8th District Democrats urge caution on possible Iraq military action

4 candidates participate in debate in Rockville

August 14, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Democratic candidates in Montgomery County's hotly contested 8th District congressional race urged caution -- and, in one case, a total pause -- last night in discussions on whether the United States should go to war with Iraq.

In a 90-minute debate, lawyer Deborah A. Vollmer was the only candidate of the four to declare her firm opposition to an invasion of Iraq for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. She said the "lessons of Vietnam" made clear that the United States must resist the military option.

To varying degrees, the other three candidates in the Sept. 10 primary counseled against an immediate invasion -- without ruling out the possibility of supporting such a war later on.

"I think we are starting to have the national debate that we need before proceeding with Iraq," said Ira Shapiro, a former Clinton administration trade negotiator. "Is it an acceptable cost? What are the risks to us? Have we consulted with our allies? We are doing that kind of debate now."

The other candidates, state Del. Mark K. Shriver and state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., agreed that all available options must be further studied.

"Where are our allies on this issue?" Shriver asked. "What are the costs from a military perspective and, more important, from a human perspective?"

Van Hollen used the question to highlight his experience beyond the State House in Annapolis. In his response, he introduced a visitor who sat watching the debate -- Barham Salih, who is part of the opposition in Iraq.

Van Hollen, a former U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member, met Salih, a Kurdish regional government leader, while investigating the use of biological weapons by Hussein in 1988. "He's here to witness democracy in action," Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen's mention of his foreign policy background was typical in a primary race in which the candidates, who agree on most major issues, have turned the campaign into a race of credentials.

As he often does, Shriver emphasized that he founded an organization, the Choice program in Baltimore, that was intended to reduce juvenile delinquency. Otherwise, he focused his most pointed remarks more on Republican incumbent Constance A. Morella than on his intraparty foes.

In the debate, sponsored by the local League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Maryland, the Democrats agreed on a number of issues ranging from criticism of President Bush's tax cut to the need for new measures to curtail the role of big money in election campaigns.

Ironically, the 8th District race is the most expensive in the nation, in terms of money raised.

The Democrats who have raised the most money -- Shriver and Van Hollen -- each said last night that a proposal by U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, to grant candidates some free television air time was worth a look.

On one question, on which House committee each candidate would seek as an assignment, Shapiro sought to distinguish himself from the pack by picking the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He said the area's voters have expressed "increasing exasperation" about traffic congestion, and that he would push for improvements.

Van Hollen and Shriver each said that, if elected, they would seek posts on the Appropriations Committee, which parcels out funding.

Vollmer said she would select a health committee.

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