- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Democratic presidential hopefuls attacked front-runner Howard Dean yesterday over his opposition to the Iraq war, attempting to use the country’s elation at Saddam Hussein’s capture to bring down their rival.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, urged his party yesterday to abandon Mr. Dean, saying the former Vermont governor’s “anger” and “extremism,” especially on the war, will lead to the re-election of President Bush.

“Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal that he would in fact take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend America’s security,” Mr. Lieberman said.

The contrast between Mr. Dean’s opposition to the war and widely broadcast images of Saddam in custody may have already hurt him in the polls.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted Sunday — the day Saddam’s capture was announced — put President Bush’s job-approval rating at 58 percent, the highest since the end of major combat operations in May.

The poll also showed that Mr. Bush has a 21-point lead over Mr. Dean in a head-to-head matchup for the presidency in 2004, up from a 15-point lead a month ago. Other polls conducted over the weekend show a similar bump for Mr. Bush.

In addition, a CBS-New York Times poll released last night showed that public approval of efforts to oust Saddam increased just after his capture, to 54 percent from 47 percent. The share of the people surveyed who said removing Saddam from power was not worth it fell to 37 percent from 43 percent.

The CBS poll used two samples: one of 1,057 adults from last Wednesday to Saturday, before the announcement of Saddam’s capture, and another of 635 adults Sunday and Monday, the two days afterward.

The trailing Democratic candidates see these polls and the capture of Saddam as an opportunity to pounce on what they perceive as Mr. Dean’s greatest weakness: his opposition to the war and inexperience in foreign policy.

“In an age of terrorism, [voters] are not going to leave the president that is in office and go to someone who they doubt has the steady hand of experience,” said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

On Monday, Mr. Dean delivered what was billed as his campaign’s defining foreign-policy address, and made it clear that his opposition to the war in Iraq “has not changed.”

Mr. Bush, he said, “launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time” and “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”

Mr. Dean also told his Los Angeles audience that he would have only invaded Iraq “had the United Nations given us the permission,” adding that it was “the U.N.’s job” to enforce the 17 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years demanding Saddam disarm, not America’s.

Mr. Lieberman attacked this position.

“How many people here agree that we are safer with Saddam Hussein in prison? Howard Dean says no,” Mr. Lieberman said in a speech to a group of Democrats in Manchester, N.H. “I’m afraid Howard Dean has climbed into his own spider hole of denial.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said Mr. Dean is aligned with those in his party “who threaten to take us down a road of confusion and defeat.”

“Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe we are not safer with his capture, don’t have the judgment to be president — or the credibility to be elected president,” Mr. Kerry said.

Dean spokesman Jay Carson said Mr. Dean has come under attack because his primary opponents can’t come up with a positive message of their own and the front-runner is far outpacing them in fund raising.

“The Washington politicians are engaged in exactly the kind of negative politics that the American people are tired of,” Mr. Carson said.

Mr. Kerry accused Mr. Dean of being “all over the lot” on the Iraq war, saying he himself has been in favor of toppling Saddam “all along.” But as recently as Dec. 11, Mr. Kerry was touting his own antiwar credentials.

“For months, Howard Dean has been going around the country saying, ‘What are all these other people doing who voted for the president’s war? I’m the only guy who was against it,’” Mr. Kerry said on CNBC’s “Capital Report.”

Mr. Kerry voted for the resolution that authorized Mr. Bush to use force to oust Saddam, but he voted against spending $87 billion on troop support and the reconstruction of Iraq, a contradiction that he has spent weeks explaining to Democratic voters.

Mr. Kerry told an audience in Florida last month that he voted against the troop funding to “send a message” urging Mr. Bush to build a broader coalition — essentially securing the approval of France and Germany — and work more closely with the United Nations.

“But oh, no, this president rushed to war,” Mr. Kerry told Florida Democrats on Nov. 20.

Yet yesterday, Mr. Kerry assailed Mr. Dean for his statement that the United States needed U.N. permission before taking action in Iraq.

“Perhaps it reflects inexperience, but for Howard Dean to permit a veto over when America can or cannot act not only becomes little more than a pretext for doing nothing, it cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else — a danger for both our national security and global stability,” Mr. Kerry said.

On the morning Saddam’s capture was announced, however, Mr. Kerry suggested on “Fox News Sunday” that a broader U.N. coalition could have located Saddam faster than the Army’s 4th Infantry Division did.

“If we had done this in a globalized way, if we had brought more people to the table, we might have caught Saddam Hussein sooner,” Mr. Kerry said. “We might have had less loss of life. We would be in a stronger position today with respect to what we’re doing.”

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