- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

DENVER The White House yesterday ridiculed Al Gore for flip-flopping on Iraq and dismissed the former vice president's charge that President Bush is trampling civil liberties.
"You know, it's hard to pay attention to what Al Gore says because it's so hard to know what Al Gore really believes, given how many times he's changed his position on Iraq," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
The presidential spokesman was referring to a pair of speeches this week in which Mr. Gore criticized the president and his father, former President George Bush, for their handling of Iraq. In one of the speeches, Mr. Gore said he "felt betrayed by the first Bush administration's hasty departure from the battlefield."
But in 1991, then-Sen. Gore praised the elder President Bush for ending the Gulf war after liberating Kuwait instead of pressing on to Baghdad.
"I want to state this clearly: President Bush should not be blamed for Saddam Hussein's survival to this point," Mr. Gore said on the Senate floor on April 18, 1991. "There was throughout the war a clear consensus the United States should not include the conquest of Iraq among its objectives."
He added, "On the contrary, it was universally accepted that our objective was to push Iraq out of Kuwait, and it was further understood that when this was accomplished, combat should stop."
Yesterday, Mr. Fleischer reminded reporters of that 11-year-old speech.
"In his speech the other day, he said he was personally offended that the former president didn't bring the war to Baghdad," the spokesman said.
"My point is that Al Gore changes his story and his tune so often, on so many different issues, that it's not an effective use of time to pay much attention to what he says."
But Mr. Gore's comments this week criticizing unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq have emboldened other leading Democrats to speak out against the administration's plan to attack Baghdad.
Going to war against Iraq "should be a last resort, not the first response," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday, laying out his case against pre-emptive U.S. military action to disarm Iraq and oust Saddam.
Speaking at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Mr. Kennedy said unilateral action against Baghdad could spark a broader war in the Middle East and stretch the U.S. military, which is already engaged in the war on terrorism, too thin.
He added that U.S. policy should instead be aimed at resuming U.N. weapons inspections, noting that force could be considered later if the inspections proved unsatisfactory.
"Let us follow that course, and the world will be with us," Mr. Kennedy urged.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that he was willing to give the United Nations a last chance to disarm Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, former President Clinton said yesterday that he favors getting U.N. backing for the use of force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam.
"He's got a very dangerous [weapons] program. We need to eliminate it," Mr. Clinton said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
The Bush administration also took its case against Saddam outside Washington yesterday. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called Saddam a brutal dictator and said Iraq would be better off without him.
"He is a butcher; he tortures people, kills them personally," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "He has kept billions and billions and billions of dollars from going to the people of that country because he is determined to have weapons of mass destruction."
Mr. Rumsfeld spoke in a series of press and electronic media interviews and in a luncheon address to the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
The administration yesterday responded to several of Mr. Gore's charges earlier this week. In his second speech, Mr. Gore accused the administration of trampling the civil liberties of Americans in the hunt for terrorists.
"What's going on nationally, with the attack on civil liberties, with American citizens in some cases just disappearing without right to counsel, without access to a lawyer I think that is disgraceful," Mr. Gore said Thursday at a Democratic fund-raiser in Delaware.
"I think we need to stand up for our principles in this country and stand up for what this nation represents, even as we face the terrible dangers that we have to confront in the world today," he added.
Yesterday, Mr. Fleischer was asked whether he disagreed with Mr. Gore's contention that the administration has run roughshod over civil liberties in pursuit of terrorists.
"Of course," he said on Air Force One. "The charge is without merit."
It was the most explicit rebuttal of Mr. Gore by the Bush team since the Florida election-recount wars, in which Mr. Bush vanquished the former vice president.
Mr. Bush did not specifically mention Mr. Gore during a Republican fund-raiser here yesterday, although he asserted his administration's commitment to preserving civil liberties.
"Any time we get a hint something might be happening to America, we're going to react to it. We owe that to the American people," the president said. He added that he would "protect the United States Constitution at the same time."
For the second day in a row, Mr. Bush spoke highly of Democratic efforts to negotiate a congressional resolution on Iraq with Republicans and the White House. But he again refused to issue the apology demanded Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who accused the president of politicizing the debate over Iraq.
Although Mr. Daschle called on the president to avoid mixing politics with national security issues on the campaign stump, Mr. Bush ignored that call yesterday and accused Congress of "playing politics with defense appropriations."
"The defense budget I submitted hasn't made it to my desk yet," he said. "Here we are trying to defend the homeland, and it's stuck."
He added: "They ought to stop playing politics with defense appropriations at this time in American history."
He also lambasted the Democrat-controlled Senate for insisting on union rules for employees of a proposed Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Bush wants the ability to hire, fire and transfer employees who work on national security.
This article is based in part on wire service reports


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