Union Tribune

March 18, 2003

In face of war, Ohio politicos tense

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — The imminent war against Iraq has even its supporters uneasy.

Rep. Ralph Regula acknowledged he’s uncomfortable, while Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine called invading Iraq a “high-risk operation.”

“Look, I don’t think George Bush is totally certain, but he’s got to make a decision,” said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. “Nothing in life is ever certain. But I think the president is making a decision based on information that he has, that I do not, because he has the CIA briefings and so on.”

DeWine views military action as the lesser of two evils, he said after a televised speech from President Bush on Monday night. The other option is allowing Iraq to continue to develop biological and chemical weapons.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in a war, you never know,” said DeWine, a Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “has chemical and biological weapons, which he certainly can use against our troops.”

The aftermath of the war, including the effect on peace and stability in the Middle East, is also uncertain, DeWine said.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, also supports the war, and he has no second thoughts about the course taken by Bush.

Ney said Bush has done everything possible to get Iraq to disarm without the use of force. He also criticized France, Germany and Russia, which oppose war.

“If they wanted to avert war, they should have told him (Hussein) to get out (of Iraq). And they didn’t. They did nothing,” he said.

Ney traces the need to disarm Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Although there is no proof that Iraq was involved in that attack, Ney said Hussein is a direct threat.

“We know that Saddam Hussein has played hide-and-seek with us,” he said. “If we don’t stop him now, he will start something over there because he’s insane. That will launch us into World War III.”

Ney, Regula and DeWine are among a majority of congressmen and senators, most of them Republican, who voted to authorize force against Iraq last year.

The area’s Democratic congressmen remain opposed to war.

“I would have liked to have seen inspections continue for a longer period of time,” said Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville. In his view, Iraq is not yet an “imminent” threat to the United States.

Although he believes Iraq must be disarmed, Strickland said he is “not yet convinced the only way or best way to accomplish that is by conducting a pre-emptive war.”

But once the fighting begins, he added, “I think it’s imperative for me to have one concern, and that is to fully support the young men and women that we are asking to put their lives on the line for us.”

Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, and Tim Ryan, D-Warren, have opposed war, but were unavailable to react to the president’s speech.

Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican who voted to authorize force against Iraq, planned to mull over the Bush speech before commenting on it, a representative said.

The primary fear for many lawmakers is that Iraq would use chemical and biological weapons against the

United States or sell them to terrorists.

These weapons are “easily transported, and a small volume can do enormous damage,” said Regula, who as chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee has questioned federal officials about a possible biological or chemical attack. “It could be devastating.”

As chairman of the House Administration Committee, Ney has helped oversee efforts to protect the Capitol from terrorists. War against Iraq would increase the risk of a terrorist attack in Washington, intelligence experts said.

“We don’t have anything specific” in the way of evidence the Capitol would be attacked, Ney said. But he added, “In the last month or month and a half, we’ve re-evaluated everything” in preparation for war.

In the past, Regula has emphasized the importance of building international support for action against Iraq. He also said last month that Congress should debate an attack on Iraq.

“I don’t think there’s been a lot (of debate) because I don’t think a lot of people want to talk about it,” he said Monday. “I don’t think they feel totally certain” about a war. “It’s not like having a bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor.”