Among the members of Congress assembled for President Bush's speech last night were Maryland legislators who were painfully divided, along policy more than partisan lines, when the fateful decision was made approving the use of force against Iraq.
Rep. Tom McMillen, a Democrat, in support of the president, said there was no evidence economic sanctions would remove Iraq from Kuwait and warned that postponement of the Jan. 15 use-of-force deadline would allow the Iraqi dictator to conserve his military strength and risk the erosion of world support for the whole enterprise.
Strong opposition to the president's plan came from Rep. Kweisi Mfume, also a Democrat, who warned Congress not to authorize "the death of thousands of American soldiers" and deplored "the rush into chaos and uncertainty."
Between these two positions, Maryland legislators ranged from the pro-administration stands of two Republican representatives, Helen Delich Bentley and Wayne Gilchrest, and one Democrat, Beverly Byron, to the anti-administration stands of the state's two Democratic senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, Republican Rep. Constance Morella, and two Democratic congressmen, Benjamin L. Cardin and Steny H. Hoyer.
Mr. Sarbanes suggested that he would have trouble explaining the death of any Americans in the conflict because "I do not believe that any of us will be able to say that the United States exhausted every possibility for a peaceful solution." Mr. Hoyer contended that the threat to use force would make Saddam Hussein less rather than more ready to get out of Kuwait. Warning of "horrendous casualties," Senator Mikulski was skeptical of "assurances that a surgical strike will end the war in a few days." Mr. Cardin wondered if the coalition would hold together if there was a resort to force. Ms. Morella urged that "every possible alternative" to force should be explored.
Backing Mr. Bush, Mr. Gilchrest predicted that a credible threat of force "in all likelihood will not be needed nor will it be used." Ms. Bentley said troops on the front line wanted Congress to support the president. Mr. Byron said she saw no indication, in light of Saddam's aggressiveness, that "delaying military options will achieve our goals."
On Tuesday, the House voted 410 to 8 to commend the president's "unerring judgment" in the gulf war. No Marylanders voted in the negative.