Sen. Paul Wellstone Says NO

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Posted by Tony from ? ( on Thursday, October 03, 2002 at 12:24PM :

Wellstone Says No to Iraq
by Rob Hotakainen

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sen. Paul Wellstone said Wednesday that he is
ready to vote against any plan to allow the United States to launch unilateral
strikes against Iraq, but he indicated that he would support the use of force
if it's approved by the United Nations.

"I do not believe we should do it alone," said Wellstone, D-Minn.

He said he will oppose President Bush's request to use all means
necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Wellstone acknowledged that the plan is widely popular in Congress and
said it's likely to be approved by a wide margin. He called it "a life-or-death
question for people" and added: "I'm not 38, I'm 58. And at this point in my
life, I'm not making any decision that I don't believe in."

Wellstone, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is
expected to be among the first to give a speech when the Senate formally
begins its debate on Iraq today.

His staff was putting the finishing touches on his speech last night. After
agonizing over the issue for weeks, Wellstone broke the news to some of
his staff members Wednesday morning. "We'll just let the chips fall where
they may," he told them.

His position, which ends a long guessing game on Capitol Hill, carries
political risks. On Nov. 5, Minnesota voters will decide whether to elect
Wellstone to a third term. His Republican opponent, Norm Coleman, is
backing the president, and some observers had speculated that Wellstone
would end up backing Bush for political considerations.

Wellstone said it would be a lie, "with a capital L," to say that he has not
thought about how his position will affect the Senate race, which is in a
virtual tie, according to the polls. But in the end, he said, he had little

"With five weeks to go, at the end of 12 [years] in the Senate, of course I
wonder what the effect will be," he said. "To me, this is the personally and
intellectually honest decision, and that's the one I should make. And I don't
really think I have any other choice but to make it, because how could you
do otherwise? It's a life-and-death question."

Minnesota's other senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, has yet to announce
how he'll vote. Last week he accused Bush of trying to force Congress to
vote too quickly, and he said he wouldn't make a final decision until it's
required. A head count of the 10-member Minnesota delegation last week
revealed five members were opposed and five were undecided.

"These are times that try our souls," Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., one of
those who remains undecided, said Wednesday. He said decisions to
send young men and women to war are decisions that weigh heavily on
members of Congress, adding: "Over this weekend, I will be praying for the
wisdom of Solomon."

Wellstone, at times emotional, offered a preview of his speech during an
interview in his Capitol Hill office. He is expected to say that "acting on our
own might be a sign of our power" but that "acting sensibly, in concert with
our allies and with bipartisan congressional support, would be a sign of our

Wellstone called the president's plan "a profound mistake" and said he will
outline the consequences of it during his speech.

"What he's asking for is what worries me the most," he said. "I don't want
this to be open-ended right now."

In his speech Wellstone is expected to call Saddam "a brutal, ruthless
dictator who has repressed his own people, attacked his neighbors and
remains an international outlaw."

In the interview he said the United States should call on the U.N. Security
Council to pass a resolution that focuses on disarmament and puts arms
inspectors on the ground in Iraq. If that goal is not achieved, he said, then
the resolution should make clear "there will be consequences, which
include the use of appropriate force."

He said that whether the United States acts alone or as part of an
international coalition is "a night-and-day difference" and that the United
States should first insist on "all of the diplomatic heavy lifting."

"That's what statesmanship is all about," he said. If the United States acts
alone against Saddam, it will "enable him to unite a coalition against us,"
he said.

Wellstone opposed the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but he said he has voted
to support military action in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

"To me, it's always the last option, and that's still my belief," he said.

"We're talking about a lot of sons and daughters, a lot of Minnesota sons
and daughters that could be in harm's way. And I think it's extremely
important for the United States to do this the right way, and not the wrong

While the Senate is likely to give Bush strong support, Wellstone said "the
dynamics could shift" if the debate goes on for a week or two and more
senators begin hearing from constituents. Wellstone staff members said
calls and letters are running overwhelmingly against unilateral military
action in Iraq.

The issue was on the minds of many Minnesotans who talked with
Wellstone Wednesday. During a brief meeting in Wellstone's office, Wilbur
Liebenow, a retired civil engineer from Shoreview, told the senator that
launching preemptive strikes against Iraq would simply "stir the pot,"
adding: "Once we do it, what do we do then?"

During a teleconference call with journalism students at the University of St.
Thomas, Wellstone responded to a question on Iraq by saying the cost of a
war would be "enormous" and put "a great strain" on the U.S. economy.

Wellstone said the Iraq issue is drowning out debate over the economy,
mental health issues and other legislation that he's trying to advance. While
Dayton and others have suggested that the timing of the debate is partly
driven by a White House desire to swing the election toward Republicans,
Wellstone said he hopes that's not the case.

"Would I rather the focus be on putting corporate crooks in jail? Yes."

-- Tony
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