As President Bush presses Congress for authority to attack Iraq, the issue is taking a higher profile in Minnesota's U.S. Senate campaign. DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone says he expects the Senate will vote next week on a White House resolution that would give President Bush authority to act against Iraq. Wellstone says any action against Iraq should not be executed unilaterally by the United States. Wellstone's Republican challenger Norm Coleman says Congress should give President Bush the resolution he's seeking. Coleman says with Congress on record as being behind President Bush, the U.S. would be in a better position to bring together other countries to crackdown on Iraq.
Coleman made his case for Congress getting behind President Bush at a news conference at the American Legion in Bloomington. Standing before a group of supporters, many of them veterans, Coleman called Saddam Hussein the "world's worst terrorist leader," and said Hussein poses a grave threat to the world.
"Saddam is a menace. His menace grows with each passing day. History will judge us harshly if knowing what we know, we fail to act with bipartisan solidarity to prevent the death of hundreds of thousands," he said.
At an MPR State Fair debate less than a month ago, Coleman said President Bush needed to make a case for war with Iraq to the nation. Coleman now says the president has made that case, not only to the American people but to the world through his United Nation's speech.
Yet, while Coleman says Congress should give President Bush authority, he stopped short of saying the White House should move against Iraq outside of United Nations channels. Coleman dismissed numerous questions on that issue as hypothetical.
"Yes we need international support, but international support begins by uniting here at home, by recognizing the threat and showing the world that we are willing to confront it. Uniting an international coalition starts with uniting here at home and that's the message our Congress needs to send," Coleman said.
Coleman did not mention Wellstone during his speech. He has, however, frequently criticized the Democrat for his votes against military spending. Coleman's also gone so far as to say that had Congress been of Wellstone's mindset, more Americans would have been killed in Afghanistan because the U.S. military would not have been well equipped.
A recent ad paid for by the state Republican Party accuses Wellstone of voting to devastate the military.
Outside the American Legion where Coleman made his remarks, several Wellstone supporters who are veterans stood holding green and white Wellstone campaign signs. Some complained about not being allowed into the Legion hall.
Fatigue-wearing Army and Air Force veteran Rock Rochelle did get inside. He approached Coleman after the candidate's remarks to defend Wellstone, only to be shouted down by several Coleman supporters, including Joe Repya, who's also a veteran.
"I know the facts better than you," Rochelle said.
"We have soldiers and sailors and airmen whose families are on foot stamps today because of the actions of Sen. Wellstone," countered Repya.
Speaking later to reporters, Wellstone said he does not view Iraq as the imminent threat that Coleman does. Wellstone says there's no evidence linking Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks, nor is there evidence, he says, that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Wellstone says expects when the White House use-of-force resolution comes up in Congress, it will be modified to more closely focus on Iraq -- not the entire Middle East.
Wellstone declined to say whether he would support a resolution of narrower scope, but made it clear he thinks the U.S. should not go at it alone.
As much as Coleman fears not acting against Saddam Hussein could destabilize parts of the world, Wellstone says he fears taking unilateral action could have far-reaching negative implications.
"We should call on the United Nations to act. I think they will. I think the Security Council is going to move forward. I think it would be far better if we did not do this alone. I think in terms of consequences in South Asia and the Near East making sure that we have allies in the war against terrorism. We don't want to do this alone. We want to do this with the international community and that's where the focus should be."
Wellstone insists Minnesotans do not want the Iraqi issue bandied about as a campaign issue and instead want him, as their senator, to make a deliberative, honest policy decision.
Coleman says he felt obligated to speak out on the issue because he's a candidate for the U.S. Senate.More from MPR