- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

Most of the Democrats running for president in 2004 are supporting President Bush's efforts to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but are sharply critical of his accelerated drive toward a war that their party's anti-war wing bitterly opposes.
Anti-war activists represent a noisy and perhaps pivotal constituency in next year's Democratic primaries, and four of the party's presidential hopefuls fearful of alienating this voter bloc have attacked Mr. Bush's rapid war buildup while simultaneously backing military action to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts; Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut; and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have been performing this political balancing act lately, though each voted in the fall for the congressional resolution that approved of using military force to disarm Iraq.
Two other Democratic contenders, the Rev. Al Sharpton and former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, oppose war in Iraq under any circumstances.
In a speech Thursday at Georgetown University, Mr. Kerry said Saddam "presents a particularly grievous threat" to the United States and the Persian Gulf region. "Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator leading an oppressive regime."
But he also criticized what he said was the president's haste to engage in combat to topple the Iraqi regime and condemned "the Bush administration's blustering unilateralism."
"I say to the president, show respect for the process of international diplomacy. … Do not rush to war," he said.
That kind of straddling on Iraq "sounds like political expedience to me," said Jim Dyke, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
"John Kerry votes for the Iraq resolution and then blasts the president for his Iraq policy. There's a competition here to become the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination, and that means you have to be more anti-war than the other guy," Mr. Dyke said in an interview.
"But that can lead to a credibility problem. If you put political expediency ahead of what you said and where you stood, then people begin to wonder if you are showing leadership or are just being politically expedient," he said.
Public opinion polls show that national defense concerns remain the Democrats' weakest ground, while Mr. Bush and the Republican Party retain strong support for their handling of national security and homeland defense issues.
A survey by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, released last week, found that on the issue of keeping America strong, voters prefer Republicans by 50 percent to 22 percent. On the issue of national safety, Republicans are supported 54 percent to 16 percent, he said.
That is why, despite their reservations about the president's approach to a war with Iraq, Mr. Kerry and most of his rivals for the Democratic nomination are talking tougher about Iraq and national security.
"We must never shrink from using American power to defend our security and our ideals against evil in a time of war," Mr. Lieberman said when he announced his intentions to seek his party's nomination.
Mr. Gephardt also has begun to use stronger language. On a recent campaign trip to Iowa, Mr. Gephardt, the former House minority leader, said that in the battle against terrorism, "It is kill or be killed."
Nonetheless, Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Dean say the president has yet to make the case for going to war against Iraq or for his charges that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.
"In the Cuban missile crisis, you saw where the missiles were. We still haven't seen the evidence of these weapons," Mr. Sharpton said.
Campaigning in Iowa last week, Mr. Dean repeatedly attacked Mr. Bush's war policies and said he was the only candidate among the six who did not support last year's congressional resolution on Iraq.
"All these guys running say how terrible Iraq is. Where were they four months ago when we really needed them to stand up to the president of the United States?" he asked.

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