The most fateful and difficult responsibility the Constitution gives to members of Congress is to decide when the president should be authorized to lead the men and women of the U.S. military into war. We are now engaged in such a debate regarding Saddam Hussein's belligerent dictatorship in Iraq.
Although I disagree with many other aspects of President Bush's foreign and domestic policy, I believe deeply that he is right about Iraq, and that our national security will be strengthened if members of both parties come together now to support the commander-in-chief and our military. That's why I have cosponsored the Senate resolution that was negotiated with the White House. It is time to authorize the use of our military might to enforce U.N. resolutions, disarm Iraq, and eliminate the ongoing threat to our security, and the world's, posed by Saddam Hussein's rabid regime.
Making the case for such action is a responsibility to be shouldered by those of us who have reached these conclusions. If we do so convincingly, not only will the American people and our allies better understand our standards for engagement, but governments around the world who defy the dictates of the U.N. to make weapons of mass destruction or to support terrorists will appreciate how painful the consequences of their brutality and lawlessness can be.
In that spirit, let me now address a few of the most critical questions my Senate colleagues and many Americans are asking.
• Why has military action against Saddam become so urgent? Why not give diplomacy and inspections another chance? Why now?
For more than a decade we have tried everything -- diplomacy, sanctions, inspections, limited military action -- except war to convince Saddam to keep the promises he made, and the U.N. endorsed, to end the Gulf War. Those steps have not worked.
In 1998, Bob Kerrey, John McCain, and I sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act declaring it national policy to change the regime in Baghdad. The act became law, but until recently little has been done to implement it. In the meantime, Saddam has not wavered from his ambition for hegemonic control over the Persian Gulf and the Arab world: He has invested vast amounts of his national treasure in building inventories of biological and chemical weapons and the means to deliver them to targets near and far. Saddam once told his Republican Guard that its national honor would not be achieved until Iraq's arm reached out beyond its borders to "every point in the Arab homeland."
So, my answer to "Why now?" is, "Why not earlier?" And, of course, that question has new urgency since Sept. 11, 2001.
• Won't a war against Iraq slow or stop our more urgent war against terrorism?
To me, the two are inextricably linked. First, remember that Iraq under Saddam is one of only seven nations in the world to be designated by our State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, providing aid and training to terrorists who have killed Americans and others. Second, Saddam himself meets the definition of a terrorist -- someone who attacks civilians to achieve a political purpose. Third, though the relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam's regime is a subject of intense debate within the intelligence community, we have evidence of meetings between Iraqi officials and leaders of al Qaeda, and testimony that Iraqi agents helped train al Qaeda operatives to use chemical and biological weapons. We also know that al Qaeda leaders have been, and are now, harbored in Iraq.
Saddam's is the only regime that combines growing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and a record of using them with regional hegemonic ambitions and a record of supporting terrorists. If we remove his influence from the Middle East and free the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny, we will transform the politics of the region. That will only advance the war against terrorism, not set it back.
• Why should we launch a strike against a sovereign nation that has not struck us first?
We should and will soon have a larger debate about the president's new doctrine of pre-emption, but not here and now, because the term is not apt for our current situation. We have been engaged in an ongoing conflict with Saddam's regime ever since the Gulf War began. Every day, British and American aircraft and personnel are enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq; the ongoing force of about 7,500 American men and women in uniform costs our taxpayers more than $1 billion a year. And this is not casual duty. Saddam's air defense forces have shot at U.S. and British planes 406 times (and counting) in 2002 alone.
As former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Vigorous action in the course of an ongoing conflict hardly constitutes preventive war."
• Why not have two congressional resolutions, one now encouraging the U.N. to respond to President Bush's call for inspections without limits, and another one later authorizing U.S. military action if the U.N. refuses to act?
This is sometimes described as the way to stop "go-it-alone" action by the U.S. unless and until absolutely necessary. But I believe that the best way to encourage forceful U.N. action, so that we never have to "go it alone," is for Congress to unite now in authorizing the president to take military action, if necessary. I am convinced that if we lead decisively, others will come to our side, in the U.N. and after. If we are steadfast in pursuit of our principles, allies in Europe and the Middle East will be with us.
• Why not just authorize the president to take military action to disarm the Iraqis instead of giving him a "blank check"?
Our resolution does not give the president a blank check. It authorizes the use of U.S. military power only to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq" and to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."
There are 535 members of Congress who have the constitutional responsibility to authorize American military action, but there is only one commander-in-chief who can carry it out. Having reached the conclusion I have about the clear and present danger Saddam represents to the U.S., I want to give the president a limited but strong mandate to act against Saddam. Five hundred and thirty-five members of Congress cannot wage war; we can only authorize it. The rest is up to the president and our military.
A Record of Strength
We in Congress have now begun a very serious debate on these questions and others. Each member must act on values, conscience, sense of history and national security. When it is over, I believe there will be a strong majority of senators who will vote for the bipartisan resolution that John Warner, John McCain, Evan Bayh and I have introduced. I am equally confident that a strong majority of Democrats in the Senate will support it. In doing so, they will embrace the better parts of our party's national security legacy of the last half century. From Truman's doctrine to prevent communist expansion to Kennedy's "quarantine" of Cuba to prevent Soviet missiles from remaining there, to Bill Clinton's deployment of American forces to the Balkans to stop genocide and prevent a wider war in Europe, Democrats should be proud of our record of strength when it counted the most.
Each of the Democratic presidents above tried diplomacy, but when it failed, they unleashed America's military forces across the globe to confront tyranny, to stop aggression, and to prevent any more damage to America or Americans. That is precisely what our resolution would empower President Bush to do now.
Mr. Lieberman is a Democratic senator from Connecticut.