Dean stands ground on view of Iraq war

Democratic front-runner accuses rivals of meekly following president's lead

December 19, 2003|By Mark Z. Barabak and Matea Gold | Mark Z. Barabak and Matea Gold,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean stridently rejected his rivals' criticisms that he is unversed on foreign policy and accused them yesterday of obediently following President Bush's lead on the war with Iraq.

Dean's remarks intensified the acrimony among the Democratic presidential candidates over their stances on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a debate that was reignited with the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, the Democratic front-runner repeated his view that the capture has not made the United States safer. During a question-and-answer session with an audience, he broadened his critique to say that despite the nation's anti-terrorism efforts, the country is no safer today than it was on Sept. 10, 2001.

Dean's opponents have seized on his statement about Hussein, citing it as evidence of the former governor's lack of experience in foreign policy.

After several days of brushing off his rivals with a few glib asides, Dean responded with a scathing denunciation that lumped Bush together with his Democratic opponents - or, as he called them, the "Washington politics-as-usual club."

"I think the Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative to the American people," he said in a speech on domestic policy at the Manchester City Library. "We must make it clear the capture of one very bad man does not mean that this president - or the Washington Democrats - can declare victory in the war on terror."

Dean's staunch defense of his position on the war came as he delivered a broad speech outlining his domestic policy agenda, which he called "a new social contract for working families." In it, the former governor embraced the role of Democrats carved out by Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying the government must "provide certain basic guarantees to those who are working hard to fulfill the promise of America."

In condemning the war, he reproached fellow Democrats in Congress who authorized the invasion and calling the party's nominating fight a contest "for the soul of the Democratic Party."

"As distressing as the president's conduct leading us into the war was the way some Democrats fell meekly in line behind the president," Dean said. "Instead of standing up for what was right, these Democrats backed away from the fight."

"Then the cost of the war became clear," he said. "American public opinion began to turn and the Washington Democrats began to redraft their talking points."

Dean's refusal to budge on his view of the war is likely to help him as he enters the Democratic primary season, even as his stance could make his task difficult in a general election contest, some political analysts said.

"The views of Democrats on this war are very different from those of the electorate as a whole and even pretty different than independents," said Charles Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "What he says is a gamble. But then again, so is his entire candidacy."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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