WASHINGTON Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former Gov. Tony Knowles agree on one thing about Iraq. Given the information presented by the Bush administration in the fall of 2002, war was justified.
Given the information of today, however, the two candidates for U.S. Senate couldn't disagree more.
To Knowles, a Democrat, flaws exposed in the administration's case have stripped all legitimacy from the decision to invade Iraq and topple President Saddam Hussein's regime. To Republican Murkowski, plenty of justification for the war remains.
Former state Sen. Mike Miller, who is challenging Murkowski in the Republican primary, takes the same view. ''I believe Saddam meant to do harm to the U.S.,'' he said Thursday.
Green Party candidate Jim Sykes never bought such arguments and still doesn't.
Sykes wrote Alaska's congressional delegation in the fall of 2002, calling Bush's proposal to invade Iraq ''a half-baked plan that lacks justification.'' If there was danger, numerous other paths could have been taken, he said.
''Those options were never explored, so we can never know if those options would work,'' Sykes said last week.
Knowles said the only justification for a preventive war ''is if we are in imminent threat with concrete evidence.'' In addition, the legitimacy of striking first to protect U.S. allies, rather than the homeland itself, ''would depend upon the treaties and alliances that we have,'' he said.
In Iraq, in retrospect, the standard wasn't met, he said.
He quoted Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose widely praised war-fighting doctrine, based on lessons learned in Vietnam, has four parts: to go to war only when national security is threatened, to use overwhelming force, to possess public and international support and to have a solid exit strategy.
''I think it's clear we have failed on all four counts to comply with the lessons that we learned,'' Knowles said.
The administration estimated the cost of rebuilding Iraq at $1.5 billion, which would be paid for by Iraqi oil sales. Americans would be embraced as liberators, it said. The United States would act with broad international support. And Bush promised the United States would exit quickly after the war's end, Knowles said.
''All of those have turned out to be false,'' Knowles said. The reconstruction grants alone have cost U.S. taxpayers $20 billion, he said. Significant participation by other countries in the rebuilding is ''more of a figment of the imagination,'' Knowles said.
Murkowski, who arrived in the Senate after the vote authorizing Bush to invade Iraq, said she couldn't lay down criteria by which she might judge a such conflict.
''There is no magic formula there is no one, two, three and now we go in and declare a war,'' she said. ''It's not that simple. It is a cumulative analysis. It is a whole view, or whole perspective, of everything that is happening.''
The whole view of Iraq and Saddam Hussein was enough, and remains enough, to justify the war, she said.
It began with the United Nations resolutions demanding that Iraq reveal its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
''You had 17 different resolutions that had preceded this that had essentially laid out the groundwork for Saddam Hussein comply, show us that you're clean,'' Murkowski said.
Few weapons of mass destruction have turned up, but Murkowski isn't convinced that means they never were there.
The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said Thursday it found no evidence of collaboration between Iraq's government and the terrorists. But Murkowski said she still believes Iraq played a role.
''Iraq was an incubator for terrorist groups. They knew that they could be safe, or left alone or left to whatever they wanted to do in a place like Iraq with a dictator like Saddam Hussein,'' she said.
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