Harkin: Iraq war ousted paper tiger
By JANE NORMAN
Register Washington Bureau
04/11/2003 Washington, D.C. - The relatively quick fall of Baghdad shows that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a "paper tiger" rather than a major threat to world peace, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said Thursday.
"What we were told and what you saw in the press last fall and earlier this year is that he had a massive war machine," said Harkin, the most outspoken critic of the war in Iraq among members of the Iowa congressional delegation.
"It looks now like this was just a Third World country - there were people fighting with tennis shoes on, on the Iraqi side," Harkin told reporters. "I don't know what else we're going to find, but they didn't fly even one airplane in the air. They had almost nothing.
"So if they were that weak, where we could just roll over them like that, tell me again how he was such a big threat in the past?" the senator added.
Harkin voted for a congressional resolution authorizing use of force before last year's election, but earlier this year became increasingly critical of the move toward war, saying President Bush was not consulting enough with Congress or extending diplomatic efforts.
Harkin said officials might uncover definitive evidence of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam planned to employ. "But his ability to really do much - it looks like he was a paper tiger," Harkin said.
White House officials said that Saddam indeed was a threat, and that dangers in Iraq are far from over. Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said that "the progress of coalition forces has been nothing short of spectacular," but work remains.
President Bush authorized the use of force with great thought and care, consulting with Congress and trying to work through the United Nations, said Stanzel. "We know Saddam Hussein was working to acquire nuclear weapons" and stockpiled chemical and biological weapons, Stanzel said.
"The reason this action has been so successful thus far is because the United States has the best-trained, best-equipped and most capable military in the world," he added.
Harkin also downplayed the potential impact of the president's Iraq success on the 2004 elections, predicting that the war will be history by Election Day. Harkin is trying to shape the debate in the Democratic campaign through a series of forums in Iowa.
"There's always a little euphoria when you're successful in war," said Harkin. "But I think that's going to be tempered in coming weeks, months."
Harkin said some war-related debates and questions will continue. It will never be known whether there could have been a nonmilitary resolution to the standoff over weapons of mass destruction, and large debts will start coming due to pay for the war, beginning with the $75 billion supplemental spending bill under debate now, he said.
But the war will not dominate the presidential campaign, he said. "I think the big issue is going to be what's happening to people's daily lives - health care, lack of health-care coverage, the deficit, job creation, Social Security, prescription drug benefits," he said.