What started out as a typical monthly luncheon for the Dulles Chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) quickly turned into a forum on possible military involvement in Iraq. The nearly 50 NARFE members at Herndon's Amphora Diner expected to hear U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8th) and U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-10th) address issues like taxes, health care and pensions, which they did. The two congressmen, however, reserved their strongest words, and most pointed policy disagreements, for the potential conflict with Iraq.
While nearly everyone at the Amphora on Monday afternoon had an opinion on Iraq, many said they were more interested in domestic issues during this mid-term election year. Herndon resident Paul Graham was one of them. He said he wanted the two congressman to talk about tax issues and the cost of living index, two issues especially important to retired workers. Across the table from Graham, Rosali Pauly of Reston, wanted the men to talk about Social Security benefits. She may have been disappointed.
Prior to the luncheon, some members, like Charles Wales of Herndon, were interested in hearing what the Washington politicians had to say about a possible war. "Honestly, I am not very enthused about attacking Iraq unilaterally," said Wales, retired from the federal government for 20 years. "I am interested in hearing what these guys have to say."
Wales did not have to wait too long.
<b>TAKING TURNS</b> at the podium, Wolf stressed his support for the group. He said he hoped Congress would reconvene in November to address many of the domestic bills popular with the retired federal workers. "To be honest, though, much of our attention and focus has been on the homeland security and defense appropriations bill," the Republican from Oak Hill said. "They are just dominating everything."
In response to a question about Iraq, Wolf said he was, at this time, prepared to vote in favor of the resolution giving the president authority to attack Iraq. "I share a lot of your concerns," Wolf told the group, adding that he was part of a congressional delegation that was on the Iraqi border four months ago.
"I went to the Pentagon and up to the World Trade Center site and I saw the impact 9/11 had on this community," he said. "If we have the ability to ensure that something like this never happens again, we can't ignore that."
While saying that he supported the president, Wolf made it clear that any decision would need to involve Congress. "The U.N. ought to be involved as well. My hope is the administration will make a sincere effort with the U.N. and our allies," Wolf said. "Hopefully, we will not have to go it alone. The president has to make a successful diplomatic effort and the administration has to say what will happen when it's over."
Wolf stressed that the decision would not be an easy one for any of the members. "It's a very difficult and very tough question," he told the audience, shortly before making his exit. "Each of us will have to search our hearts and once the vote is taken, we must be prepared to back it up."
<b>LIKE WOLF</b>, Moran reminded the group he, too, had been a longtime supporter of NARFE and of the issues most closely associated with federal workers.
Unlike Wolf, Moran said he would not favor the resolution on Iraq, as it is currently worded. Moran stressed the need for economic security, as well as national security. "The most important security," the six-term congressman said, "is to be able to provide for your family and not to be attacked from within or without. Economic security is equally important."
While urging military-led weapons inspections with "unfettered access," Moran cautioned against a rush to war. He said that Saddam Hussein had no capability to attack the United States. He also told the crowd that there was no precipitating act to warrant unilateral and preemptive force. "We need to protect ourselves, but we don't need to be an aggressor," he said. "We should be a model for the rest of the world. We should act with justice, equality and forethought."
The Alexandria Democrat said the best strategy for the Bush Administration would be to isolate Hussein. He speculated that Hussein was interested in consolidating power in the Middle East, not provoking a war with the United States. Moran said it is important not to turn the Iraqi leader into a martyr in other Arab states in the region. "The last thing he wants to do is attack the U.S. with a return address of Iraq," Moran said.
Moran cautioned that any potential war will likely be very different than the Persian Gulf War because of the president has said he favors a regime change in Iraq. During the Gulf War, the first Bush administration insisted their goal was only to remove Iraq from Kuwait. "If he knows he is going to be replaced, what does he have to lose?" Moran asked, adding that Hussein might attack Israel with weapons much more destructive than scud missiles, as he did in 1991. "If we insist on regime change, we do that knowing we face 10 years and $150 billion and we aren't sure what we are left with. Is that the best use of our money?"
Robert Beall, of Herndon, was disappointed that the two men spent so much time discussion Iraq. "We aren't here to fight the war," the retired U.S. Geological Survey worker said. "We have much better, and more important, things to worry about."