restricted access Chapter 28. Voting for War
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v v CHAPTER 28 Voting for War C asting a vote to send troops into war is historically one of the most dreaded decisions for an elected official. It was the one I faced when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. President Bush deployed US troops to Saudi Arabia in a mission called Operation Desert Storm. Twelve other countries sent naval forces, joining the United States and Saudi Arabia. Congress was given several classified briefings from the Pentagon, and it became pretty clear that we were going to war. Several members of Congress gathered to fly to Saudi Arabia for more briefings and to meet with the troops. I was one of them. A car from the Pentagon picked me up at my condo to drive me to Andrews Air Force Base. The members and I boarded the same Boeing 707 jet that took President Kennedy to Dallas in 1963 and then brought his casket back to DC. The plane was light blue and white with the presidential seal on the sides. On the long flight to Dublin, Ireland, I sat in a high-­ backed leather chair that had a pipe holder bolted to the armrest that had been used by President Kennedy. On the back of the chair was a hat rest that had been used by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for his cowboy hat. It was on that plane that LBJ took the oath of office when he became our thirty-­ sixth president. After a brief stop in Dublin to refuel, we flew on to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where we spent the night in one of King Salman’s many palaces. My room was huge, with bright-­ red carpet and high ceilings. I lay in the bed, stared at the huge crystal chandelier, and thought, This sure ain’t Boys Ranch. The next day we were taken to the US headquarters for Voting for War • 287 Desert Shield, where generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf briefed us. Their most disturbing report was the very real threat of the chemical weapons Saddam Hussein had at his disposal. He had used chemical agents on the Kurds in northern Iraq during a 1987–­ 88 campaign known as Anfal. During that time, thousands of people were killed, thousands were left with severe skin and respiratory diseases and abnormal rates of cancer and birth defects, and the environment was destroyed. There was a very good possibility that Hussein might use his chemical weapons on US troops, so our first action was to mount air strikes to knock out chemical plants or potential storage facilities for chemical weapons. While we were in the Persian Gulf, we asked to visit our troops on the front lines. Our request was eventually granted, and a large helicopter , surrounded by other helicopters for protection, transported us to a base in the desert. We were in the air for a little over an hour. I was sitting next to the gunner, who had his weapon pointing out the open door. He tapped me on the shoulder and pointed down to the desert to show me the base. I could not even make it out—­ it was camouflaged so well. We went to the command center and met with several officers, who expressed their concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons—­ an invisible threat. Every soldier had a gas mask and wore protective gear. We had lunch with the troops in a large tent, and I asked the commander if I might speak to the soldiers from Texas. He made the arrangements, and I met with ninety-­ four soldiers from my state. I passed around a large yellow legal tablet and asked each of the soldiers to write down his or her family’s contact information, and I told them that I would contact their families when I returned to the States. I asked how they were doing and if there was anything they needed. They were most appreciative that I was going to call their loved ones. On the plane back to Andrews Air Force Base, I thought about all those young soldiers and wondered how many of them would survive this war. The briefings indicated that the number of casualties could 288 • The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch be very high. I couldn’t sleep, thinking about voting to send many of those young men and women into war—­ and to their deaths. When I got back to the States, I called everyone on the list. I talked...


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