Will Congress blink again?

By David Hackworth

History has repeatedly shown that the military solution is the least-desirable way to resolve conflict. Smart leaders know that “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting” – as Sun Tzu wrote years ago – and exhaust all other options before they unleash the dogs of war.

Instead, our president seems single-mindedly obsessed with attacking Iraq. For months, the Bush war team has been talking up taking out Saddam and sneaking so many war toys into places like Qatar and Kuwait that it’s a wonder our desert launching pads haven’t already sunk from the weight of our pre-positioned gear and ammo.

So far, the emir of Kuwait has been picking up the tab for the American muscle deployed outside of his palace that lets him sleep at night without worrying about Iraqi tanks roaring through his front gate, as they did in 1990. But probably a key reason President Bush is so keen on pressing Congress to sanction his unrelenting march to battle is because thousands more armored vehicles and tens of thousands of warriors are already on the move. Since it will soon be impossible to hide the buildup or cost, Bush clearly needs congressional consensus before the boys, bombs and bullets become the lead story on prime-time television.

Now it looks as though Congress is about to give Bush the green light for his shootout with Saddam rather than standing tall and insisting that U.N. weapons inspectors get another go at defanging the monster.

Almost 40 years ago, Congress kowtowed to another president from Texas and approved the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – based on the repeated lies of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that Red patrol boats had attacked U.S. warships on a supposedly routine mission off North Vietnam, which the senior admiral in the Pacific had predicted months before would provoke exactly this type of response and result in an escalation of the Vietnam War. Only Sens. Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska stood tall and voted “nay.” When Morse chillingly predicted we’d lose the war and LBJ would go down in flames, most members of Congress responded that they were patriotically backing the president in a time of crisis.

Before Congress blinks again, rubber-stamping one of the few wars in our country’s history in which we’ve fired the first shot, the members should visit the Vietnam Memorial and read every name aloud on that black wall before blindly accepting their party machines’ go-along-to-get-along directives. They should ask themselves: Do I want to be remembered as a William Fulbright – who pushed LBJ’s bad resolution through the Senate, knowing all the while that he was repeating McNamara’s spin – or as a Morse or Gruening?

They should also match what the ordinary folks who elected them are saying against the national polls’ war chantey, “Let’s Push With Bush Into Baghdad.” Last week, I visited four states, and all of the hundreds of average Joes and Janes I spoke with were for U.N. inspectors returning and our tightening the choke leash on Iraq enough that nothing gets in or out without going through a U.S.-manned checkpoint.

A Vietnam combat Marine told me: “Certainly Saddam is a tyrant and a threat to his neighbors. But so are the leaders of Syria, Iran, North Korea and, for that matter, Pakistan. All of our comrades who died in Vietnam and those of us who vowed ‘never again’ will now again watch another generation march off to war without the approval of the American people.”

“Who’ll pay for it?” asks another citizen. “We all know it’ll be our kids. They’re the ones who will pay, as it has been since the Revolutionary War. Those who reap the rewards are of a different category.”

Congressmen and congresswomen, which category are you? Will you vote for your own political future or the future of our country and its current generation of defenders? Will you challenge the rush to war along with Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who said last week that giving Bush the same broad, unchecked authority Congress gave LBJ is tantamount to allowing him to start a war and saying, “Don’t bother me, I’ll read about it in the newspapers”?