- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Two of the Democratic Party’s leading lights — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and presidential contender Howard Dean — gave conflicting views on what the capture of Saddam Hussein means, as both delivered major foreign-policy speeches yesterday.

“The capture of Saddam has not made America safer,” Mr. Dean, former Vermont governor, said in a speech to the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. He also noted that his “position on the war in Iraq has not changed.”

But Mrs. Clinton, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, proclaimed herself “thrilled” by the capture, and said she had kept an ear on the radio all day Sunday for the reports.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to our troops, to the president, to our intelligence services, to all who had a hand in apprehending Saddam,” she said. “Now he will be brought to justice, and we hope that the prospects for peace and stability in Iraq will improve.”

U.S. policy in Iraq is becoming the defining issue as the Democratic Party tries to settle on a nominee to face President Bush in November. And Mr. Dean has jumped from an unknown to the favorite within a year, based largely on his ability to express Democratic frustration with Mr. Bush’s policy in Iraq.

Now, Mr. Dean, the other Democrats running for president, Mrs. Clinton, and indeed the Democratic Party are all trying to discern how their party and the country are reacting to the capture of Saddam, and how they should react.

Mr. Bush, meanwhile, continues to look stronger.

His personal and job approval ratings, which had begun creeping up after his Thanksgiving visit to troops in Iraq and the strong national economic performance, have continued to improve, according to polls released yesterday.

A Gallup poll taken for CNN found support for the war at 62 percent, up from 59 percent a week before.

For his part, the president, when asked about a political component to Saddam’s capture, said in his news conference yesterday that he will not get involved in political debate.

“There’s going to be plenty of time for politics. And people can debate all they want. I’m going to do my job,” he said.

Mr. Dean, who has become front-runner for his party’s nomination to face Mr. Bush next year based mostly on an outspoken opposition to the Iraq war, will find out whether his campaign has broader appeal.

In his speech, Mr. Dean tried to distance himself from the image that he is a dove on military matters, listing support for several engagements, including the 1991 Persian Gulf war, as well as the efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

He also said he would have supported action in Iraq had “the United Nations given us permission.”

The former governor said the three occasions for unilateral action in a Dean administration would be defending against an attack, stopping an imminent threat or, in some instances when world organizations fail to act, intervening to stop genocide.

Mr. Dean also said Mr. Bush is responsible for North Korea being on the path to developing nuclear weapons. He didn’t mention the nation in his speech, but in response to a question from the audience, he said Mr. Bush is to blame because North Korea will have obtained nuclear weapons “on his watch.”

His fellow candidates were scathing in their reaction to Mr. Dean.

“Howard Dean has climbed into his own spider hole of denial if he believes that the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the most stalwart of the Democratic candidates in supporting the war and the ouster of Saddam.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Mr. Dean “broke no new ground today.”

“Today’s speech is still more proof that all the advisers in the world can’t give Howard Dean the military and foreign policy experience, leadership skills, or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times,” he said.

The one thing just about all Democrats agreed on was that the administration still needs to include more international troops.

Mrs. Clinton proposed scrapping the U.S.-dominated authority that oversees Iraq.

“It could include a proper role for NATO or the U.N., which would replace the coalition provisional authority, which would add both military and civilian resources so that this was not just an American occupation,” she said during her address yesterday.

Mrs. Clinton, who visited Afghanistan and Iraq during Thanksgiving, also said that the administration should be more flexible with its official timetable to return power to the Iraqis by July.

“The process coincides with the first major troop rotation, meaning that thousands of seasoned American forces will be withdrawn precisely during the time of great domestic sensitivity and even perhaps increased peril,” she said.

Iraq’s Governing Council, a group of prominent Iraqis and former exiles picked by the Coalition Provisional Authority, submitted to the U.N. Security Council a timetable that sets a midsummer turnover, with a general election in 2005.

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