Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Coalition forces took control of key government buildings in the heart of Baghdad Wednesday to the cheers of thousands of Iraqis. Some U.S. lawmakers watched in awe as the event unfolded, but others - who had criticized President Bush for the preemptive strike on the Iraqi dictator - were notably silent.
After Iraqis damaged the base of a statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad Wednesday with a sledgehammer, U.S. forces draped a chain around the statue's neck and pulled it from its 40-foot concrete pedestal. Hundreds of Iraqis responded by beating the statue with their shoes - an extreme insult in Arab culture - and climbing on top of it, stomping on the likeness of Saddam Hussein's face.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said President Bush "deserves tremendous credit for freeing the Iraqi people."
"Without his principled leadership, the tyrant Saddam Hussein would still rule Iraq, and the people of Iraq would still live in fear," Hastert said in a statement. "This is a great moment for the American people, but the Iraqi people are the biggest winners today."
Hastert said he could not help but recall the fall of the Berlin Wall as he watched the Iraqi people - with the help of U.S. troops - tear down Hussein's statue.
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was late to a hearing on homeland security Wednesday morning because he was watching television coverage of the events.
"Some have predicted that this action would create a hundred Osama bin Ladens," Smith recalled. "I think today, on the streets of Baghdad, there are tens of thousands of new freedom fighters."
He had high praise both for American troops and for President Bush.
"And I for one am thankful that we have a military that is as capable as this and a commander-in-chief who had the courage not to listen to Hollywood or the New York Times or the French," Smith said to laughter and applause from his colleagues.
Notably silent, however, are leading Democrats who criticized Bush for launching the military action.
One example is Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. As CNSNews.com previously reported, Kucinich questioned the motives of the Bush administration in a speech on the House floor last week.
"I believe this war is not about defending the United States from the threat of Iraq, this war is not about the U.S. trying to save or liberate the Iraqi people, this war is not about an Iraqi nuclear threat," he said.
"This war must end now," Kucinich continued. "It was unjust when it started two weeks ago, and it is still unjust today."
Calls to Kucinich's office were not returned Wednesday.
A spokesman for Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) - who said, "They don't care down at the White House about whether we have disarmament or not, they want to go to war" - said the congressman's schedule was "too full" to grant a request for a two-minute telephone interview, as did the office of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), another vocal critic of the war and the Bush administration.
Jay Carson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told CNSNews.com Wednesday that the South Dakota Democrat was "extremely pleased by the images that he saw on television today."
But Daschle drew fire March 17 when he called the president's decision to use military force a failure.
"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war," Daschle said in a speech to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country."
Despite that statement, Carson argued that it would not be correct to characterize Daschle as having changed his mind.
"He's always, from the very beginning of this, and even before, been in favor of regime change in Iraq," Carson said of Daschle, "and he's very pleased to see that that goal appears to be close at hand, and that it is being so well received, at least from what we can see on television, that it is being so well received by the Iraqi citizens."
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) told CNSNews.com that Kucinich, Daschle and others have several apologies to make.
"The people who really were overboard, and that would be people who made outrageous statements and slams of the president should, first of all, apologize to our troops, apologize to our military leaders and, indeed, apologize to the president and the secretary of defense and, also, our secretary of state," Wilson said.
"Comments were made that were really beyond the normal discourse of disagreement and certainly were not what I would call civil disagreement," he added.
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