- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt yesterday criticized the Bush administration’s “chest-beating unilateralism” in the Iraq war, which he said weakened diplomatic alliances and squandered global good will following the September 11 attacks.

“Foreign policy isn’t a John Wayne movie, where we catch the bad guys, hoist a few cold ones and then everything fades to black,” the Missouri congressman said in remarks prepared for a speech to the Bar Association of San Francisco.

“No matter the surge of momentary machismo — as gratifying as it may be for some — it is shortsighted and wrong to simply go it alone.”

Mr. Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader, reiterated his support for a congressional resolution that authorized the administration to go to war, saying he continued to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or was on his way to building them. But, Mr. Gephardt said, Mr. Bush’s “utter disregard for diplomacy” and lack of a cohesive postwar plan left the United States isolated and vulnerable in an increasingly chaotic, lawless landscape.

“We’ve got 147,000 Americans there now, we’re spending $4 billion a month in Iraq,” Mr. Gephardt said. “It’s not mere machismo to resist asking allies for help — it’s absolute insanity.”

Support for Mr. Gephardt, long considered one of the Democrats’ strongest candidates in the primary field, has slipped in recent weeks. Just 7 percent of California’s likely Democratic voters support him, according to a Field Poll released yesterday, down from 12 percent in April. Mr. Gephardt also released national fund-raising figures last week that lagged behind his stated goals.

While repeating the “machismo” charge against Republicans throughout the speech, Mr. Gephardt sought to put to rest any notion that Democrats are weak on defense.

Mr. Gephardt said if he were president, he would ask for United Nations Security Council assistance and NATO troops to help stabilize Iraq and would work with allies to reduce other rogue threats.

He also touched on the matter that has roiled Washington for several weeks — Mr. Bush’s State of the Union claim, based on British intelligence, that Iraq had sought to purchase weapons-grade uranium in Africa. Some of that intelligence, relating to Niger, has been discredited.

Mr. Gephardt attacked what he called Mr. Bush’s “growing credibility gap,” saying the president should take responsibility for the gaffe rather than trying to foist blame onto other administration officials.

CIA Director George J. Tenet has taken responsibility for allowing use of the intelligence in the address.

Several Democratic presidential contenders and some other party members have seized on the faulty claim as evidence the Bush administration misled Congress and the public into supporting the war.

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