U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said during a candidate forum Wednesday evening that his vote for the war in Iraq was a "mistake," even though he totally supports the U.S. troops fighting there.
The 7th District Democratic congressman and Republican opponent Michael Barrett expressed sharply differing opinions on the war, immigration and the Patriot Act.
Peterson said the United States can't continue to be "muddling around like we are" in Iraq.
"It was a mistake, and I would vote against it today, knowing what I know today," Peterson said.
However, he also said the U.S. should double the troop numbers in Iraq to get the job done right, adding that he would prefer to station U.S. troops around the perimeter of the country.
Peterson said he agrees with the suggestion that Iraqis be given a chance to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay. He said he believes Iraqis would vote for withdrawal, and said he'd honor such a vote.
Barrett said stationing troops around the country's perimeter reflects the Democratic Party's "cut and run" strategy toward Iraq.
"Now (the Democrats) are trying to do the same thing in Iraq" as they did in Vietnam, said Barrett, a Long Prairie pharmacist making his first run for Congress.
Barrett blamed the decisions leading the U.S. into Iraq on poor intelligence resulting from what he alleged was President Jimmy Carter's "decimation" of the country's human intelligence gathering capabilities.
Peterson said blaming the war on Jimmy Carter was "ridiculous."
The candidates differed every bit as sharply on other policy matters.
Barrett said Peterson's vote against the Patriot Act -- anti-terrorism legislation passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- harmed U.S. security needs.
Peterson said it was FBI "incompetence" that enabled the terrorists to strike and the Patriot Act wouldn't have changed anything.
The two candidates also disagreed on immigration issues.
Barrett said his wife is an immigrant who came to the United States "the right way" and called for immigration laws and enforcement that would focus on keeping employers from hiring illegal immigrants.
Barrett accused Peterson of favoring amnesty for immigrants by co-authoring recent legislation that would allow immigrant farm workers to obtain residency status if they have worked in the country for six years and paid Social Security taxes.
Peterson acknowledged that the bill would allow many immigrant workers to eventually become citizens, but defended the bill as addressing reality. He noted that West Coast agriculture is dependent on immigrant farm workers.
Peterson said the country would risk economic collapse if it were to deport 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)