Rep. Tom McMillen faced his constituents and explained why he voted to authorize the use of force in the Persian Gulf if Iraq does not leave Kuwait by midnight tonight.
"In all my four years of Congress, it was the toughest vote I ever made," McMillen, D-4th, told constituents last night at Anne Arundel Community College. "I am praying that [Iraqi leader Saddam] Hussein will back off before the deadline."
McMillen said he based his decision on many factors, including concerns over whether economic sanctions against Iraq would work. In his mind, he said, he believed sanctions would only prolong the inevitable. In a few months, Congress still would have to decide whether to use force to remove Saddam's troops from Kuwait, he said.
McMillen said he felt it was important to support the United Nations resolutions against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait.
"The question is whether or not we're going to live by the rule of the law or the rule of the jungle," he said. "Although war and peace should not be decided on economics, we have to think about the consequences."
McMillen told the crowd of about 200 that he hoped for an exchange of meaningful dialogue with them. What he got was support, criticism and the expressed fears of constituents as tonight's deadline approaches.
The dialogue started badly when Richard Vanden Heuvel, who was seated in the front of the auditorium, held up a sign that read "No War." Afterward, each time he held up his sign, members of the audience shouted at him to lower it.
During the 90-minute discussion, people in the audience also shouted down those who they believed were delivering speeches rather than asking questions.
"What is the criteria in which you formed your conscience?" Paul Ferris of Crofton, asked McMillan. "Did you ask how this war will be carried out?"
Ferris said that if military installations in the area were attacked by terrorists, thousands of the congressman's constituents, including women and children, would die. "From what I see, that is the strategy of choice we're going to use in carrying out this war in Iraq," he said.
McMillen responded that he made his decision after looking at the consequences of delay in getting Saddam out of Kuwait.
"Six to nine months from today, we'll be faced with an even greater threat," he said.
"Do you think Hussein will negotiate with us in 30 to 60 days? The evidence suggests Hussein is working on a crude nuclear device."
Jim Flahavin, 18, wanted to know his chances of being drafted to fight in the Persian Gulf. Despite McMillen's assurances that it was unlikely that the draft would be reinstated, Flahavin said he has many doubts.
"If we go to war, and this thing lasts more than a couple of months, I don't believe there won't be a draft," Flahavin said. "And with me not being able to afford to go to college right now, I don't want to be the one to go just because I don't have money."
Who will have the balance of power in six months in Kuwait? John Moynihan asked.
"Suppose we win this thing?" Moynihan asked. "Who will occupy Iraq, and who will look after what's left of it?"
McMillen said that in the aftermath of war, there will be TC peace-keeping force in Kuwait for sometime. It is not clear what the objectives of some Arab countries might be, or who might have control of Kuwait, he said, but the United States has to immediately concentrate on limited objectives, which include freeing Kuwait.
About half the crowd appeared to support McMillen.
Donn Shallcross is a Vietnam veteran and father of five children, two of whom are on active duty in the armed forces. He said he supported McMillen wholeheartedly.
"I just hope the government continues to support the troops and that they're not left out to dry like we were," Shallcross said.