- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Two weeks before he retires, a senior Republican congressman who voted to go to war with Iraq now says the war was “a mistake.”

In a four-page letter to constituents who have asked about his position on the war, Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, a 13-term senior member of the House International Relations Committee, said the failure to find weapons of mass destruction has destroyed the case for war.

“Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam [Hussein] maintained a substantial WMD arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified,” he said.

The congressman, who is also a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the Bush administration has made a series of mistakes as it pursues the war.

“The administration received many warnings not to make those very errors. Perhaps the warning more frequently given by reputable sources was to avoid disbanding the Iraqi army, but to instead immediately reconstitute it,” he wrote. “Many of those Iraqi army personnel became insurgents or, at best, disenchanted.”

He also said the United States didn’t send enough troops to Iraq and that it was a “fundamental and predictable failure” to allow the Department of Defense to oversee reconstruction.

Mr. Bereuter said the war has turned into “a dangerous, costly mess,” though he sees no easy way to end the U.S. commitment.

His comments stand in stark contrast to his statement before the International Relations Committee when the resolution authorizing force was debated in October 2002. At that time, he said it was clear that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and had used chemical weapons.

“Is there any legitimate doubt that [Saddam] would be willing to use them again? There also is no legitimate reason to doubt that he has a significant stock of both chemical and biological weapons,” he said.

“The evidence is clear, too, obtained from numerous verifiable sources, that Saddam attempted to develop nuclear weapons in the past,” he said.

Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, didn’t return calls for comment. But the letter, first reported by the Lincoln Journal Star yesterday, didn’t go unnoticed by Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee e-mailed copies of the article to reporters.

Mr. Bereuter is retiring Aug. 31 to become president of the Asia Foundation.

In the race to succeed him, Democrat Matt Connealy has criticized the way President Bush went to war, but not the reasons for the war. Republican Jeff Fortenberry says he supports the president’s decision to go to war.

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