WASHINGTON -- The Persian Gulf crisis can best be resolved by economic sanctions and diplomacy rather than military force, say most members of the Maryland congressional delegation, who find their constituents generally are opposed to U.S. troops' forcing Iraq to loosen its grip on Kuwait.
Among the 10-member delegation there was criticism and support for President Bush's policy against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with some members saying Mr. Bush has not given sanctions enough time to work and others saying Congress should go on record supporting the president.
Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, and other delegation members said their constituents support the presence of U.S. troops in the gulf but balk at going to war. "I hear definite caution and moderation about any talk of an offensive action," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
Ms. Mikulski said through a spokesman that "diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions" were "the first two tools we have to use."
Mr. Cardin said that while he has backed the president's efforts, he was concerned there was a growing push toward a military solution, with the impending United Nations Security Council deadline of Jan. 15 -- authorizing the United States and its allies to go to war against Iraq.
The president has maintained that Iraq must withdraw by the deadline or face military action. Mr. Hussein and top Bush administration officials have not met face to face.
"I'm not convinced offensive military action is called for," said the Baltimore Democrat. "We shouldn't be too anxious to commit lives when the current policy is working. Iraq is certainly getting weak and isolated," he said.
"I just think [the Bush administration] is getting increasingly out on a limb with a single option, and that's war," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md. "I think we should pursue a sanctions policy. I think we're hurting Iraq day by day."
"We seem to be too quick in making the push for the military solution before we've given negotiations a chance," said Representative Constance A. Morella, R-8th. Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, said that the president was heading too quickly toward war and that his actions "paint him and the country in a corner."
But Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, a member of the XTC Armed Services Committee, said she would back a congressional resolution similar to one approved by the Security Council.
"My constituents say, 'Don't let us go to war.' That's fine, but what are the options?" Mrs. Byron said. The sanctions "have been going six months, but are they working?" she asked.
"My hope would be that Congress would pass a resolution supporting the president," said Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th, who said Mr. Bush deserved credit for pulling together international -- and particularly Arab -- support to isolate Mr. Hussein.
But Mr. McMillen said that any resolution must include a requirement that the Bush administration seek the "concurrence the [congressional] leadership" before ordering troops into battle.
Although most of the Maryland delegation said a full debate in Congress on military action was necessary, Mr. McMillen said it probably would be "divisive."
"I think it's very important that we close the circle," he said. "In most engagements in this century, we haven't had the concurrence of Congress."
Meanwhile, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, said the president was "right on target" in garnering support of the international community against Iraq, but that "patience is required."
"I think all of us would like to see the sanctions work," he said. But he said that military action "is a possibility" and that before the administration resorts to war, it should have the support of Congress and the international community.
"I hope that we make every human effort possible to try and resolve it diplomatically," said Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd.
Representative-elect Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, the newest member of the delegation -- and the only one to have served in combat, as a decorated Marine sergeant in Vietnam -- agreed that the president should move "cautiously" and with international support. Sanctions should be allowed to work "if we see they are beginning to take hold," he said.
Mr. Gilchrest said the president's stern pronouncements were necessary to keep pressure on Iraq. But he said he did not know whether he would support committing U.S. troops after Jan. 15.
"That's hard to say," he added. "I know how war butchers people."
A congresswoman's mailbag
Here are excerpts from Marylanders' letters written last month to Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-MD.-2nd, regarding the Persian Gulf. The writers' names have been withheld.
urge you to heed the advice to be patient which is coming from many credible sources . . . join with your colleagues who are calling on the president to wait for sanctions to take their toll on Iraq.
Dear Rep. Bentley,
completely against war with Iraq, and I have not met one person who supports Mr. Bush's stance or actions. . . . Everyone I know is angry and frightened at what Mr. Bush is doing. . . . You can do everything in your power, as a member of Congress, to prevent thousands of deaths, cripplings, widowings and orphanings. Or not.
Dear Representative Bentley:
More than ever, our country needs a united front to stop the aggression in the Middle East. . . . What would have happened had the world powers taken the same position with Adolf Hitler? . . . I urge you to support President Bush and our troops in the Middle East.
Dear Congresswoman Bentley,
The billions of dollars spent in Operation Desert Shield could be used to house the homeless and feed the hungry in the United States and abroad. . . . Please dissuade the president from waging a war whose purpose is unclear, whose aim is confused and whose timing does not suit the American public.