As the United Nations' deadline for the use of force in the Persian Gulf approached Tuesday night, Howard County's Congressional delegation remained apprehensive about the possibility of war.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat, said he felt sanctions have not been in place against Iraq long enough to enable any senator to tell a family that loses a loved one that the the United States has exhausted every peaceful option.
"We are not at that point -- and at the very least -- we ought not go to war until we are at that point. We cannot, in good faith, saynow to any family who loses a member in a military conflict that every avenue to achieve a peaceful resolution was explored," Sarbanes said on the Senate floor last weekend.
A Sarbanes aide said the senator's mail has been running at least 3 to 1 in favor of sanctions andagainst war. Sarbanes, like Democrat Barbara Mikulski, Maryland's other senator, voted last weekend against giving President George Bush the go-ahead to wage war. Both felt the sanctions, in place since November, were taking their toll on Iraq.
"Iraq's GNP (gross nationalproduct) has gone down 50 percent," Mikulski said.
"This policy is working, Iraq has been deterred, ostracized and punished. Sanctions, unprecedented in their international solidarity and more massive inscope than any ever adopted in peace time against any nation . . . are inflicting painful costs on the Iraqi economy," Sarbanes said.
Mikulski said she spoke with area residents about the Gulf crisis while she rode a commuter train last Friday into Washington, D.C.
"Like most Americans, those men and women were worried about the possibility of war. Some were adamant that we should not go to war at all. Others thought we should send our troops into Kuwait as soon as possible," she said.
"They were sober and deliberate. They took the possibility of war seriously, and were pained by the thought of sending our men and women in the desert into battle," Mikulski said.
Representative Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, also voted against authorizing the use of force. "He felt the economic sanctions were working as indicated by the hostage release," said Dawana Merritt, a Cardin aide.
But Representatives Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Beverly Byron, D-6th, disagreed.
The two House members voted in favor of authorizing the useof force.
"The United States does have vital interests in the Persian Gulf," McMillen said in Congressional debates. "With the engulfing of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein has captured for himself a choke-hold onthe world's oil market, dominating almost 70 percent of the world's oil reserves. Certainly Iraq will be hurt if sanctions are extended, but the dislocation to the free world of extending the deadline will be astronomical," he said.
McMillen's constituents were divided onthe Gulf crisis, said Brad Fitch, McMillen's press secretary.
"Ifyou took a poll of the fourth Congressional district it would be along the line of the national poll, which is divided, or perhaps it would be a little more to the right," Fitch said.
McMillen voted in support of the authorization of force because he felt there was not sufficient evidence that sanctions would force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. McMillen's feeling, Fitch said, was that the U.S. government is obligated to protect vital interests in the Persian Gulf and the world could not disregard Iraq's breech of international law.
Directly following the vote, however, McMillen FAXed a letter to President Bush, requesting the President act cautiously concerning the use of military force in the gulf. "I believe that all other options should be exhausted before this nation employs force," he wrote. "Therefore, I respectfully request that diplomacy be given one last attempt to resolve this crisis peacefully."
Byron said that constituents' sentiment against the nation going to war with Iraq was 2-1 in the days leading up to Saturday's vote.
But since Congress passed the resolution supporting the president, Byron said the response to her vote of support has been surprisingly positive.
"I would've thought the many irate people would be calling Sunday and Monday," she said Tuesday. "But I've had no calls like that."
Byron also that she doubted the draft would be reinstated, talk of which has surfaced in recent days on Capitol Hill.