Clash Over Postwar Iraq Rises in Congress

For Immediate Release:

September 15, 2003

Contact:David Espo

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "is in no position to question the patriotism" of President Bush's critics on Iraq, having once scathingly condemned President Clinton's military strategy in Bosnia, a Democratic leader said Thursday.

Rep. Steny Hoyer quoted DeLay as saying that the 1999 NATO-led bombing campaign was "President Clinton's war."

"It was ... as if DeLay has blocked out from his memory" what he and other Republican critics said about President Clinton's response to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in 1999, said Hoyer, the Maryland lawmaker who is the second-ranking Democratic leader in the House.

Hoyer made his comments in an interview one day after DeLay accused Democratic leaders of longing for the "weak and indecisive foreign policy of their Cold War past." DeLay also said that coming votes in Congress on Bush's call for $87 billion in new funding for Iraq would mark a defining moment in the war on terror.

Taken together, the remarks by DeLay and Hoyer underscore an escalating political clash over Bush's plans for postwar Iraq.

DeLay showed no sign of retreat. "Our critics can try to change the subject, but the debate will come down to one question, 'Are we at war or not?'" said his spokesman, Stuart Roy.

The president has asked Congress for an additional $87 billion in funding, at a time when his public support has been slipping and public polling reflects growing concern over his postwar strategy.

Hoyer predicted that most Democrats in Congress will support the president's request for more funds. He said that Democrats share a "commitment to assure the safety and security of the troops and to give them the money" needed.

At the same time, Hoyer - echoing the statements of other lawmakers of both parties - said Congress will seek more detailed information from the administration about its plans.

Hoyer was eager to respond to DeLay's remarks, saying he was angered by the Texan's speech.

He referred repeatedly to a 1999 vote when the Republican-controlled House challenged Clinton over Kosovo. The House voted at the time to require that Clinton gain congressional approval before sending ground troops to Kosovo or other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Then, in what was intended to be a largely symbolic vote, Democrats sought approval of a resolution to bestow after-the-fact blessings on a NATO bombing campaign. It failed on a 213-213 tie.

It was "one of the most egregious shameful votes that was cast on the floor of the House," Hoyer said, adding that DeLay had spoken and voted against the proposal.

He also quoted him as saying it was a "peace war" waged by "peace hawks pursuing a dovish social agenda. Peace hawks are global idealists and former anti-war activists, including the youthful Bill Clinton."

"The speaker voted for it to his credit," Hoyer said of the legislation, referring to Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "But DeLay worked against it, talked against it, and this was supporting our troops in our effort in Kosovo when we had people in harm's way."