THE Persian Gulf debate could now spill into the 1992
presidential race, especially if war with Iraq causes heavy American
Most Democrats on Capitol Hill strenuously fought efforts to give
President Bush the power to go to war. Republicans generally
supported the war option.
Leading the Democratic resistance were Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia
and House majority leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, both
prominently mentioned as potential White House candidates in '92.
Although Mr. Bush narrowly won the struggle in Congress, the bulk
of Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill was lined up against him,
including several people besides Senator Nunn and Mr. Gephardt who
might like his job - Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, Sen. Paul
Simon of Illinois, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, Rep. Patricia
Schroeder of Colorado, Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. of Delaware, and Sen.
Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
Outside Capitol Hill, other leading Democrats also took shots at
Bush's move toward war, especially his insistence that he could make
war without congressional approval.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson warned earlier that "if Mr. Bush
unilaterally disregards the role of Congress in this deliberative
process, he must face the challenge of impeachment."
And in New York state, Gov. Mario Cuomo, another possible '92
Democratic presidential candidate, scoffed at Bush's previous claims
that he could go to war without authority from Congress.
However, two other Democrats with possible designs on the White
House, Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of
Tennessee, supported the president.
Depending on the outcome in the Gulf, the die seems cast for
sharp clashes in next year's campaigns - first, in the Democratic
primaries, then in the general election.
The forthrightness of Democratic opposition to a Gulf war
indicates that the party is stiffening its resolve after years of
suffering from its "soft on defense" image at the polls.
McGovern hurt Democrats on war
Ever since 1972, when George McGovern led Democrats to one of
their worst defeats with his opposition to the Vietnam War, the
party has taken a beating among voters on defense issues.
But Nunn, a strong advocate of defense, provided Democrats with
both intellectual firepower and ideological cover to resist the
president's rush toward the war option after Jan. 15.
"President Bush, Congress, and the American people are united
that (Saddam Hussein) must leave Kuwait," Nunn told his colleagues.
"We differ on whether these goals can best be accomplished by
administering pain slowly with an economic blockade, or by dishing
it out in large does with military power. …