WASHINGTON -- Members of Maryland's congressional delegation expressed support yesterday for the U.S.-led strike against Iraq, and several predicted Saddam Hussein will be as much an irritant to the Clinton administration's opening days as he was in President Bush's final weeks in office.
"Saddam Hussein has underestimated the resolve of the American people and the president," declared Democratic Senator Barbara A. Mikulski. "Our country stands as one and speaks with one voice. However, we must work with the U.N. to insure that other countries share the burden and danger."
Ms. Mikulski, who voted against using force before the Persian Gulf war, said the bombing should be "surgical and directed at military targets."
"We should not punish the Iraqi people for the failed and brutal leadership of Saddam Hussein," said Senator Mikulski, who, like several other delegation members, was in Annapolis for the opening of the state legislature's 1993 session when the air raid occurred.
"Under the circumstances, it was absolutely appropriate," said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, the Republican from eastern Maryland. "When your dealing with someone like Saddam Hussein you have to be disciplined in your actions and persistent in your policy. Leaders like Saddam see any compromise as appeasement, as giving in."
Mr. Gilchrest said the Iraqi leader misunderstands the transition of power in America. "He knew of Clinton's opposition to the Vietnam war and thought maybe this guy is a 'peacenik' and then thought maybe George Bush didn't have any power because he is leaving the presidency in a week. This shows Saddam and the world the strength of our system."
One of Mr. Gilchrest's first votes as a congressman was to support the use of force in the Gulf and he believes Mr. Clinton should stick with President Bush's policy toward Iraq. "Clinton should continue to work with the U.N. and stop aggression in the world."
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat, voiced guarded support for the attack but said "It's regrettable that it has come to this point. "
Mr. Mfume, who favored economic sanctions instead of force to get Iraqi troops out of Kuwait before Operation Desert Storm, said "I thought it was inevitable, with these provocations building like a crescendo. The tragedy in all of this is that the Iraqi people, who are good and well intentioned for the most part, are put at risk by Saddam Hussein."
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who also opposed military action before the gulf war, said the strike was not surprising.
"Iraq has repeatedly violated the terms of the cease-fire," the Democrat from Baltimore said.
"The action taken by the U.S. was certainly justified."
Nevertheless, Mr. Cardin said, "This issue will not resolve itself in seven days. It's going to go on . . ."