WASHINGTON – Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes joined the minority early Friday that voted to oppose a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, a move that Mikulski called a “grave decision.”
The 77-23 Senate vote came at 12:50 a.m., just hours after the House voted 296-133 to give President Bush authority to pursue unilateral military action against Iraq when “he determines to be necessary and appropriate.”
Maryland’s senators, both Democrats, had pushed for an alternative resolution by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. It would have required that Congress remain in session, ready to act on a war resolution should the United Nations fail to authorize the use of multilateral force.
Instead, the resolution that Congress passed this week says Bush must notify Congress before an attack on Iraq — or no later than 48 hours after.
Both Sarbanes and Mikulski argued against extending the president’s powers, said the United States should be working in concert with the United Nations.
Mikulski said that, “the resolution contains only tepid language supporting diplomatic efforts at the United Nations.”
Sarbanes framed the administration’s doctrine more forcefully. He said that it would lead us “down the path of asserting a unilateral pre-emptive prerogative, in effect, asserting our right to do what we want anywhere, anytime, to anyone.”
But Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., the sponsor of the successful resolution, discounted charges that it sanctions pre-emptive action.
“The United States of America, and the United Nations for that matter, have been in a continuing conflict, military conflict, with Iraq since the Gulf War began,” Lieberman said.
“American and British aircraft have been fired on by Iraqi forces. So this is not an act of pre-emption. This is an act of response and prevention,” he said.
In 1991, Congress voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in accordance with a U.N. resolution. Both Mikulski and Sarbanes opposed the resolution to join the international war effort then. That resolution passed by a narrow 52-47 margin, clearing the way for U.S. participation in the Gulf War.
Both Maryland senators said this week that a vote against the latest resolution would not detract from the United States’ right to self-defense, which is guaranteed under international law.
The resolution leaves the decision of when and how to act up to the president, without further congressional input.
“We can go around the world and whack anybody we choose,” Sarbanes said.
He cautioned the president against rushing to war.
“Mr. President, this is an extremely important point. It is not enough to be strong; you have to be smart as well,” Sarbanes said.
Mikulski said she would give Bush the benefit of the doubt for the moment.
“President Bush says he has not yet decided whether the use of military force is necessary and I take him at his word,” she said.
While Maryland’s senators were united in their opposition to the resolution, the state’s House delegation split 5-3 on the issue Thursday. Opponents included Baltimore Democratic Reps. Ben Cardin and Elijah Cummings and GOP Rep. Connie Morella of Bethesda, one of only six House Republicans to oppose the resolution.