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http://www.latimes.com/news/nationw...6aug16,0,6814917.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Background?

Letter From Leaders Assails Bush's Middle East Policies
By Peter Spiegel
Times Staff Writer

5:28 PM PDT, August 15, 2006

In an effort to counter a mounting White House campaign to depict its Middle East policies as critical to the nation's safety from terrorist attacks, 21 former generals, diplomats and national security officials will release an open letter tomorrow arguing that the administration's "hard line" has undermined U.S. security.

The letter comes as President Bush has made a series of appearances and statements, including a visit Tuesday to the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., seeking to promote the administration's record on security issues in advance of November's midterm congressional elections.

The rhetoric has increased since last week's Democratic primary in Connecticut, in which anti-war candidate Ned Lamont defeated three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman to become the party's Senate candidate -- a victory that senior administration officials are describing as a sign that Democrats are embracing their party's extreme left. Politics of war is a 'Republican tactic', yeah. Right.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, one of the signers of the letter and a former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara in the 1960s, said the group was particularly concerned about administration policies toward Iran, believing them to be a possible prelude to a military attack on suspected nuclear sites in that country.

Gard said the letter's signers -- who will include retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, head of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994, and Morton H. Halperin, a senior State Department and National Security Council official in the Clinton administration -- do not believe that Iran has the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon in the near term and will push the administration to open negotiations with Tehran on the issue.

"It's not a crisis," Gard said in a telephone interview. "To call the Iranian situation a 'crisis' connotes you have to do something right now, like bomb them."

He noted that Iran has in the past sought to open negotiations with the U.S. through Swiss intermediaries, efforts the letter-signers believe are worth exploring as a means of defusing tensions in the region.

But Gard said the administration appeared to be going in the opposite direction, adding that he was particularly concerned by recent warnings from former Israeli military officials that a strike against Iran may be needed to disable that country's nuclear program. He noted that the Bush administration's unabashedly pro-Israel stance during the recent conflict with Hezbollah was an indication that the White House may accede to such Israeli assessments.

"This administration is clearly so beholden to Israel that it raises the concern we might go along" with a military strike, he said.

Organizers of the letter-writing campaign said the White House's stepped-up efforts to belittle Democrats for seeking a timetable for withdrawing troops in Iraq may lead the signers to expand the letter to include criticism of the administration's Iraq policy. The letter is expected to call for a complete overhaul of U.S. policy toward both Iran and Iraq.
 

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