WASHINGTON – While it has been a particularly brutal political season, the old adage that politics stops at the water's edge appeared true Wednesday night.
Shortly after President Bush announced that the war had begun against Iraq, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed their support for the president's action.
“The highest responsibility our government has is to keep our people safe. I wish that it didn’t come to this. Nobody wishes for war. But, we must face the challenge of terrorism head on and I support our commander-in-chief and the American military at this critical time in that struggle,” said Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who as minority leader last year co-sponsored the Iraq resolution authorizing the president to take military action. Gephardt nonetheless hopes to challenge Bush in 2004.
"Make no mistake," said Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., another presidential contender. "Saddam Hussein alone has chosen war over peace. He has defied international law rather than disarm his weapons of mass destruction. Our world will be safer when he is gone."
"Any disagreements Americans may have had in the past should give way to our shared commitment to see this effort through. Our thoughts and prayers are with our soldiers, sailors and Marines in the field," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
"Just as on June 6, 1945, when American troops, joined by our British friends, embarked on a mission to free Europe from the evils of a despicable tyrant, today on March 19, 2003, American troops, joined by our British friends, have embarked on a noble mission to free the Iraqi people from an evil tyrant," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "I am proud of our president, our troops and our allies."
The president's decision to attack Iraq has stirred critical debate on Capitol Hill among those who would prefer to have the United Nations issue resolutions and weapons inspectors deal with Saddam Hussein and those who opt for a more hawkish approach. As recently as Wednesday, anti-war Democrats accused the president of deceiving the American people to wage an illegal war.
One anti-war legislator remained defiant even after the war began.
"Tonight, President Bush has commanded U.S. forces to go to war in violation of American traditions of defensive war that have lasted since George Washington. This war is wrong; it violates the Constitution and international law," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio
But any arguments against war were moot Wednesday night as the president announced that a surgical strike on Iraq's leadership had begun. Bush said U.S.-led forces launched airstrikes against "targets of military importance." Those targets were said to contain at least five top Iraqi leaders, according to intelligence officials.
The opening salvo was just the start of what is said to be the largest pre-emptive strike in U.S. history. Six thousand to 7,000 sites have been targeted in what has been termed a "shock and awe" campaign. Many see it as an opportunity to finish a job left undone in 1991.
"The international community has given Saddam Hussein 11 years and countless chances to cease his reign of terror and his tyrannical attacks on his own people and on neighboring countries. This week, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to disarm and leave Iraq," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "Saddam has ignored these demands and has continued amassing weapons of mass destruction, and we must confront the threat he poses."
Even those unwilling to throw support behind the president personally said they would back U.S. troops in the Middle East.
"We pray for the swift and successful disarmament of Iraq with the least possible loss of life among our forces and the civilians of Iraq. Congress will ensure our armed forces have the support they need to prevail in the difficult and dangerous mission in which they are now engaged," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Pelosi voted against the resolution last October to give the president authority to use military force and said as recently as Tuesday that she still opposes military action to remove Saddam.
"My prayers and thoughts are with our sons and daughters in uniform," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "We are awed by their sacrifice and their bravery, and we want them and their families to know that they have the profound respect and gratitude of every American. We pray for their safety and their success, and we will make sure that they have every necessary resource so that nothing stands between our troops and victory."
Acknowledging the political division, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said support must not waver for the soldiers.
"As a former pilot, my hope is that every pilot returns home safely. I lend my full support to our soldiers in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region. My thoughts and prayers also go out to the innocent civilians in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq and I hope that they too will be safe," Harkin said.
"The country may be divided on the need for this war in Iraq. Now we must support the men and women who are doing their duty following our commander-in-chief."