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Democrats Who Opposed War Move Into Key Positions

Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), left, and Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), shown at a recent Capitol Hill hearing, voiced objections to invading Iraq during House debate in 2002. They said that they were concerned about the war's aftermath in Iraq.
Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), left, and Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), shown at a recent Capitol Hill hearing, voiced objections to invading Iraq during House debate in 2002. They said that they were concerned about the war's aftermath in Iraq. (By Evan Vucci -- Associated Press)

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006

Although given little public credit at the time, or since, many of the 126 House Democrats who spoke out and voted against the October 2002 resolution that gave President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq have turned out to be correct in their warnings about the problems a war would create.

With the Democrats taking over control of the House next January, the views that some voiced during two days of debate four years ago are worth recalling, since many of those lawmakers will move into positions of power. They include not only members of the new House leadership but also the incoming chairmen of the Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget and Judiciary committees and the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, was one of several Democrats who predicted during the House floor debate that "the outcome after the conflict is actually going to be the hardest part, and it is far less certain." He credited his views in part to what he heard over breakfasts with retired generals Anthony C. Zinni and Joseph P. Hoar, both of whom had led the U.S. Army's Central Command -- a part of which is in Spratt's district.

"They made the point: We do not want to win this war, only to lose the peace and swell the ranks of terrorists who hate us," Spratt said.

Spratt recently looked back at his resolution, which would have required Bush to come back to Congress before launching an attack. It was defeated 270 to 158. He recalled that extended hearings were held before the Persian Gulf War but that nothing similar preceded the vote on the 2002 resolution. "I remember we talked this time about how we got to get answers before this train leaves the station," Spratt said.

The incoming Armed Services chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), spoke in support of Spratt's amendment, stressing the need for "a plan for rebuilding of the Iraqi government and society, if the worst comes to pass and armed conflict is necessary."

Skelton had written Bush a month earlier, after a White House meeting, to say that "I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq's forces and remove Saddam. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it."

Skelton went on to note the "extreme difficulty of occupying Iraq with its history of autocratic rule, its balkanized ethnic tensions and its isolated economic system." He also warned that Bush's postwar strategy must "take seriously" the possibility that a replacement regime "might be rejected by the Iraqi people, leading to civil unrest and even anarchy."

Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), who will chair the Appropriations Committee, was among the group that organized the Democrats. He spoke then about poor preparation for postwar Iraq, a concern he developed after listening to State Department officials.

He recalled recently that an amendment by Rep. Barbara T. Lee (D-Calif.) that would have delayed taking action until inspectors from the United Nations completed their work "made sense, but there was no prayer it would pass." It got 72 votes.

Obey said Spratt's amendment was the only approach "that could gather critical mass, and that's what most of us in the caucus settled on."

The number of House Democrats who supported Spratt "was a remarkable achievement," Obey said, "given it meant opposing the president in the wake of 9/11." Obey's district was 70 percent in favor of going into Iraq, he said.


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