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Congressman Steny Hoyer defended his backing of the war in Iraq to about 100 constituents Tuesday at the Greenbelt Community Center during a two-and-a-half hour forum.
The 11-term Democratic Congressman said that while he has not supported many of the Bush Administration's international policies, he continues to stand behind Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Cautious not to appear as a "Bush apologist," Hoyer said it was appropriate for the president to seek backing from the United Nations, and that the failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on a resolution did not mandate a delay in military tactics. "The United Nations decided to not enforce its own judgment," Hoyer said. "In many ways, [it] made the world a more dangerous place."
Several audience members expressed their concerns that the adaptation of what they perceived as a preemptive strike doctrine sets a dangerous precedent.
Hoyer agreed, saying that an international adoption of such a policy would have grievous consequences, but insisted that the United States acted to forestall a global threat.
Hoyer said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last month that since the adoption of Resolution 1441 by the international community, United States and British warplanes patrolling the southern no-fly zone have been fired at more that 200 times. "I reject any assertion that an armed initiative against Iraq at this time is the implementation of such a preemptive strike," Hoyer said at the time, but rather "a response to military provocation repeatedly taken by Iraq." He added that a military campaign was an enforcement measure designed to foster "peace and security."
While the majority of the audience members commended Hoyer Monday for his candidness and ability to avoid terse political rhetoric, few reacted genially to his position that the United States has a moral obligation to confront human rights violations throughout the world.
"You are my representative, but you do not represent me," Adelphi resident Ann Stoddard told the Democratic Whip.
"You can tell me what to vote," Hoyer replied, "but you cannot tell me what to think."
At one point in the discussion, Hoyer said the death of an Iraqi citizen was unfortunate but he did not waiver in his position on the war.
"I believe in a robust foreign policy and confronting tyrannical governments," Hoyer told the crowd.
Others were more pragmatic in their opposition to the war. Takoma Park resident Alan Mattlage noted that while the United States has spent approximately $80 billion on this operation in addition to the $400 billion allotted by Congress last year for the military, many states including Maryland continue to struggle with budget shortfalls.
When Mattlage said that money would be better spent on health care, affordable housing and education, those gathered responded by stomping their feet, clapping their hands and whistling.
A handful of audience members who spoke in favor of the war were jeered. Jerry Dancis of Greenbelt said that the United States was justified in its action, and that the unfortunate death of Iraqi civilians would ultimately save more lives. "The casualties are considerably less than the number Saddam has inflicted in the past or would inflict if we allowed him to remain," Dancis said to boisterous objections.
In closing, Hoyer paraphrased the political theorist Edmond Burke.
"What [representatives] owe [their] constituents is our best judgment," he said.
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