Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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November 7, 2002

Republican Success in US Congressional Elections Speeds Process of Moving to War Footing Against Iraq

Analysis. By GIS Staff. The resounding victory of the Republican Party in the November 5, 2002, US mid-term Congressional elections, giving control of the Senate back to the Republican Party of Pres. George W. Bush, and extending its control of the House of Representatives, is expected to allow for greater efficiency in resolving the proposed shape of the new Department of Homeland Security and speed up the process of US military action against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein.

However, the election victory gives the Bush Administration only two years to make meaningful gains in strategic and economic arenas before facing the next round of Presidential and Congressional elections. GIS analysts believe that the economic momentum has been moving to the point where — unless external factors, such as the war with Iraq and possibly other states interferes — the economic cycle should favor Pres. Bush in 2004.

But in the immediate sense, the November 5, 2002, elections provided an endorsement of the Bush Administration’s plans for decisive military action against Pres. Saddam. This would tend to favor the scenario, outlined by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on November 4, 2002, under which Coalition air strikes against Iraqi targets would start to escalate to a substantial operational tempo in the last week of November 2002, with the insertion of Coalition special forces into Iraq at around that time, with ground force operations beginning in early January 2003.

[See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, November 4, 2002: Preparations Indicate US Readiness for Conflict With Iraq, Initiated by Air War, Starting Late November 2002.]

Even with Republican control of both houses of Congress, Pres. Bush was expected to still face strong debate on some key strategic issues, albeit with a general Congressional support of Administration strategies. In the meantime, however, the current Congress will return for at least two more weeks of its final session with the priority of passing the budget. But there will be changes in the Senate even before the new Congress takes office. The death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone in an air crash in Minnesota on October 25, 2002, led to the appointment of a replacement senator to serve out the remainder of Mr Wellstone’s term. Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura on November 4, 2002, named independent Dean Barkley to fill the seat.

This has immediate ramifications. The Senate was divided 50 to 49 between the Democrats and Republicans respectively, with one independent. That meant that the majority party — the Democrats — controlled the chairmanship of Senate committees. The death of Sen. Wellstone and the appointment of an independent meant that the Senate moved to a 49:49 seat basis with two independents, with the Republican Vice-President of the US (and President of the Senate), Dick Cheney, casting the controlling vote. This, in effect, gave the Republicans control of the Senate and the right to name committee chairmen, and with Republican Sen. Trent Lott moving to the position of Senate Majority Leader, replacing Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle.

This could have some effect on how the budget and other issues move through the Senate in November 2002, seen as the critical period building up to the conduct of war operations against Iraq. In any event, the last session of Congress is a “lame duck” session, and, especially given the Bush Administration’s victory in the Congressional mid-terms, it was not expected that the President’s initiatives on any major issue could easily be stalled.

The opening session of the new Congress, in early 2003, however, was expected to also signal the start of serious discussion on issues of domestic terrorism — the Homeland Security matter — and defense.