Thursday, August 19, 2004

Bereuter: War in Iraq not justified

BY DON WALTON /Lincoln Journal Star

In a dramatic departure from the Bush administration, Republican Rep. Doug Bereuter says he now believes the U.S. military assault on Iraq was unjustified.

"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action," Bereuter wrote in a letter to constituents in the final days of his congressional career.

That's especially true in view of the fact that the attack was initiated "without a broad and engaged international coalition," the 1st District congressman said.

"Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial WMD (weapons of mass destruction) arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified."

As a result of the war, he said, "our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened."

Bereuter is a senior member of the House International Relations Committee and vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

His four-page letter represented a departure from his support for a 2002 House resolution authorizing the president to go to war.

His vote to authorize the use of military force - even pre-emptive force - was based on faulty, or misrepresented, intelligence that led to the fear Saddam Hussein would share weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, Bereuter said.

"Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," he said.

In a floor statement accompanying his 2002 vote, Bereuter urged that the international coalition be broadened and the administration adequately plan for the consequences of war and not divert resources from the battle against al-Qaida and the stabilization of Afghanistan.

Despite acknowledged intelligence failures and failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, President Bush continues to forcefully argue the war was justified because Saddam represented a threat to the United States, his neighbors and the people of Iraq.

While criticizing the manner in which the administration went to war, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has said he still would have voted for the authorizing resolution knowing what he knows today.

Bereuter pointed to a list of negative consequences arising from the war.

"The cost in casualties is already large and growing," he said, "and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible.

"From the beginning of the conflict, it was doubtful that we for long would be seen as liberators, but instead increasingly as an occupying force.

"Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess, and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world."

Bereuter sent the letter to constituents who have contacted him about the war.

"I felt I should send you a forthright update of my views and conclusions on that subject before I leave office," he said.

Bereuter will depart the House after 26 years to become president of the Asia Foundation on Sept. 1.

Congress and the administration "must learn from the errors and failures" related to the attack and its aftermath, he said.

"The toll in American military casualties and those of civilians, physical damages caused, financial resources spent, and the damage to the support and image of America abroad all demand such an assessment and accounting."

In addition to "a massive failure or misinterpretation of intelligence" concerning weapons of mass destruction, Bereuter said, the Bush administration made a number of errors in prosecuting the war despite warnings about the consequences.

"American and coalition forces were inadequate in number to take effective control of Iraq when the initial military action was completed," he said.

Other mistakes included disbanding the Iraqi army and placing responsibility for reconstruction with the Department of Defense instead of the Department of State, he said.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or



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