Congress closes ranks behind war effort WAR IN THE GULF

January 17, 1991|By Peter Osterlund | Peter Osterlund,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- News of war swept through Capitol Hill with the speed of a cruise missile screaming over the Iraqi desert -- and so did predictions of unqualified victory over Saddam Hussein's forces.

Even Democrats, who had futilely opposed last week's presidential request for a congressional war authorization, closed ranks behind U.S. soldiers in the desert and, for now, generally reserved comment on the wisdom of the president's action.

"I believe that we will prevail in a matter of days or weeks," said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. "Saddam Hussein has made a tragic miscalculation."

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic leaders laid plans to bring a resolution onto the Senate floor, perhaps as early as today, expressing congressional solidarity with the U.S. forces in the gulf.

At about 6:30 p.m., deputy national security adviser Robert M. Gates disappeared into the office of Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas to brief Mr. Dole, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill.

Moments later, Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, tried to confirm war rumors he'd heard with the Pentagon. "They didn't have anything for me," the senator said. Later, he had to find out the news, along with almost everyone else, on CNN.

Soon, press releases poured forth from copy machines throughout the Capitol. All expressed solidarity with the troops waging war, and most expressed support for the president who had ordered them into combat.

Even those members of Congress who had opposed the war authorization reserved comment.

"My prayers and thoughts are with the soldiers and their families, and my hopes are for a swift and successful conclusion to this war," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo.

"We must now pray for a conflict that ends quickly, decisively, and with a minimum loss of life," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash. "We must now stand united in support of our armed forces in the gulf who have embraced the duty and burden of conducting the war."

Others expressed confidence in the ability of the military to prosecute the war quickly and successfully. "Our military forces are well-trained, well-led and well-equipped," said Mr. Nunn.

"I'm glad to see us going in with real strength and not piecemealing this as we did in Vietnam," observed Mr. Glenn.

Representative Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, however, that massive air strikes against Iraqi military installations would not be sufficient to win the war.

"I'm still skeptical. Put me down as skeptical," said Mr. Aspin. "I still think you are going to need a ground attack, and this thing is going to be weeks, not days, and we are still going to have some casualties. Don't let this optimism here get carried away."

Only Representative Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., said he was "outraged" by the action. "I view this as an inestimable tragedy . . .," he said.

Those who had supported President Bush before continued to stand with him last night.

"We can only hope . . . that there will be a minimum of American casualties and Saddam Hussein will be wiped from the face of the Earth," said Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y.

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