by the UN.

In 2000, and today, the Bush team fights to win. In Florida, the Republicans used everything from media strategies to street demonstrations to courtroom battles to press their case. The Democrats pursued a narrowly legalistic effort and lost.

On the Iraq vote, Republicans evaded hard questions of evidence (such as the CIA analysis downplaying Iraqi links to al-Qaida and immediate Iraqi threats to US territory). The Republicans also exploited Democratic ambivalence about a quick march to war and used the upcoming elections as a lever to push for a swift and favourable vote on the Bush policy.

The democrats’ emphasis on making war a last resort, and proceeding with the support of the UN and as many allies as possible, sounds weak and equivocal alongside the certainties of President Bush – even though the more cautious Democratic strategy has deep resonance with the American electorate.

In recent years, Republicans have acted as if having the votes in the right jurisdiction is enough to give them a mandate. It is not. During the Clinton years, the Republicans used their strength in Congress to pursue an impeachment that was not supported by Americans outside the Beltway. In the 2000 presidential election, the Bush camp rode to victory on a questionable Supreme Court decision – even though a massively flawed voting process in Florida suggested a different outcome.

But in the impeachment and the 2000 presidential election, lives were not at stake. Today they are. A war with Iraq raises the prospect of more terrorist attacks on the United States, a long-term US presence in Iraq of uncertain outcome, and the alienation of allies and potential supporters that we need for the legitimate struggle of the United States against the threat of al-Qaida.

Bush supporters will say that the president will use the Congressional vote to pry concessions from Iraq and the UN that will make war unnecessary. Perhaps. It is equally possible, though, that the president will use the vote to retreat into a position where he will find it very hard to avoid a full-scale war – even if there is a reasonable alternative to one. This would be a disaster.

Baby affected by DU

'This child was born in Iraq in the years since the Gulf War, when over three hundred tons of highly toxic depleted uranium were fired in weapons at Iraq. While there is no direct evidence (or research for that matter) linking depleted uranium exposure with such birth defects, doctors in Iraq report a tenfold increase in certain kinds of birth defects (including webbed or fused fingers and toes, missing eyes and vital organs, and severe brain damage) since the end of the war--and many US Gulf War Veterans have parented children with similar birth defects.'

Picure and text reproduced courtesy of Canadian Centres teaching Peace

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