War Drums

War Drums
Illustration By Doug Potter

The encouraging news is that an overflow crowd of several hundred people turned out for a Saturday morning public forum, sponsored by the Gray Panthers, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, on the looming threat of war with Iraq. The crowd enthusiastically welcomed guest of honor U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who was frankly less encouraging. Doggett began by calling this moment "a time of great peril for the nation and the world." The Bush administration, he said, had appeared intent on its "go-it-alone" approach to the war and only turned to the Congress and the U.N. in the face of modest but unexpected political resistance from members of both parties. Doggett said he and his colleagues have since received numerous briefings, both classified and unclassified, on the alleged military and terrorist threat from Iraq, and he has concluded "that case either cannot be made, or has not been made" by the White House.

Doggett acknowledged that congressional opposition to Bush's requested war resolution, while vigorous, remains small -- although larger than national media coverage suggests -- and that the House GOP leadership will control the timing and procedure on any resolution. "We don't know when it will be considered," he said, "or what debate or amendments, if any, will be allowed." He also noted that several Democratic officeholders in swing districts and much of the Democratic leadership -- including House minority leader Dick Gephardt -- will be "on the other side" and join the Republicans in passing a resolution authorizing a pre-emptive attack against Iraq. Later he reiterated that "a substantial majority" of both Houses "is willing to vote to support a wider war." Doggett called that position shortsighted on its face, adding, "Getting in [to a war] will be so much easier than getting out."

For over an hour Doggett fielded questions that ranged from "Why are most of the Democrats so spineless?" to "What are the additional threats to civil liberties as war gets closer?" (The loudest applause of the morning responded to his sardonic wish, "Personally, I'd like to see [Attorney General] John Ashcroft in a secure and undisclosed location.") He said that opponents within Congress -- while occasionally sharing the citizens' "feeling of helplessness to make an impact"-- are reaching out across the country to generate more citizen response and action. He called for more "e-mails, phone calls, letters, and public protests" to convince members of "the intensity of the opposition." Several times he emphasized that all protests should clearly focus on the goal: "to bring more people together to oppose this war."

Doggett said that in talking with colleagues concerned about the effect of the controversy on the November election, he has told them: "If there were ever an issue to put your career on the line ... war and peace is it."

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