The debate is over

January 14, 1991

We would have preferred -- as did six of the 10 members of the Maryland congressional delegation -- to see Congress urge President Bush to rely on diplomacy and economic sanctions to dislodge Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. But on Saturday Congress chose to do otherwise, and declared war -- make no mistake about that, declared war -- on Iraq. House Speaker Thomas Foley, who opposed the war option, put it accurately: "Congress has given a clear majority, and in this country majority rules." And when the nation is at war, the debate ends: The country must support the commander-in-chief.

This does not mean that every citizen forfeits the right to protest; even if 249,632,691 Americans approved the action and only one dissented, that one would have the right to protest. The only obligation on the dissenters is to assemble "peaceably," and as long as they do that, the authorities at every level must respect those rights.

Nor does the vote mean that the course President Bush has chosen is the right one. We believe that he was right in his initial reaction to Iraq's seizure of Kuwait on Aug. 2, when he responded by a swift dispatch of American military force to Saudi Arabia and issued a blunt warning to Saddam Hussein to stop in his tracks. The strategy worked.

But two days after the November elections, the president chose to sharply enlarge the objective. He doubled our troop commitment demanded immediate unconditional surrender by Saddam Hussein, and foreclosed all escape routes. On that policy, we have grave doubts, because it may leave Saddam Hussein himself convinced that his only choice is to fight.

It is now for history to judge George Bush on that decision, and we fear it will judge him harshly. But alas, we cannot await history's judgment. Now that the decision to go to war has been taken, we must place full faith in the president -- the only president we have -- to act on that decision in a manner that will accomplish his stated objectives as swiftly as possible, with as little loss of life as possible.

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