By Joe Whalen
All but two members of the Queens congressional delegation voted last week to approve resolutions granting President Bush broad authority to wage war on Iraq with or without United Nations support.
The final count of last Thursday’s vote in the House, 296-133, included an even split from the 14-member New York City delegation. The resolution passed the upper chamber Friday by a 77-23 vote. Both New York senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, supported the measure.
Of the seven members of Congress whose districts include neighborhoods in Queens, only U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) sided with the minority.
“It wasn’t shown to me where there was an immediate and imminent threat against America,” Meeks said Monday in an interview with the TimesLedger. “The resolution was too broad. We need to first see if we can work in a cooperative manner with the United Nations and our partners in the war against terrorism.”
Meeks, a member of the International Relations Committee in the House, said he spoke with leaders in moderate Islamic nations who told him Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s strengths have weakened by 40 percent since the Gulf War in 1991. They warned that unilateral power to invade Iraq could cause moderate Islamic states to become vulnerable to fundamentalist elements within their own regions.
Velazquez strongly opposed House Joint Resolution 114. In the speech she delivered on the House floor, Velazquez called the measure “a blank check to give President Bush unprecedented power to launch preemptive war on Iraq. There is no justification for such an action — and the case the administration has made for it is suspect at best.”
The five Queens members of Congress who voted in favor of the resolution — U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), and Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) — all expressed reservations.
Maloney said she stayed awake all night before the roll call and read “Saddam’s Bombmaker,” a non-fiction narrative written by Khidir Hamza, the man formerly in charge of Iraq’s nuclear weapons development program.
“It was a difficult vote, probably the most difficult that I’ve cast since I’ve been in Congress,” the fifth-term representative said Tuesday. “If there was ever a time that a vote should be made in the national interest, a vote that transcends politics, where one had to vote their conscience, it was that vote.”
Crowley, a member of the International Relations Committee, joined other Democrats in a successful bid to include provisions focusing the war authorization on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
“Despite my misgivings, and though I wish the administration had decided to wait to pursue this campaign until we and our allies had made more substantial inroads against terrorist groups around the world,” Crowley said last week on the House floor, “I will nonetheless support this resolution.”
Ackerman, a 10-term representative and a senior member of the International Relations Committee, delivered a note of irony on the House floor, saying he believed granting Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, if necessary, “is the best way to avoid war.” He said the United States cannot rely on hopes that Iraq will comply with U.N. weapons inspections or refrain from sharing its technology with terrorists.
But he also expressed fear about potential breaches in international perceptions about U.S. intentions and values should Hussein be forcibly deposed.
Weiner echoed Ackerman’s paradox during an interview early this week.
“At the end of the day, I think that sometimes the best way to avoid the use of force is to threaten the use of force,” he said. “I believe this will end with a peaceful resolution.”
Reach reporter Joe Whalen by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.