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Describing the upcoming vote to authorize military force against Iraq as "the toughest vote I'll ever cast," House Majority Leader Dick Armey-a heretofore hesitant hawk who in August opposed preemptive action-now sounds prepared to back President Bush fully. Here are excerpts from his interview with WORLD:
On the Iraqi threat and preemptive use of force: Mr. Armey denounced Saddam Hussein as "an evil person who persecutes his own people and threatens his neighbors." He said this war "is not about territorial acquisition or conversion. It's not about trying to get another country to share our beliefs. This is about a very real threat. This is about someone [Saddam Hussein] who wants to harm, torture, murder, and cause the death of other people, and very intentionally wants to harm the American people."
Mr. Armey reports that he has just received excellent briefings from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "I am a lot more well informed about what assets Saddam Hussein has than I was when I spoke out in August. I'm the president's gas gauge. This summer, I had no hard information about the dangers Iraq posed. I was on 'empty' and I made it clear to the White House they had better 'fill it up' or they could not count on my vote. Since then, I've moved from empty to half full.... With some more briefings, I may be a gauge that leans in a different direction."
Mr. Armey recalls that he was also reluctant to attack Iraq in 1991 prior to serious consultations with President George H.W. Bush and thenÐ Defense Secretary Cheney. Ultimately, he voted in favor of the use of force. "I'm going through a similar process now. Up until now, the vote for Desert Storm was the hardest vote I'd ever cast. But this will be infinitely harder because it's about preemption, not reaction."
On Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's accusation that President Bush is politicizing the war on terrorism: "Tom Daschle-I've watched him as a fellow leader-and I can tell you he started making political calculations over Iraq from the very beginning. Daschle's the one politicizing everything. First, he was opposing military action against Iraq. Then he changed his position and said we should have the debate and vote fast so Democrats could get back to [domestic policy] subjects they were more comfortable with. Then they read some article ... that maybe they could differentiate between a war against Iraq versus the overall war against terrorism. That may be real cute. But the fact is the two are the same thing. They are the same multi-faceted threat. Iraq is clearly a primary staging platform and supply depot for the world's worst terrorists, and thus a war to deny them the leader and the weapons to cause terror is part of the war on terrorism."
On his party's prospects in the fall elections: "The biggest threat we face this November is low turnout of our base, particularly among Christian voters. I got elected in 1984 because of active, energetic Christians turning up at the polls to vote for me, not just for Ronald Reagan's reelection. When Christians stay home, we [Republicans] lose elections. I can tell you the Democrats will turn their voters out. But I'm not so sure about our base. We need to energize them, or we're in trouble."
On how his faith informs his decision-making: "In the daily business of my life, I always try to reconcile the positions I take with my responsibilities as a Christian ... and studying the Bible is not an insignificant part of my process. Freedom is a gift the Lord God Almighty has given to all people. We do not covet and have territorial designs [on Iraq]. We do not seek revenge. If we go to war, there has to be a noble cause that's consistent with biblical teaching."