By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It's not as if he hasn't made a number of cases for going to war: September 11 has shown us to be more vulnerable to terrorists; Iraq harbors terrorists, if not al Qaeda terrorists, although al Qaeda terrorists have been known to frequent Baghdad, or at least its hospitals; Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, although not nukes, though it has been trying to get nukes, though it hasn't got 'em yet, but sure would like 'em.
The only excuse for so many separate cases justifying our armed intervention against Iraq is that no one case has stuck. Bush has not convinced the American people -- or, I suspect, a majority of members of Congress -- that Iraq poses an imminent threat to the United States or its closest allies or its interests. Hardly anything demonstrable has changed within Iraq since September 11; what's changed is America's sense of its vulnerability. But even that has not translated into unequivocal public support for war.
Indeed, the polling leading up to the vote authorizing the use of force on Iraq showed that public opinion was growing more, not less, skeptical of the Iraqi threat. And some NPR polling of all voters as to what kind of presidential candidate they'd support -- a Republican hawk, a Republican dove, or their two Democratic counterparts -- showed 35 percent support for the Democratic dove, against just 13 percent backing for the Democratic hawk. If we assume, not unreasonably, that this tracks the Democrats' own divided sentiments on the impending war, then Democrats are inclined by nearly a 3-to-1 margin against the coming conflict.
That's not how Democratic senators voted, of course. Led by White House wannabes Joe Lieberman, the previously dovish John Kerry, the lighter-than-air John Edwards and the reluctant leader Tom Daschle, they approved the Iraq resolution by a 29-to-21 margin. The most surprising Democratic vote in opposition was probably that of Florida Senator Bob Graham, most likely the least visible, certainly the least audible, of the senior Democratic senators. Graham, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had steeped himself in every variety of terrorist threat, and, as he explained it, Iraq was not even on the list. Graham even introduced a somewhat idiosyncratic substitute resolution, directing U.S. efforts not against just al Qaeda but also against Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. A roundabout way of getting to a "No" vote, perhaps, but Graham certainly demonstrated one can be obsessed by terrorist threats and still view the Bush war on Iraq as a grand non sequitur.
As events would have it, I was in Miami this past weekend, and the Democratic activists I spoke with were stunned and delighted by Graham's vote -- easily, the least conventional of an otherwise mainstream Southern Democratic career. That tells you something about the Democratic base, if they're cheering Graham in Florida. Although, Graham was the only Southern senator to oppose the war resolution.
THE HOUSE WAS ANOTHER MATTER altogether. There, fully 61 percent of House Democrats -- 126 of 208 -- broke not just with Bush but their own leader, Dick Gephardt, to oppose the war. Coming disproportionately from safe districts, the House Dems were free to vote their judgment and their conscience, and did so by a margin almost twice as high as anyone was predicting just a day or two before the vote.
The war resolution split the Los Angeles delegation in a way it had never before been split. The Republicans on the county's fringes (Dave Dreier, Buck McKeon and the outgoing Stephen Horn) sided with the president, as did all but six of their Republican colleagues nationally. But the 12 L.A. County Democrats split their vote by race and religion. That is, the three African-American members (Juanita Millender-McDonald, Maxine Waters and Diane Watson) and the four Latino members (Xavier Becerra, Grace Napolitano, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Hilda Solis) all voted "no," as did almost every black and Latino Democratic House member nationally. The five white Jewish members (Howard Berman, Jane Harman, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman and Henry Waxman) all voted "yes."
Berman, in fact, was perhaps the single most important supporter of the Bush resolution among House Democrats; he negotiated changes in language and worked to build support for the measure. Harman is a member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and hails from what was once one of the most heavily defense-industry districts in the land; her vote was no surprise, either. Of the five, Waxman has historically been the most dovish on foreign policy questions, and, of course, has been the one House member more than any other who's challenged the president repeatedly on matters of policy and conduct. Precisely because Waxman is so clearly the outstanding liberal member of Congress, his vote is the most disappointing.
It's not as if there was an unambiguous Jewish tilt toward war: The 10 Jewish Democratic senators split their vote 5 to 5. In California, Dianne Feinstein, after decrying the resolution for weeks, voted "yes," while Barbara Boxer opposed it. To some degree, the vote on the war resolution reflected where a Jewish legislator has come down on matters Israeli: Most of the Jewish legislators who voted "no" have been more vocally critical of Israel under its current government than those who voted "yes."