October 22, 2002

If lines were not clear before Oct. 10, the congressional vote to give President Bush war-making powers against Iraq will further expose domestic and international divisions over how America should proceed.

With the peace movement growing and the world still unconvinced, America’s democratically elected leaders bowed a bit lower to an imperial presidency. A presidency that apparently knows better than the nations of the world, and a president adept at political sleight of hand has received the power that he craves.


The congressional resolution allows Mr. Bush to act militarily against Iraq without going back to the United Nations. The resolution encourages, not requires, the president to exhaust diplomatic avenues before an attack. If military action is taken, the resolution requires reports to Congress every 60 days.

For all the bluster and speeches, a majority of U.S. representatives and senators caved-in. Many were afraid not backing the president would upset voters, or provide an opening for political opponents, just before Nov. 5 elections.

Though some, like Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) argued politics would taint what may have been the most important congressional vote this year, uneasy politicians ignored his warning. They also rejected an amendment offered by Democrat Barbara Lee, a Black congresswoman from California. The amendment would have had the United States back UN inspections but did not authorize unilateral hits on Iraq.

Even Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority Leader, who previously urged Mr. Bush to take politics out of the war debate, voted with the majority of the lawmakers–saying America needed to speak with one voice. The South Dakota Democrat also tried to put the best face on his vote. The resolution was imperfect but better than the initial White House request, he said.

Whatever happened to dissent? What happened to vigorous debate? What happened to democracy? They were all trod under the foot of political wisdom that said it would be unwise to oppose a president, who says the country is at war. The only problem is the same president that wants the power to go after Saddam Hussein declared the war. But the war was declared against al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and terrorism–not former U.S. client Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration’s warmongering so bothered entertainer Harry Belafonte that in a radio interview, he likened Secretary of State Colin Powell to a slave serving a master on a plantation. “My analogy to the plantation existence I say without regret, and maintain that the overwhelming majority of Black people in this country agree that the impending war with Iraq is a colossal mistake,” he said.

While Mr. Bush may have solved the domestic political equation, the international scene is still murky. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Oct. 14 that his country would not back military action against Iraq. “We reject entering into a war against Iraq,” said Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, speaking at a press conference after a meeting with Algeria’s president.

The foreign minister’s remarks revive a concern thought to have been put to rest by the Bush administration in September. According to Reuters news agency, Mr. al-Faisal denied ever saying Saudi Arabia would allow use of its territory for strikes against Iraq. Countries would cooperate with a new Security Council resolution, if one comes, but no resolution could force states to open airspace and land for war, he said.

Saudi Arabia’s reluctance is a sign of global queasiness with an imperial presidency.  If Iraq’s neighbor and solid U.S. ally doesn’t feel threatened enough to back war, why is the world’s only superpower so afraid?