EDITORIAL: Who's right about Iraq?

Congressman Rick Larsen, who represents Whidbey Island in Washington, D.C., last week voted against the resolution to empower President Bush to launch a war against Iraq.

Norma Smith, the Republican running against Larsen, chastised the incumbent for his vote, saying the president needed the authority granted by the resolution. It may help avoid war, she explained, if Saddam Hussein knows the country is united behind the president.

The House and Senate both passed the resolution, with Larsen’s side out-voted approximately two-to-one. But the question remains, who is right about Iraq?

Larsen did not rule out war, but preferred that the U.S. first be required to go to the U.N. for a resolution against Iraq. Smith is prepared to stand behind the president, U.N. or no U.N.

Larsen’s vote could be perceived as gutsy for a congressman whose district includes big Navy bases in Oak Harbor and Everett, and a huge number of military retirees. On the other hand, he wasn’t boldly calling for a new foreign policy in the Middle East. Nobody’s doing that, except the widely-overlooked Libertarian and Green party candidates. So his protest was muted, at best.

Smith may deserve credit for backing her president no matter what. But “what” has yet to be determined. Thousands of Navy personnel and their families on Whidbey Island are quite concerned about “what.” Although always ready to respond when their country calls, they know a war with Iraq could be a bad one. In 1990 Saddam Hussein was caught with his hand in the cookie jar in Kuwait and knew that the coalition’s goal was limited to getting him out of there. This time, he may stop at nothing to save his own hide when the goal is his removal or demise. Nobody wants their loved ones fighting chemical or bacterial weapons, but it could come to that. Of course, doing nothing about Iraq could result in something even worse a few years down the road.

Even is Saddam keeps his weapons of mass destruction under wraps, winning in Iraq is a dangerous proposition in itself. The U.S. may have to stay there for decades, while anti-American sentiment grows even more inflamed in the Middle East.

It’s hard to imagine a happy outcome whether or not we go to war with Iraq, and no one at this juncture knows who was right and who was wrong on the Iraq resolution. Larsen voted his conscience and Smith took a principled stand against him. That’s the most voters can expect in an election campaign.

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