- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

Criticism of Howard Dean’s views on Iraq, North Korea and other defense issues is coming from corners of the liberal establishment, with analysts saying many of his campaign positions are confused, dangerous and border on appeasement.

The Democratic presidential front-runner’s opposition to the war that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, and his present view that Saddam’s capture will have no effect on U.S. national security, has infuriated his chief rivals for the nomination, who have been attacking his national security views with increasing ferocity in recent weeks.

But a new and broader line of attack on Mr. Dean’s defense and foreign policy views is coming from top national security analysts, even from liberal Democratic centers such as the Brookings Institution, where the former Vermont governor has recruited many of his national security advisers.

“His lack of commitment on Iraq, given where we now find ourselves, is unacceptable and also politically suicidal next year if he is the Democratic nominee,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at Brookings.

Mr. O’Hanlon, a lecturer at Princeton and an adjunct professor at Columbia University who describes himself as a political “centrist” on Iraq, said he had no problem with Mr. Dean’s original position against going to war in Iraq, “but it is not acceptable now to reduce our commitment to success in post-Saddam Iraq.”

“At different times Dean has called for reduced funding in Iraq. Other times, he said our troops should be brought home and that Arab troops should be sent there. More recently, he said the world is no safer after Saddam’s capture,” Mr. O’Hanlon said.

“I think all these points are simply indefensible,” he said.

On the administration’s program to build a missile defense system, Mr. O’Hanlon said that Mr. Dean has sent mixed signals about ending it “that makes him sound confused.”

In preparation for a major foreign policy address in Los Angeles on Monday, Mr. Dean met with reporters to explain how he would deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons buildup, missile defense and other national security matters.

In the interviews, he said he would enter into immediate bilateral negotiations with North Korea and offer them a major economic and energy assistance package and a nonaggression treaty in exchange for ending their nuclear weapons program.

Mr. O’Hanlon and other foreign policy analysts reject such an approach as naive, noting that it had been tried before under the Clinton administration, only to see North Korea ignore its pledges to halt weapons development.

“It comes too close to buying the same horse. We already gave North Korea incentives in 1994 to eliminate its nuclear weapons capabilities and then they violated that commitment,” the Brookings scholar said.

“And now Dean wants to offer them even more benefits to comply with an agreement that they already promised to comply with. It almost verges on appeasement,” he said. “It would be seen at best as throwing money down a rat hole and appeasing a Stalinist dictator at worst.”

Mr. Dean’s Los Angeles speech drew a harsh reaction from The Washington Post.

“Mr. Dean’s carefully prepared speech was described as a move toward the center, but in key ways it shifted him farther from the mainstream,” the newspaper declared in an editorial, and added: “The former Vermont governor has compiled a disturbing record of misstatements and contradictions on foreign policy; maybe he will shift yet again, this time toward more responsible positions.”

Other critics of Mr. Dean’s North Korean aid proposal say that he is sending the wrong kind of signal before setting forth specific reforms that the United States would want in return.

“At least Bill Clinton tried to get much more from them, to stop their nuclear arms program, but Dean doesn’t seem to be asking for anything,” said Thomas Henriksen, a senior foreign policy analysts at the Hoover Institution.

Richard Bush, another foreign policy analyst at Brookings, also questioned Mr. Dean’s approach to Iraq and rejected his push for a large aid package before North Korea has taken verifiable steps to stop its weapons programs.

“We need to see a lot more reform in North Korea’s system before we consider large amounts of assistance,” he said.

“What I have heard of his proposal suggests that there is a little bit of too much generosity on the benefits,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also said he opposes Mr. Dean’s pledge to reward North Korea with one-on-one talks with the United States. President Bush’s administration opposed that approach, favoring multilateral discussions that include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

“I align myself a little more with the diplomats in the Bush administration who have no reason to trust North Korea but see the value of using multiparty talks to probe North Korea’s intentions,” he said.

Analysts said that another troublesome proposal by Mr. Dean was his suggestion that North Korea should be brought into the community of nations — another idea rejected by the president.

“We should not leave the impression that they can be brought into the family of nations at no price to themselves,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. O’Hanlon said there was a diverse range of opinion at Brookings about Mr. Dean — not all of it supportive.

“There are some who hold out hope that he can be educated. Then there are others like me who feel that Dean would almost guarantee the party’s defeat if he sticks to these positions.”

Such criticism apparently has had no effect on Mr. Dean’s popularity among rank-and-file Democrats. The latest New York Times/CBS poll shows Mr. Dean with 23 percent support among likely Democratic primary voters — holding steady from a poll taken before Saddam’s capture, and up from 14 percent last month.

Mr. Dean’s nearest Democratic rivals, according to the Dec. 14-16 poll, are Wesley Clark and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, both at 10 percent. The survey of 857 adults, which included 290 Democratic primary voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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