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City Council dives into foreign policy

By Scott Tibbs, February 12, 2003.

On February 5th, the Bloomington City Council voted 8-0-1 to pass a resolution opposing the war with Iraq at this time. The vote reminds one of the vote the council took in 1991 opposing the Gulf War during the first Bush Administration. Several speakers were met with applause, and the crowd exploded into cheers when the measure passed. The cheers got louder when Andy Ruff (D, at-large) put a thumbtack onto the map symbolizing that Bloomington had become the 67th city to pass such a resolution.

On the WGCL Afternoon Edition, several callers disagreed with this vote, while the hosts and other callers mocked the city council for their action. One person brought up the possibility of a Critical Mass in Baghdad or of Saddam Hussein conducting a tree-sit. Someone else suggested that Bloomington make Baghdad a “sister city”. (Bloomington already has a “sister city” in Cuba.)

It is true that the council’s action is of, at best, questionable effectiveness. The odds of President Bush or 8 of Indiana’s 9 members of the House of Representatives caring what the Bloomington City Council thinks about foreign policy is not high. U.S. Rep. Baron Hill may care to some extent because his district includes Bloomington and a large Democratic support base.

Some people argue that the city council should not even be addressing a resolution that does not directly affects city business. This was rationale Jason Banach (R, 2nd) used for passing on the resolution.

Banach’s position is reasonable. City council members are not elected to decide foreign policy, but to deal with matters such as budgets, planning and zoning, economic growth, and police and fire protection. Adding this resolution to the agenda lengthened the meeting well beyond the nearly two hours required to deal with other items on the agenda, including the approval of an economic revitalization area and discussion of funds for the Telecom Hotel. It could be argued that such a forum should not be sponsored by city government, but by a private organization.

It should be clarified that this resolution is the position of the city council, but not necessarily the position of the city of Bloomington. While those in attendance overwhelmingly favored the resolution, many in the community do not.

Some in he community are disappointed with Banach’s vote. One Republican I talked to described Banach’s vote as “gutless”. This isn’t a fair characterization. Banach knew the crowd was opposed to him, and there was pressure to make this a 9-0 vote. After Banach’s comments on why this resolution should not have been brought before the council, his vote to pass had the same effect as a “no” vote. Had he actually voted no, he would have contradicted his entire line of reasoning for opposing the resolution in the first place. He didn’t argue that the resolution was wrong, but that it isn’t city business.

Others argue that passing a resolution on an issue such as this, at a meeting attended by over 100 people, is part of the democratic process and provides a high-profile forum for an important debate. David Sabbagh (R, 5th) usually passes on these resolutions but voted for this one.

For a city council to pass a resolution on something like this isn’t unprecedented. City councils nationwide pass resolutions all the time on matters unrelated to city government. There isn’t any real harm in passing a resolution on something like the war in Iraq, so long as the resolutions are not so frequent as to hamper the council’s ability to get city business done. Indiana law allows local government to pass resolutions on matters unrelated to their statutory duties. Considering a resolution such as this allows for many views to be heard, and encourages people to participate in their government.

Not all of the arguments made on Wednesday night were reasonable. One speaker suggested that our safety doesn’t reside in our military strength, but with convincing our enemies that we don’t hate them. Hogwash. Our military strength acts as a deterrent to people who would do us harm. We have contained Iraq, North Korea and the former Soviet Union with the knowledge that military aggressiveness would result in unpleasant consequences. No matter how peaceful we try to be, there will always be people who hate us and wish to do us harm, which is why we need an effective military force for deterrent’s sake. As Ronald Reagan would say, “Peace through strength.”

As to the resolution itself, it may be a little presumptuous for the Bloomington City Council to take this position. Colin Powell said in a speech to the United Nations a few hours before the city council met that Iraq has links to al-Qaeda. It is legitimate to question the wisdom of a preemptive strike on Iraq due to their ambition to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The proposed military action isn’t a strike to cripple Iraq’s nuclear program, like the Israeli raid in 1981, but a full-scale invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and establish a democratic government. U.S. Rep. John Hostettler raised good points in his speech to the full House on October 8th encouraging his colleagues to vote against the authorization to use force in Iraq. If, however, Iraq is aiding the monsters responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center, an invasion of Iraq ceases to be a preemptive measure and becomes a measure of self-defense.

The possibility of war with Iraq will certainly continue to be a subject of much debate and discussion over the next few months, as well as during and after any conflict with Iraq. If nothing else, the resolution got people thinking about the war and whether or not it is a good idea.