Some Black Leaders Criticize Military Action
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A60
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus said yesterday they opposed the attack on Iraq and denounced President Clinton for making the decision without consulting Congress or working to build a consensus in the United Nations first.
The members of the caucus have been among Clinton's most loyal supporters throughout the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal this year, and several members said they would continue to support the president in his impeachment fight. But some of those members, upset by Clinton's decision to take military action, said even though they don't question the president's motivation, it may be difficult to convince others it was not politically influenced.
"We have to have the U.S. giving leadership in the U.N. and not deciding unilaterally who we should strike an offensive on," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
"The justification of sustainability, the loss of innocent lives and the question of proportionality remain a great concern of mine. President Bill Clinton will have to have the most comprehensive moral, rational and national security defense of his military action against Iraq in order to sustain his presidency," Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said in a statement.
The 38-member caucus has taken no official position on the bombings, and several members said they didn't know who opposed and supported the action. Only three members of the caucus, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Conyers, voted against the resolution of support on the House floor yesterday.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who opposes the attack, said she was angered by the suggestion of some Republicans that Clinton's decision was a craven attempt to delay his impeachment. Waters said she confronted one of those Republicans, Rep. Gerald B.éH. Solomon (N.Y.), on the House floor. "I told him that he made an unpatriotic statement in a time of crisis," she said yesterday. "What if I would have said something like that? Can you imagine what they would say about me?"
On CNN Wednesday afternoon, Solomon said of Clinton: "Never underestimate a desperate president."
At least one African American leader, Jesse L. Jackson, seemed to question the timing of the attack. On Wednesday, as the bombs began falling in Iraq, Jackson was participating in an online chat with Washington Post readers when one reader asked: "Do you condemn Bill Clinton for being willing to slaughter brown people as a political survival tactic, or is your cynicism equal to the task of ignoring this?"
Jackson answered: "The timing is very suspect and awaits a full explanation from the president. At this point we only know that the bombs are falling without an explanation. And because the time converges with the impending impeachment vote, it is very awkward timing and creates real suspicions."
And the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Jackson saying at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday: "There is a real burden on the White House to explain clearly to the American public why the bombing is taking place now."
Jackson spokesman Jerry Thomas denied that Jackson was questioning the president's motivations. Jackson, he said, was merely "speaking for the public" suggesting that many people would wonder about the timing. He stressed that Jackson's comments online and at the news conference came before Clinton explained himself on national television Wednesday night. "After the president spoke, he said that was a very clear explanation and certainly not a 'Wag the Dog' thing," Thomas said.
It's difficult to determine whether blacks differ markedly from whites on U.S. policy toward Iraq. None of the major overnight polls Wednesday night included samples of African Americans large enough to make an accurate determination. But in February, in a Washington Post poll, about 66 percent of whites and 49 percent of blacks said they would support bombing Iraq for continued refusal to allow arms inspectors access to sites.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) was critical of Clinton for "moving forward without [congressional] declarations" and said little would be accomplished by the bombings, which would kill innocent people. "If Saddam Hussein is this evil, ruthless person we say he is, why would he care how many people died," Rangel said. But he said he did not believe Clinton was motivated by protecting his political hide. "Now that would be an impeachable offense."
Reps. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) and James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) were among those who supported the attack. "I am a dove who can morph into a hawk when you mess with me," Hastings said. "This time I think [Saddam Hussein] has stepped across all the bounds. He is a clear and present danger to this nation."
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