Americans no safer after capture, Dean says

The Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 16, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, whose opposition to the Iraq war helped propel him to the front of the Democratic presidential pack, said yesterday that the capture of Saddam Hussein hasn't made Americans safer or hastened the defeat of al-Qaida and its terrorist allies.

Dean said the U.S. military's apprehension of the former dictator doesn't change his belief that invading Iraq was a mistake. Another Democratic candidate who has also been critical of President Bush's war policy, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, made a similar statement.

Dean told a Los Angeles audience that capturing Hussein was something that "could have taken place six months ago" and that it wouldn't end the security threat inside Iraq.

He made his comments in a long-planned speech designed to cast Dean as moderate on national security and foreign policy issues. His image as an anti-war liberal has led his Democratic critics to warn that Bush will portray their party as dangerously soft on defense issues if Dean becomes the nominee.

"The capture of Saddam is a good thing, but the capture of Saddam has not made America safer," Dean said. He reaffirmed his position that Hussein did not pose an imminent threat to the United States when Bush launched the invasion of Iraq and that the Iraqi leader should have been restrained by United Nations sanctions rather than overthrown.

Dean's comment contained echoes of a contentious remark he made earlier in the campaign, on the day Hussein's government fell.

"We should have contained Saddam. Well, we've gotten rid of him. I suppose that's a good thing," he said April 9. "But there's going to be a long period where the United States is going to need to be maintained in Iraq. And that's going to cost the American taxpayers a lot of money that could be spent on schools and kids."

Costs tallied

Dean amplified that idea in his speech to the Pacific Council in Los Angeles yesterday, tallying the cost of the Iraq war in U.S. casualties (more than 400 dead and 2,200 wounded) and money spent ($166 billion).

He said the war in Iraq has been waged "at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help" and at an extremely high cost.

During a question-and-answer session, Dean said, "Saddam is a frightful person, and I'm delighted that he's gone. But there are many frightful people in the world."

Dean said his priority as president would be to link the fight against terrorism with containing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

He called for cutting Bush's plan to develop additional tactical nuclear weapons while increasing spending to keep the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of the former Soviet Union from falling into terrorists' hands and to fight AIDS worldwide.

He also said he hopes the Bush administration will use Hussein's capture as an opportunity to "act with dispatch" in ending the U.S. role as "Iraq's ruler."

During a White House news conference yesterday, Bush refused to set a timetable for withdrawing American forces and said the United States will "stay the course" in Iraq until the job was done.

Bush also said, in response to a question, that Dean had made "an absurd insinuation" when he speculated during a recent radio interview that Bush might have had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Dean has said he "can't imagine" Bush knew but that "we don't know what happened," a reference to Bush's refusal to turn over certain classified documents to the federal commission investigating the attack.

Lieberman disagrees

Dean's comments on Iraq yesterday drew a sharp response from the most conservative Democrat in the presidential contest, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman, the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee and a strong supporter of the war, said Dean "has climbed into his own spider hole of denial if he believes that the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer."

Lieberman has demanded the death penalty for Hussein, calling him "a homicidal maniac, brutal dictator, supporter of terrorism, and enemy of the United States. ... There should be no doubt that America and the world are safer with him captured."

Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, who is neutral in his party's presidential race, said he isn't sure whether Dean is right or wrong in saying that Hussein's capture won't make Americans safer.

Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told Fox News that he doesn't know how much difference Hussein's capture will "make in the future of Iraq, in terms of making it secure, settled, ready to take over its own future."

Hussein "deteriorated quite a bit over the past number of months in his hiding," said Rockefeller and "never really had the command and control over this insurgency that a lot of people seemed to think he did."

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