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Powell Impresses Congress With U.N. Presentation, but Questions Remain as to Next Step

While many Members of Congress said Secretary of State Colin Powell made a strong case Wednesday morning that Iraq is not complying with the United Nations’ orders, they have questions about how to proceed from here.

“Using documentary evidence gathered from a variety of sources, Secretary Powell systematically unveiled the true nature of the [Saddam] Hussein regime, how it harbors weapons of mass destruction, how it supports terrorist organizations (including Al Qaeda), how it has used chemical and biological weapons against its citizens and its neighbors in the past, and how it continues to subvert the United Nations resolutions this very day,” Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

And Democrats were in agreement. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Powell proved Iraq is in “material breach” of the U.N. resolution demanding that the country disarm.

“Powell made a very powerful and irrefutable case,” said Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

What is not so clear is what to do next.

Many Members urged President Bush to seek further U.N. approval before taking military action.

“The president must engage in personal diplomacy and he must get another resolution,” Biden said, adding that Powell’s speech Wednesday should embolden the country’s European allies to do so.

However, many Members said the United States could legally act without additional U.N. Security Council backing, because previous resolutions already granted such authority.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) went even further, saying Tuesday on the chamber floor: “I would argue also in some respects it is not desirable to keep going back to the United Nations Security Council for approval,” he said.

While lawmakers debated the merits of going back to the United Nations, even those who attended an early-morning meeting with Bush said they did not know what he would do.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said he did not know if Bush would seek another resolution.

Some lawmakers came down clearly on the side of avoiding war.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced a bill to repeal the resolution Congress passed last fall granting Bush authority to use force if necessary to disarm the Iraqi leader.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Republican from Rhode Island who often breaks with his party, said he would like inspections to continue.

“I want peace,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she too was not ready for war yet.

“Before going to war, we must exhaust all alternatives, such as the continuation of inspections, diplomacy and the leverage provided by the threat of military action,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Others sounded a more hawkish call.

“For people of common sense, no such additional evidence is needed: Terrorists and terror states have to be eliminated,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said in a statement.

“We won’t delegate decisions determining our national security to dissolute countries which stubbornly refuse to lift their collective heads from the sand,” DeLay continued.

Most lawmakers, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), fell somewhere in between, calling on the international community to back the United States and take collective action against Hussein, if necessary.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) added urgency to the call for U.N. engagement.

“It is my hope … the U.N. will act with resolve, in days, not months, to purge this threat,” he said in a statement. “The United States is a patient nation, but there’s a limit to that patience and time is running out for this rogue leader.”

Allowing for the possibility that the United Nations may not do more, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said that in such a case, Bush should come back to Congress for a formal war declaration.

Looking even further down the road, Biden said the president should prepare the public for a long, involved conflict if the war drums are heeded.

“Many people think this is going to be a redo of 1991,” Biden said. “That it will be quick and relatively bloodless for our side and that Johnny will come marching home. But Johnny will not come marching home.”

Conquering forces will have to stay at least 10 years to secure Iraq’s transition from dictatorship to democracy, he said.

And that runs contrary to statements Bush made during the 2000 campaign that he is not interested in nation building, because “this is nation building,” Biden said.

Then there is the issue of how to pay for a war, Biden said, adding that Bush’s fiscal 2004 budget does not include war costs.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) may be ahead of everyone. On Wednesday he introduced a bill that would tax oil companies’ “windfall” profits to help finance a war and also to prevent price gouging.

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