The D.C. Council voted 10 to 3 last night to formally oppose U.S. military action in Iraq unless there is proof of an "imminent threat" to national security and widespread support from the international community for an attack.
The action, which supporters acknowledged had only symbolic value, came despite the reservations of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who questioned whether it was the role of city legislators to weigh in on a national foreign policy debate.
Crafters of the resolution said they had the responsibility to speak for residents of Washington, who would send federal tax dollars and soldiers to any war effort but, because of their lack of representation in Congress, had no say in last month's vote authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq.
"It's a great issue of our time," said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in an interview. "We're the legislative body for the District of Columbia. Our voices should be heard, particularly if our sons and daughters are going to be sent to foreign lands."
City councils in Takoma Park, Berkeley, Calif., Santa Fe, N.M., and several other cities also have passed resolutions opposing unilateral military action in Iraq. Similar resolutions are under discussion in Madison, Wis., and Baltimore.
The resolution, drafted by council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) in conjunction with the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank based in Washington, is to be sent to Williams, President Bush, the Congress and several associations of state and municipal officials.
Marcus Raskin, co-founder of the think tank, which is seeking to push the effort in other cities, said money spent on war would undercut funding for urban needs. "Cities have to be clear that they're the ones who are going to be paying for this war," he said.
The two-page text warns: "War waged unilaterally by any individual nation, including the United States, could set a dangerous precedent for preemptive warfare; violate international law and the principle of non-aggression among states; undermine the post-war system for resolution of disputes between nations; destabilize the Middle East; fuel more terrorist attacks; and undermine the moral authority of the war on terrorism."
The resolution urged Bush not to initiate war on Iraq, despite the approval of Congress, unless there is proof of an "imminent threat" to the United States, support from the international community, a comprehensive estimate of costs and a plan to rebuild Iraq politically and culturally after the war.
"Come on, let's get real here. He can't defend the country until he gets a cost estimate?" countered council member David A. Catania (R-At Large), who was joined by council members Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Harold Brazil (D-At Large) in opposing the resolution. "I don't want to be in a position to second-guess the president. For us to have to go through these hoops before we defend ourselves is very strange."
Because the vote was not a bill, it requires no action by Williams. But in an interview, he expressed reservations. "We weren't elected to do foreign policy, and I don't think we should be doing foreign policy," the mayor said. "What's that got to do with running the city?"
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said of the council vote, "That's obviously their prerogative. The president's views are very clear." She added that Bush considers launching war on Iraq a last resort for disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, warranted only after other means are exhausted.
Democrats hold a 10-1 registration edge in the District, and 11 of the 13 council members are Democrats. Yet the city must work closely with Bush and Congress, which has veto power over most actions of the D.C. Council.
Also yesterday, the council voted to revoke a plan -- approved last month -- to tax the proceeds on municipal bonds. The decision to tax the bonds was part of the $323 million fix to the city's budget, but bondholders lobbied to keep the tax exemption. The estimated $6.6 million the tax would have generated has been replaced by other revenue sources.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this article.