- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2003

Clark and Dean

Wesley Clark said yesterday that Howard Dean offered him the vice-presidential spot on his ticket before Mr. Clark decided to make his own run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“It was sort of discussed … and dangled before I made the decision to run,” Mr. Clark said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.

The retired Army general said he had a meeting in early September with Mr. Dean, considered the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, and he told the former Vermont governor he was “really not interested in even talking about it.”

The issue, Mr. Clark said, was “whether I’m going to be the commander in chief or not.” Mr. Clark said he felt he could make the “best contribution” to the country as president “because I believe I’m the best-qualified person to protect the United States.”

Mr. Clark, on ABC, said he was “absolutely not” interested in being Mr. Dean’s running mate, the Boston Globe reports. He added: “I don’t see that in the cards.”

Dean’s ‘warning flag’

“Talk to sensible Howard Dean supporters these days, and they’ll tell you that the former governor’s campaign to date has been a grand sleight of hand,” Franklin Foer writes in the cover story for the latest issue of the New Republic.

“Sure, it has harnessed Bush hatred and antiwar fervor. But the real Dean isn’t a frothing lefty like his supporters; he’s a closet centrist. Once he finishes exploiting the left’s anger to seal the nomination, he will reveal his true self, elegantly pivoting to the middle. …

“After the primaries are over, Dean will be able to emphasize his commitment to fiscal discipline, his opposition to gun control, and even the hawkish streak in his foreign policy prior to 2002. (Dean was a rare Democratic supporter of the first Gulf war.) The problem is that, no matter how much he talks about these authentically centrist impulses, Dean will still have a hard time selling himself as a moderate,” Mr. Foer said.

“It’s not just his opposition to the war — though that may pose more of a problem now that Saddam Hussein has been captured. No, the real reason Dean will not be able to escape a liberal caricature has little to do with policy and everything to do with a warning flag that will mark him as culturally alien to much of the country: Howard Dean is one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history.

“Dean himself is frank on this point, perhaps too frank. ‘[I] don’t go to church very often,’ the Episcopalian-turned-Congregationalist remarked in a debate last month. ‘My religion doesn’t inform my public policy.’ When Dean talks about organized religion, it is often in a negative context. ‘I don’t want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore,’ he shouted at the California Democratic Convention in March.”

Iraq and al Qaeda

Many prominent Democrats — including, with the exception Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut , all of the party’s presidential hopefuls — continue to insist that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had nothing to do with the al Qaeda terrorist group. But that was not the view of the Clinton administration, Stephen F. Hayes writes in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

In fact, when al Qaeda blew up two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, President Clinton responded by launching missiles to destroy the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan believed to be producing deadly nerve gas, Mr. Hayes noted.

Osama bin Laden, who lived in Sudan between 1992 and 1996, was known to have close financial ties to the Sudanese Military Industrial Corp. — the manager of the plant lived in a villa owned by bin Laden — and U.S. intelligence also intercepted a phone call between Iraqi scientists and the plant’s manager.

“But there is bound to be more discussion of al Shifa and Iraq-al Qaeda connections in the coming weeks,” Mr. Hayes said. “The Senate Intelligence Committee is nearing completion of its review of prewar intelligence. And although there is still no CIA team assigned to look at the links between Iraq and al Qaeda, investigators looking at documents from the fallen regime continue to uncover new information about those connections on a regular basis.”

Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat who sits on the Intelligence committee, told the Weekly Standard that “the relationship seemed to have its roots in mutual exploitation.”

“Saddam Hussein used terrorism for his own ends, and Osama bin Laden used a nation-state for the things that only a nation-state can provide.”

Generic ballot

A mid-November Winston Group survey made public Friday gives the Democrats a six-point lead on the generic ballot in next year’s U.S. Senate races.

Pollster David Winston asked 1,000 registered voters which party would have their vote in the November Senate contests: 47 percent picked Democrats and 41 percent picked Republicans, United Press International reports.

The survey, conducted for Senate Republicans, showed 50 percent of respondents said the country was on the wrong track, an increase of 3 percent over an identical survey at the end of October.

Voters said the economy was the most important issue in determining their vote for Congress. At 21 percent, it led the list, followed by national defense at 12 percent, and education and health care, which tied at 10 percent.

As to Senate business, the country appears evenly split on the use of the filibuster to stop the progress of President Bush’s judicial nominations, something to which Senate Republicans have given a lot of attention.

Asked if the filibuster was an acceptable way to keep Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees from receiving confirmation, 45 percent said it was not acceptable, while 45 percent said it was.

The survey had a margin of error of three percentage points.

Feeble gesture

U.S. government sources familiar with the accounts given by troops who helped capture Saddam Hussein tell Time that the fallen dictator apparently made one feeble attempt at defiance.

As soldiers were handcuffing him after he was extracted from his “spider hole,” Saddam spit on his captor, reporters Timothy Burger and Phil Zabriskie report at Time.com.

As the incident was reported by the military, according to a U.S. source, a soldier promptly slugged the tyrant — probably the first time in more than two decades that Saddam was powerless to exact lethal revenge on someone who stood up to him.

An official military spokeswoman in Iraq claims no knowledge of the incident. “I think this is an urban legend,” she says. But the full story is yet to be told. A U.S. intelligence official, meanwhile, casts doubt on another widely reported tale: that a U.S. soldier hailed the nemesis of two commanders in chief named George Bush by saying: “Regards from President Bush.” This person says some officials suspect the story is “apocryphal.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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