Three months after voting to authorize military force against Iraq, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Wednesday that the mobilization of U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf was "deeply disturbing" in the absence of proof that Saddam Hussein holds weapons of mass destruction.
Echoing concerns voiced by France and other U.S. allies, the California Democrat urged the Bush administration to give United Nations weapons inspectors more time to search for arms in Iraq.
"There may be times, when all else fails, that unilateral American military action will be necessary, and Iraq may well turn out to be a case in point," Feinstein said in a speech at a Los Angeles World Affairs Council luncheon. "However, in my view, this has not yet been sufficiently established."
Feinstein was one of 29 Senate Democrats who voted in October for the resolution authorizing President Bush to launch a military strike against Iraq. Since then, however, she has questioned whether the Republican president has made an adequate case for war.
Feinstein's remarks at the downtown luncheon come as Democratic lawmakers -- and contenders for the party's nomination to challenge Bush's 2004 bid for reelection -- are stepping up their criticism of the president's foreign policy.
Feinstein said U.N. mandates on Iraqi disarmament "cannot be disregarded, because if they can be, then the rule of law fails.
"But," she continued, "the massive increases of United States troops in the Persian Gulf appears to be an indication that regardless of the findings of the United Nations inspectors, the president may well intend to use military force to bring about regime change in Iraq. I find this deeply disturbing."
As the U.N. arms inspectors pursue their search, she said, "Iraq is effectively contained and prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction. It is not an imminent threat either to its neighbors or to the United States. And there is no need for precipitous military action under these circumstances."
She suggested that 1,000 to 2,000 arms inspectors might stay in Iraq for the next decade to help prevent a war. She added: "I deeply believe that a preemptive unilateral attack against a Muslim nation may well create a divide between the United States and the Muslim world so deep and so wide that it will bring with it negative consequences for decades."
Feinstein went on to praise the Bush administration for its pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear weapons problem in North Korea.
But she said Bush had "helped fuel North Korea's paranoia and belligerence" by including it with Iran and Iraq in the "axis of evil" that he condemned last year in his State of the Union address.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Bush had made no decision on the use of force against Iraq.
"The president has made it abundantly clear that it's important that Saddam Hussein disarm, and that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm on his own, then the president will lead a coalition to disarm him with the support of a large majority of this country," he said.
He referred questions on North Korea to National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack.
McCormack declined to respond directly to Feinstein's comments.
But McCormack said, "The president has been very clear in his desire to have a peaceful solution to this issue and made very clear that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea."