(Host) All three members of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation say it’s essential for the Bush administration to win the support of the United Nations Security Council before taking military action against Iraq. But Vermont’s congressman and two senators say they’ll support the troops if the president decides to go to war without U.N. support.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports this installment in our series “Perspectives on War.”
(Kinzel) Vermont’s congressional delegation is one of only two delegations in the country that unanimously voted against the president’s resolution authorizing unilateral military force against Iraq in the event that Saddam Hussein does not disarm his weapons of mass destruction. Senator James Jeffords says it’s critical for this country to win the support of the U.N. Security Council before initiating any military action against Iraq.
Jeffords says the United States could suffer enormous damage with the world community if President Bush decides to go to war without the backing of the UN:
(Jeffords) “I firmly believe that this country should be one who represents the need to utilize the United Nations, to cooperate with them and to make sure that we end up with a strengthening process for the United Nations, as well as taking care of the problems of Iraq. And I think if we deviate from that, we’re going to lose tremendous prestige with the other nations and dig ourselves some holes for the future.”
(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy thinks the Bush administration has made a mistake targeting the government of Iraq because Leahy believes there are far greater threats facing the country:
(Leahy) “Because we haven’t concentrated enough in getting Osama Bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorists who are in the United States right now. That’s where our real threat is. We can contain Saddam Hussein very easily. What we have trouble containing is the hijackers that fly into the New York Trade Towers or the Pentagon or who attempted to fly into the U.S. Capital. I wish that we were putting anywhere near as much attention on that as we are in going to war with Iraq. That’s where our real threat is.”
(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders argues that the United States will be setting a very dangerous precedent if it takes military action without the support of the United Nations:
(Sanders) “When every country on earth will say, ‘Well, hey, the United States went to war when it wanted to, why can’t China do it? Why can’t Russia do it? Why can’t India or Pakistan do it?’ So, I think we have got to work as hard as we can to make sure that the United States conforms to the regulations and laws of the United Nations and does not go to war without that support.”
(Kinzel) What will the delegation do if President Bush takes military action without the support of the United Nations? The three members of Congress are approaching this issue in different ways. Senator Jeffords acknowledges that this situation will place him in a difficult position:
(Jeffords) “It does. And I will continue to oppose him until such time as war actually breaks out, in which case of course I would support the president and our military personnel to make sure that they get all the help they can have to make sure that we reduce the number of casualties to the minimum.”
(Kinzel) Senator Leahy says there’s no question that he’ll support the troops if the president takes military action without the support of the Security Council. But Leahy says he’ll continue to believe that the administration is confronting the wrong enemy at this time:
(Leahy) “I think of the brave men and women from Vermont who have been called up and are going over there, just as my youngest son was called up during the last war in the Persian Gulf. You pray for the safety.”
(Kinzel) Congressman Sanders says he’ll support our troops in war while opposing the policies of the Bush administration, and he bristles at the thought that his position is being unpatriotic.
(Sanders) “I would hope and expect that in the United States of America what we respect in a democratic society, a society in which a president who talks about fighting of freedom, that what freedom is about is having positions on the most important issues. And I would hope that in America today, we’re still allowed to disagree with the president of the United States.”
(Kinzel) All three members of the delegation say that they support efforts to increase the number of weapons inspectors in Iraq. They say they believe these inspectors offer the best hope of finding concrete evidence that Iraq may be hiding biological or nuclear weapons.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.
Audio and transcripts from Perspectives on War are available online.