In an article published in the Grand Rapids Press on Monday titled “Ehlers voices second thoughts on war,” the Press cited Grand Rapids 3rd Congressional District Representative Vern Ehlers as saying that he now believes the war in Iraq was a mistake despite voting for a resolution authorizing the war in October of 2002. According to the Press, Ehlers described the decision as “a very difficult vote for me” and explained that his decision was based on faulty intelligence. He went on to state that “I think we should have been much more cautious” in deciding to invade Iraq, instead arguing that the United States should have used more diplomatic pressure. The article then describes Ehlers as one who “has long voiced reservations about the war,” specifically citing an two articles–one in September 2002 in which he said that “it is extremely serious business to go to war, and it should never be done lightly” and one in January of 2003 when he said was quoted regarding the likelihood that Iraq was on the verge of enriching uranium in which he stated “am I 100% sure… no, but there is substantial evidence.”
However, the way in which the article ends is misleading and portrays Ehlers as a reluctant supporter of the war when in fact he supported it early on and has continued to support the war by voting for every military spending bill. Ehlers has also refused to support a timetable for the withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq and voted in support of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. While the Press is correct in citing Ehlers statement in a September 5, 2002 article that war is “extremely serious business,” it failed to investigate how Ehlers followed through on concerns he raised at that time. In that September 5, 2002 article Ehlers raised a variety of issues concerning how the United States would aid postwar Iraq, the “unwritten rule to never assassinate a ruler of another country,” whether or not the United States is seeking to stop the distribution of WMDs or remove Saddam Hussein from power. Ehlers raised similar concerns a little over a week later on September 13, 2002 when he again raised the question of the legality of removing a leader from power by force. However, following a briefing on October 4, 2002 with senior government officials, Ehlers had concluded that “the evidence [that Iraq had WMD] is substantial enough to be frightening,” which Ehlers followed by voting in favor of a resolution supporting the use of force in Iraq despite the overwhelming majority of his constituents (50-to-1) opposing the use of military force. Ehlers justified his voted in a guest editorial (identical to his floor statement in Congress) raising the prospect of a nuclear attack in downtown Grand Rapids over Calder Plaza that would kill 300,000 people with a “blast [that] would devastate all of Grand Rapids and the near suburbs, a firestorm would consume the rest of the suburb and a lethal dose of radiation would envelop much of the downwind area.” By that time, his concerns about the use of preemptive force were more or less alleviated with Ehlers stating that he found that the administration views war “as a final alternative, not a first step. The Bush administration continues to work with the U.N. and our allies to build a coalition and seek a peaceful end to this situation through inspections and disarmament.”
According to a review of statements in the Grand Rapids Press and news releases from Representative Ehlers office, Ehlers raised concerns one additional time at a meeting with constituents opposed to the war in January of 2003. According to a Press article published on January 22, 2003, Ehlers said that he was not “100% sure” that Iraq had WMD and that he would like to see “something more substantial” than the 11 empty chemical warheads found at that time. However, Ehlers never raised concerns about the legality of the war after October and never pressed for more evidence. By the time of a March 11, 2003 article on the arrest of antiwar protestors demanding that Ehlers consider international law and cease his support for the war, Ehlers’ spokesperson rejected the issue of international law on behalf of the Ehlers administration. A week later, Ehlers supported Bush’s decision to invade in a statement made on March 17, 2003. Ehlers also appeared at a pro-war rally at the end of March at which signs, according to reporting in the Grand Rapids Press, were split between those supporting Bush and those disparaging antiwar protestors. Ehlers reaffirmed his support for the war when Saddam Hussein was captured in December of 2003, when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in May of 2004, and in June of 2005 when he agreed with Bush’s decision not to set a timetable for withdrawal. Moreover, Ehlers has supported the occupation by voting for every funding request for the war. Ehlers so-called concerns over the war were never raised in a substantive way, nor has he ever made his support for the war dependent upon conditions fulfilled by the Bush administration.
A Summary of Ehlers Statements on the Iraq War in the Media and via Official News Release
“Vern Ehlers Answers Questions from Constituents at Town Hall Meeting,” Media Mouse, May 7, 2006
At his annual town hall meeting, Representative Vern Ehlers described the “main problem” in Iraq as the United States being unprepared for the post-war situation. He claimed to have raised this concern from the start, although no specifics were given.
“Congressman Ehlers responds to President’s address on Iraq,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, June 28, 2005
“I thought the President gave a very good speech. He covered the ground that needed to be covered and told the American people that we are not just going to wave a magic wand, get rid of the terrorists and go home. He outlined the problems and told people what is at stake.”
“I think President Bush is absolutely right not to announce a date certain when we will bring our troops home. In the past, we have gone into places like Beirut and Somalia with vim and vigor, then got tired and frustrated and brought our troops home without resolving those conflicts. Tonight, President Bush tried to make it clear that we are not going to fold and run. We will stay until the problem is resolved.”
“Finally, I agree with President Bush that, especially as we near our celebration of Independence Day, that we should express our thanks to the individuals who serve in our armed forces. When I meet with soldiers, I am continually impressed with how dedicated and skilled they are. We all, as Americans, owe them an incredible debt of gratitude for their sacrifice and dedication.”
“Ehlers supports resolution condemning prisoners’ humiliation,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, May 6, 2004
“What happened in Iraq with those prisoners is absolutely atrocious,” said Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. “It is totally contrary to the way Americans expect our military personnel to treat prisoners. I am pleased that the people who perpetrated these abuses are being dealt with and that everyone in our military structure from the top down knows that this cannot and will not be tolerated.”
“As awful as they are, these pictures do not represent the many Americans who are performing their duties in Iraq in an appropriate fashion,” Ehlers said. “The vast majority of our troops and leaders are acting courageously and honorably in Iraq. They deserve our continued support.”
“Ehlers: Capture of Hussein a ‘major turning point,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, December 14, 2003
“I am very pleased to hear the news that Saddam Hussein has been captured. Hopefully, this will lead to more stability for the people of Iraq and to less terrorism directed both against them and against our troops stationed in Iraq.
“Our troops and intelligence personnel, as well as those of our coalition force partners, deserve immense congratulations and thanks for a job well done. And, while we praise their efforts, we also pause to remember and honor those who have suffered death or injury as a result of this effort.”
“Obviously, this will not put an immediate end to the hostilities in Iraq, but I believe we can expect that this will be a major turning point in our efforts to restore order and the rule of law to the citizens of Iraq. Now that Saddam Hussein is officially no longer a threat, perhaps the people of Iraq will feel more free to help us now that they know with certainty that he will not return to terrorize them once again.”
“Answering the ‘SOS’ call; Hundreds rally in GR to ‘Support Our Servicemen and women’,” Barton Deiters, Grand Rapids Press, March 30, 2003
Ehlers spoke at rally hosted by a radio DJ named Rich Michaels at WODJ-FM who opened the rally with “a diatribe against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and protestors who oppose the war.” The Press described the crowd as an equal number carrying signs praising President George W. Bush and “disparaging war protestors.” Ehlers described the war as “tough sledding” and stated that “we will prevail” in a speech drowned out by chants of “U-S-A.”
“Congressman Ehlers comments on President Bush’s speech,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, March 17, 2003
“President Bush very clearly laid out what needs to be done by Saddam Hussein and the leaders of Iraq to avoid military conflict — that is, the Iraqi dictator and his sons must give up power and leave Iraq within 48 hours.”
“He also laid out pretty clearly what the military leaders and citizens of Iraq need to do to avoid conflict and to avoid injury and death.”
“As it is likely that Saddam Hussein will not step down, it appears we are close to military engagement in Iraq. It is distressing that Saddam Hussein refuses to abide by the many United Nations resolutions calling on Iraq to disarm and the 1991 peace agreement that he personally signed agreeing to disarm, but now it is time to enforce the peace agreement and those UN resolutions.”
“As the president said, these actions, if necessary, will be undertaken for the security of our nation and for the world as a whole and, he said, we will have the support of a broad international coalition.”
“There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein and Iraq have refused to cooperate with the UN inspectors since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and especially for the last six months of renewed inspections, in violation of the peace agreement and the UN mandates. As President Bush said tonight, ‘The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now.'”
“My wife and I pray for the safety of our troops stationed in the Persian Gulf area, as well as the many innocents who may be placed in harm’s way by Saddam Hussein’s actions. I sincerely hope that we will be able to minimize bloodshed on both sides in the event that military action becomes a reality.”
“War protestors miss Ehlers, but get arrested,” Steve Harmon, Grand Rapids Press, March 11, 2003
In response to antiwar protestors who called on Representative Ehlers to respect international law, the Press quoted Ehlers’ spokesperson John Brandt as saying that “Unfortunately, Vern was 20,000 feet in the air, probably over Cleveland, when they came…They’re entitled to their opinion, but we strongly disagree with it. As long as they’re doing it in a legal manner, people are entitled to exercise their freedom of speech. It’s their decision (to get arrested).” The statement makes it clear that by this point Ehlers had dropped earlier concerns over the legality of preemptive war.
“Group Urges Congress to Avoid War; Residents meet with United States Rep. Vern Ehlers to Encourage him to be Cautious about waging War,” Steve Harmon, Grand Rapids Press, January 22, 2003
Harmon quoted Ehlers as saying that he shared many of the same concerns as activists against the war but that “there are evil people in this world, and in the case of Saddam Hussein, he has already done evil things.” The Press quoted Ehlers as saying that the “real question” was whether or not Hussein had nuclear weapons and that “I predicated my vote (on the congressional resolution authorizing force for President Bush) on whether he’s likely to produce weapons of mass destruction.” Ehlers said that his decision was based on special briefings from the United States Department of Defense and the CIA and that he reached the conclusion that Hussein was on the verge of producing enriched uranium. Ehlers qualified his statements by saying “Am I 100 percent sure? No, but there is substantial evidence,” while stating that he would like United Nations weapons inspectors, who had at that time found 11 empty chemical warheads, to show him “something more substantial.” Ehlers said that “I certainly don’t want war” but said that “if there’s no way to resolve this, I suspect we’ll have one.”
“We can’t wait for Iraq to strike first,” Vern Ehlers, Grand Rapids Press, October 12, 2002
Casting a vote over whether to authorize military action may be the most difficult decision a member of Congress is asked to make. It certainly is for me.
No matter who the opponent or what the circumstances, the consequence of a “yes” vote likely will be the loss of life. But failure to act holds the potential of even more terrible outcomes. Such a vote presents an excruciating moral dilemma.
For the past year, our nation has been engaged in a great civic debate. How do we protect our nation from those who would do us harm? How can we ensure the safety of our children and grandchildren here and around the world? Should we take action against potentially hostile nations? These are questions without simple answers.
President George W. Bush asked Congress to grant him the authority to take military action against Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq as part of our war on terrorism. No member of Congress takes such a request lightly.
On such issues, persons are often characterized as hawks or doves. I am neither. Instead, I seek to be wise as an owl. I listened to the concerns voiced by many of my constituents. I wrote President Bush informing him of their concerns and seeking answers to their questions and mine. I studied Saddam Hussein and his past actions. I sought and received extensive briefings from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Central Intelligence Agency and others. And, because of my scientific background, I also received a detailed scientific briefing from civilian officials at the Pentagon about Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities.
This information has convinced me of several things. Saddam Hussein continues to have dangerous, warlike ambitions. He has thumbed his nose at the United Nations by evicting inspectors and using the U.N.’s “oil-for-food” program to fund weapons rather than feed his impoverished people.
Saddam Hussein continues, in violation of the U.N.’s sanctions and the peace agreement he signed, to develop and produce chemical and biological weapons for war and terror. Most troubling, he continues trying to develop nuclear weapons and may be as little as a year or two away from success.
I know the destructive force of nuclear weapons. If a weapon of the type he is developing was detonated over Calder Plaza, the blast would devastate all of Grand Rapids and the near suburbs, a firestorm would consume the rest of the suburbs and a lethal dose of radiation would envelop much of the downwind area. All told, upwards of 300,000 people would be killed. Saddam Hussein’s regime poses a very real threat to the safety of the United States and the rest of the world.
Early in this debate, I thought President Bush and his advisers were seeking to strike Iraq preemptively. But I found they view that as a final alternative, not a first step. The Bush administration continues to work with the U.N. and our allies to build a coalition and seek a peaceful end to this situation through inspections and disarmament.
However, we must grant the president the power to take action against Iraq because Hussein will not acquiesce until he faces a superior force. We may have to put troops on Iraq’s border before he will comply, but I hope military action is not necessary.
I abhor the idea of the U.S. making a preemptive strike. Our philosophy always has been to take the first punch before we act. But when the first punch can destroy a city and kill hundreds of thousands, we must consider ways to stop that first punch.
I commend President Bush for his recent speeches in which he more clearly stated his intentions and reasons for requesting this resolution. I also commend him for working with Congress to craft a resolution that is not as broad as his original proposal and meets many of the concerns raised by Congress and our constituents. The legislative process has worked in structuring the approach and limiting action to only Iraq.
And so, after many days and weeks of thoughtful and prayerful consideration, I’ve decided to support this resolution. In this case, I’ve concluded not acting is more dangerous than acting.
“Local sentiment divided on next step; Opinion ranges from anti-war to ready to fight, but most want U.S. to move cautiously,” Ted Roelofs, Grand Rapids Press, October 11, 2002
In an article reviewing local reaction to the vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, Ehlers spokesperson was cited saying that calls, letters, and emails to the office averaged 50-1 against war. The Press quoted Brandt as saying that “the unifying message is don’t do anything” and described him as dismissing the opposition as a result of an organized campaign against the war rather than a true reflection of opinion in West Michigan. Brandt went on to say that “The volume is not nearly as high as some issues that I’ve experienced, such as NAFTA and even impeachment.”
“House votes to give president war authority,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, October 10, 2002
“I’ve discussed it with my constituents and colleagues, I’ve written President Bush, I’ve received briefings from high-level officials at the White House and the Pentagon and I’ve read about Iraq and Saddam Hussein,” Ehlers said. “After many days and weeks of thoughtful and prayerful consideration, I have concluded that not taking action against Saddam Hussein is more dangerous than taking action.”
“Passage of this resolution does not mean that we will be going to war with Iraq tomorrow, next week or even next month,” Ehlers said. “It does not require that the U.S. go to war at all. But it sends a signal to Saddam Hussein that we are serious about requiring him to live up to his promises to cease weapons development, destroy his existing weaponry, end his human rights abuses and provide United Nations weapons inspectors free, unfettered access throughout the country.”
“Casting a vote over whether to authorize military action may be the most difficult decision a member of Congress is asked to make,” he said. “It certainly was for me.”
“Activists discouraged by president’s speech; Peace supporters find small hope, but local congressmen say address may sway them in favor of military action,” Rick Wilson, Grand Rapids Press, October 8, 2002
The Press described Ehlers as saying that Bush was restrained in making a case for a military attack on Iraq. Ehlers was quoted stating that “based on the classified briefings I’ve been given, there was much more information he could have given” and that “he could have said more about the kind of weapons Saddam has and how far along he is in their development.” Ehlers was described as wanting to see specific provisions in the resolution saying when President Bush could launch a military attack, stating that “my goal will be to ensure that we’ve explored every other option before we engage in a land invasion” and that “there are lots of roads to take before we go there.”
“Congressman Ehlers receives briefings on Iraq,” News Release from Vern Ehlers, October 4, 2002
“The evidence is substantial enough to be frightening,” said Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. “It highlights the need to have a free and totally unfettered inspection program in Iraq, as well as the need to disarm Saddam Hussein’s forces. Mr. Hussein agreed do these things after the Gulf War, but he has not lived up to the agreement.”
“I appreciate all the input I’ve received from the residents of the Third Congressional District and I am equally appreciative of the information that the White House and the Congressional leadership has provided me. This is an agonizing decision and I am approaching it very carefully.”
“Lawmakers back Bush’s stance on Iraq; They are impressed by the case he makes against Saddam Hussein and by his effort to forge an international coalition to confront him,” Grand Rapids Press, September 13, 2002
The Press cited Ehlers described Ehlers as saying that there is “still a lot of work to be done before he will be will be ready to support full-out war.” Ehlers said that “we would need a great deal more information than we have at this point” and that “sending in our own troops is a last resort.” Ehlers was described as being troubled by administration officials aggressively advocating for regime change by force and saying that such a strategy would violate the principle against eliminating the leader of another country through the use of arms. He said that if Iraq did not allow unfettered access to weapons inspectors, air strikes on suspected facilities would be logical. He also was quoted in support of President Bush’s approach, stating that “He didn’t say ‘We’re going to go in and clobber the guy or send our troops in if you don’t do this” and that “I’ve not seen any information that says the U.S. should act alone.,. If we go off on our own, they wouldn’t support us.”
“Congressmen want more evidence before strike,” Steven Harmon, Grand Rapids Press, September 5, 2002
Ehlers was quoted stating that “the president should not proceed without the support of not only Congress and the public, but of our allies, too” and that “it is extremely serious business to go to war, and it should never be done lightly.” He was also quoted raising additional questions including “What is our objective? Are we trying to stop the distribution of weapons of mass destruction or are we just trying to unseat Saddam Hussein? Are we trying to assassinate him? There is an unwritten rule to never assassinate a ruler of another country… Are we talking about replacing him with another general or a democracy?” He questioned whether or not the United States would police Iraq for stability in the aftermath and provide financial aid, with Ehlers quoted as saying “Congress doesn’t care to write blank checks.”