- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who is expected to make a run for the presidency in 2004, has voiced support for any Bush administration use of military force against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I share President Bush's resolve to confront this menace head-on," Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said in a speech yesterday to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Council on Foreign Relations. "We should use diplomatic tools where we can, but military means where we must to eliminate the threat [Saddam] poses to the region and our own security."

Mr. Gephardt, who voted against the use of force leading up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war, said he was "ready to work" with the administration "to build an effective policy to terminate the threat posed by" the Iraqi regime.

Marshall Wittman, a Republican congressional analyst at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said Mr. Gephardt's statements were "a very significant turning point" on Iraq and were made in part to position Democrats for coming elections.

"The perceived vulnerability of the Democrats as they look forward to 2002 and 2004 is national security, and it makes perfect political sense to make sure there's no daylight between themselves and the president on Iraq," Mr. Wittman said.

Mr. Wittman recalled major disputes over military action in the Persian Gulf war and said many people now were wondering "if there would be a similar showdown over the use of force against Iraq." He said Mr. Gephardt's speech "may put that to rest."

Mr. Bush yesterday reiterated to reporters what he said Saturday in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., that the United States would "use all the tools at our disposal to deal with these nations that, you know, hate America and hate our freedoms."

After Mr. Gephardt's speech, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement: "No matter what Gephardt says, he cannot erase his abysmal record on national security."

The statement also pointed out that Mr. Gephardt voted last year for a budget that decreased proposed fiscal 2002 defense spending by $65 billion, voted in 2000 for an amendment to cut military spending by 1 percent, and voted to cut the 1999 intelligence authorization by 5 percent and the 1998 intelligence authorization by 7 percent.

In other areas of his speech yesterday, Mr. Gephardt was critical of the administration, including on homeland security.

He said, "We are moving too slowly to develop a homeland defense plan that is tough enough for this new war," and that Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's office should be made a Cabinet-level position, complete with budget authority. Doing so would mean Mr. Ridge would be confirmed by the Senate and would be answerable to Congress.

Mr. Bush has refused to allow Mr. Ridge to testify formally to Congress. He has said Mr. Ridge is a presidential adviser whose position has been established by executive order.

Mr. Gephardt commended Mr. Bush for helping develop a stronger partnership between NATO and Russia, but he also called for additional funding to safeguard the remaining nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.

He said the administration "deserves credit for the military victory" in Afghanistan but added that it would be "shortsighted if we stop now and withhold support for expanding the international security presence beyond Kabul, as interim President [Hamid] Karzai has urgently requested."

When it comes to defense, Mr. Gephardt said he would support a bipartisan commission on military modernization. He also voiced support for adding troops and improving pay and training, and proposed an overhaul of what he called a slow logistics and supply system.

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