MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Sen. Max Baucus on Wednesday called for a change of course in Iraq, saying the decision to enter that country was “mistaken.” “If we knew then what we know now, I would not have voted for the war,” he said on the Senate floor. “If we knew then what we know now, I believe that results of that vote would have been different.” Baucus voted to authorize force in Iraq in 2002. Last year, his nephew, Phillip E. Baucus, was killed while serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. “I have received an outpouring of letters, e-mails, and phone calls,” Baucus said. “Montanans are split on how America should proceed. But one thing is clear They all want to see an end to it.” He said the theory that America could establish democracy in Iraq that would spread through the region has proven a “cruel joke” and added that he would not support Bush’s proposal to add troops there. In a prime-time address to the nation Wednesday, Bush said he was increasing U. S. troops by 21,500 to quell the country’s near-anarchy. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me,” Bush said. He pushed back against the Democrats’ calls to end the unpopular war. He said “to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear that country apart and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.” The state’s other senator, Democrat Jon Tester, agreed with Baucus that an increase in troop levels is not an appropriate course. “Staying the course by escalating this war only spells disaster,” Tester said in a statement. Tester said the solution for Iraq does not only lie with the military. “Switching to political and diplomatic solutions involving our allies in the region is not a defeatist strategy, but instead an appropriate course for a war of this complexity and magnitude,” Tester said. “We have already lost too much blood because of an administration that will not admit when it is wrong.” Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, the state’s only member of the House, was less forthcoming, saying Bush’s new strategy must sink in with Congress before any judgments can be made. “I want to hear him out and I want to analyze what he says,” Rehberg said just before the speech. He said Bush is attempting to fix the problem of Iraq, and Congress’s duty is to oversee his solution. Congress will also figure out how to pay for the new plan, he said. Though Rehberg said “the initial plan did not accomplish the goals as quickly or as effectively as Congress intended,” he said he stands by his vote to authorize force in 2002. “I’m not going to second guess my Decision,” he said. In his floor speech, Baucus said the nation should be spending more of its resources on catching Osama Bin Laden. “The administration was not up front with us,” he said. “They presented faulty intelligence and inaccurate information about weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, the quality of Congress’s decision-making was no better than the quality of the information upon which we relied.” Baucus said he understands and sympathizes with Americans who support the war “because they do not want their family and friends to have died in vain.” He said he struggled when his nephew was killed. “Phillip was a bright and dedicated young man,” Baucus said. “He was like a son to me. He had a loving wife and a bright future. His death was devastating.” Baucus said he knows what it is like to greet the body of a fallen soldier, and what it’s like “to pray for a reason, and to become determined not to lose.” Baucus proposed several ways to change the country’s strategy in Iraq, including training Iraqis to stand up for themselves and not escalating the conflict. In addition, he said, the United States should engage Iraq’s neighbors and the world community. “Our resources are incorrectly being exhausted in Iraq,” he said. “I cannot go back and change that vote. But I can work on this new direction.” After the speech, Baucus said he has been thinking about speaking out on the war for months. He said his nephew’s death factored into his thoughts but did not shift his position on the war. “I think it sharpened my thinking, I don’t think it changed it,” Baucus said.