Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s statements condemning George W. Bush’s rush toward a unilateral war on Iraq hit Washington like a thunderclap, drawing praise from peace groups that usually hammer him for his extreme rightwing views.

“Once in a while there is a crack in the veneer and somebody actually speaks the truth, and Dick Armey did that,” said Scott Lynch, media spokesman for Peace Action. “It’s very rare that they step outside the ‘party line.’ Armey’s statement shows there are divisions and doubts about the plan to invade Iraq even among extreme rightwingers. They know this invasion could turn out to be disaster.”

Armey, a fellow Texan considered a knee-jerk Bush loyalist, rocked the administration Aug. 8 after speaking at a Republican fundraiser for a GOP House candidate in Des Moines, Iowa. “I don’t believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation,” Armey told reporters.

“It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation. If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states,” Armey said. “My own view would be to let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants and let that be a matter between him and his own country. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him.”

Even if Saddam Hussein refuses to allow arms inspectors into Iraq, a U.S. invasion is still not justified, Armey said. “In my estimate, it is not enough reason to go in, that he does not allow weapons inspectors. What if the French decided they wanted to inspect American military facilities?”

Asked about the Armey statement, Martin Butcher, director of Security Programs for Physicians for Social Responsibility told the World, “The Bush administration is looking more and more isolated on this.”

Butcher condemned Saddam Hussein as a war criminal who used poison gas against the Iraqi Kurds and the marsh Arabs. “Anyone who would unleash chemical weapons against people deserves to go to prison for life,” he said. “There definitely needs to be a change of regime in Iraq. But it is not up to the United States to impose a new regime by unilateral use of force. What is called for is international cooperation to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and not just Iraq but everywhere else these weapons exist, including the United States.”

The U.S. blockade of Iraq has caused untold suffering among the Iraqi people and the deaths of thousands of children from disease and malnutrition, Butcher said. “The sanctions must be altered so that people have access to clean water, food, medicine and hospitals.”

Lynch, of Peace Action, said Armey’s blast at Bush’s foreign policy is a challenge to other lawmakers, only one of two of whom, including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), have stood up against his endless war. “If Dick Armey can break ranks, where are the Democrats? Why are they so cowed by this administration?” Lynch demanded.

Armey, who is retiring this year, is likely speaking for dozens, if not hundreds, of elected officials fearful that voters will hold them accountable at the polls this November if the war turns into “Bush’s folly.”

Said Lynch, “This war policy is driven by non-elected officials like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and John Bolton who have no mandate from the people. Yet these extreme, radical unilateralists are the ones who have Bush’s ear or the vacant place between his ears.”

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