Mcmillen Faces Hostile Questioning At Gulf Crisis Forum

January 16, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

The moment suggested some respite for U.S. Representative Tom McMillen, following a flurry of hostile questions about his congressional vote to authorize war against Iraq.

A Glen Burnie resident rose to thank McMillen for explaining his position and taking the abuse of angry constituents who disapproved during a forum on the Persian Gulf Monday night at Anne Arundel Community College.

But, dispensing with the pleasantries, Jim Wolfe went on to question whether the District 4 Democrat had considered the costs of war before backing President Bush.

"Are we going to lose 10,000 GIs, and are they going to lose a million and (will) we still lose the war?"he asked, drawing an analogy to Vietnam. "If you thought we were going to win, can you tell us how we are going to tell whether we won ornot?"

This was one question McMillen could answer unequivocally. Victory for U.S. interests and the rule of law and the new world order, he said, would be won by expelling Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait.

Judging from the audience's reaction, half the 200 people atthe forum rejected McMillen's explanation of why he did not hold a town meeting on the Persian Gulf before he voted Saturday or before hefaced election in November.

When McMillen explained that he had no official role in the gulf crisis until congressional leaders scheduled a debate last week, he was met with a chorus of boos and angry shouts.

McMillen was surprised by the vehemence of his critics, one of whom called him a "disgrace."

"You have to recognize one thing,it wasn't until we were sworn in Jan. 3 or 4 that there was a confirmed congressional role," he said yesterday.

With more than 10,000 letters pouring into his office since August -- when Iraq invaded Kuwait -- only about 300 letters addressed the situation, a McMillen aide said.

The congressman dismissed those who accused him of secreting his views. "That's a sham argument," he said. "I don't buy it. Anyone who wanted to see me, I saw them."

McMillen said yesterday that Congress was forced to vote for or against the use of force facing the same deadline as Iraq -- and wasn't happy with facing the choice.

"Many in Congress were upset that we were put in a tough corner,"he said, noting Bush had claimed the power to declare war regardlessof the congressional vote.

The Congressman questioned President Bush's post-election doubling of U.S troops in the Gulf and the changein policy objectives from protecting Saudi Arabia to evicting Iraq from Kuwait.

But McMillen said he was swayed by CIA assessments that sanctions alone would hurt only the Iraqi people, while extending the U.N. deadline would only allow Saddam to conserve resources for his million-man army.

The reliance on the threat of war marked a a change in opinion for McMillen, who urged the president throughout the election season to exhaust all diplomatic efforts and give sanctions a chance to persuade Iraq.

But he has said from the beginning that the world would have to eventually deal with Saddam's military threat.

"That's a clear and present danger," McMillen said yesterday."It is clear that he has larger territorial ambitions."

McMillen often acknowledged his inability to answer his constituents Monday night, as the world began a 24-hour countdown to the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal dictated by the United Nations. That deadline is backed by a 680,000-member international force, including 415,000 U.S. troops.

The congressman said no one could predict the costs of war to the American economy, the number of U.S. and Iraqi deaths or the balance of power in the Middle East.

Instead, he answered many questions by referring back to one central question -- what would happen if the United States did not back U.N. economic sanctions with thecertainty of war?

"Will we be faced with an even greater threat in the years to come?" McMillen asked.

He reviewed Saddam's use of gas against his own Kurdish citizens, his war against Iran and his threats against Israel and Western nations. He concluded that the worldcannot risk Iraq obtaining biological or atomic weapons.

"The feeling in Congress is that Saddam is a dictator, a despot, someone who is not living in the rule of law," McMillen said. "This is someone wedo not want to deal with today, tomorrow or any time."

But his reasoning disappointed many in the crowd, as advocates of war and peacetook turns for 90 minutes drowning out McMillen and his inquisitors with repeated booing and applause.

"We don't need your analysis. We don't need your brilliance. We don't need your repeat of the McNeil-Lehrer Report," said Claude Schrift of Annapolis, who has a son in the gulf. "What we need is a little bit of your soul."

But many veterans and others applauded McMillen and recalled World War II as an example of when the United States opposed aggression.

Donn Shallcross of Glen Burnie remembered his own service in Vietnam, promising peace demonstrators that "This time you will not divide our country."

He predicted that 500,000 Vietnam veterans would also take to the streets, to support U.S. soldiers. He said he had five children serving in the gulf, two others on active reserve and two sons-in-law on inactive reserve.

"Don't stand in front of the Capitol and burn my flag so the Russians can see," Shallcross said after the forum concluded, "because I'm going to drag you off the steps and stomp you."

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