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Jimmy Carter

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Former President Jimmy Carter says he has written a book critical of the Bush administration "with some hesitation and trepidation."

Not much hesitancy was on view Thursday morning, however, when the 39th president met reporters for a Monitor-sponsored breakfast. Among his charges: Members of the Bush team "decided to go to war against Iraq long before George Bush was elected."

Now that the United States is on the ground in Iraq, Mr. Carter said it would be "a very serious mistake preemptively to withdraw." But the Bush administration's decision to invade to prevent any future act of aggression from Saddam Hussein's Iraq came in for a scathing reproach. "The attitude of going to war against a relatively defenseless country in order to prevent violence in the world is a complete fallacy," Carter said.

The likelihood that the US could leave Iraq "safely and with honor" would improve if the Bush administration were "to vow that we will actually withdraw from Iraq militarily," he said. "I don't think there is any inclination or desire in the leadership in this administration to withdraw militarily from Iraq at any time in the future."

Carter, who during his presidency in the late 1970s was deeply and personally involved in peace talks in the Middle East, said the US should "acknowledge that other countries ... have a right to have equal access to the ... economic benefits of associating with Iraq, primarily oil."

A devout Baptist and life-long Sunday school teacher, the former president also raised concerns about what he sees as an inappropriate intertwining of religion and government. He warned of "an increase in basic fundamentalism ... both within the religious community of our country and also within government, and an unprecedented and overt, not disguised, merger of the church and the state, of religion and politics."

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