A proven link between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terror network would give President Bush authority to remove Saddam Hussein by force, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.
Such a connection, Sen. Joseph Biden said, would satisfy requirements of September's legislation that authorized all force necessary to retaliate against Al Qaeda and any of its sponsors.
The war in Afghanistan, which has ended the rule of the Taliban militia and dispersed Al Qaeda's top leaders, is being fought under those rules.
Biden was asked on Fox News Sunday whether Iraq's president could face a similar fate if he were found in league with Usama bin Laden's terrorists. Speaking of Bush, Biden said: "If he can prove that, yes, he would have the authority in my view."
Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the Senate Foreign Relations committee, pointed out later, however, that the resolution Biden referred to "spells out clearly what type of links" were covered and that Biden had not meant to suggest that any "mere link" by some tenuous definition would be covered.
In any case, Biden said it would be advisable for the president to seek a specific resolution before using force against Iraq — if there is time — "and I believe he would get one."
"The president has the authority right now if, in fact, he has reason to believe that we're under a threat of imminent attack. No one's has made that case yet," said Biden, D-Del.
"And this will be the first time ever in the history of the United States of America that we have essentially invaded another country pre-emptively to take out a leadership, I think justifiably given the case being made."
Another powerful committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., counseled caution while endorsing the idea that "we continue to make it clear that we would like Saddam out of there." On CNN's Late Edition, Levin he said proof of Iraqi complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks should be necessary before Iraq were attacked.
Also, "our rhetoric has got to be much more complex, our thought processes more complex," said Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There are a lot of real problems here, and the first ones to recognize that ... are the uniformed military leaders, who are very cautious. Much more cautious than the president's rhetoric."
As late as mid-June, Biden also was advocating caution in Bush's plans for Iraq. After one meeting with Bush, Biden said he told the president: "There's a reason why your father stopped and didn't go to Baghdad" after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. His advice, Biden said, was to make certain that a plan is first in place to keep the important Middle Eastern state from splintering in a post-Saddam vacuum.
Although now an avid proponent of getting rid of Saddam, Biden has not changed his views on what must follow him. Biden said he plans committee hearings "to lay out the question of 'What is the nature of the threat? How immediate is the threat? What's the threat of inaction? And what happens the day after we take down Saddam?' These are major, major issues."
Unlike Afghanistan, where U.S. forces took minimal losses in achieving their mission in weeks, Iraq is an extremely sophisticated country, Biden said.
If "we go in and take out Saddam, and we don't decide to stay there and help reconstruct a situation that's stable, then we may be worse off than we were before," Biden said.
"We may very well find ourselves where there's real chaos. ... You may find yourself ... in a world of hurt. And we better figure it out before we walk in there."