- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Former President Bill Clinton’s advice that Democrats should quit harping on President Bush’s disputed statement that Iraq had pursued nuclear material from Africa was well-received by many Democrats on Capitol Hill — but not his wife.

“Everybody makes mistakes when they are president,” Mr. Clinton said Tuesday night on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” adding that “the thing we ought to be focused on is what is the right thing to do right now.”

The comments were widely interpreted as a message to Democratic presidential candidates that their constant criticism of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy is pushing the party too far to the left and away from mainstream voters who still largely support the U.S.-led campaign that deposed Saddam Hussein.

“If I were them, I’d perk my ears up a little and listen,” said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. “I think this is a man worth listening to. He won [the presidency] twice, after all.”

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has surged to front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination, hasn’t taken that advice. Asked Tuesday about his reaction to U.S. troops killing Saddam’s two brutal sons, Uday and Qusai, in an attack in Mosul, Iraq, Mr. Dean dismissed the achievement.

“The ends do not justify the means,” he said as he issued a flurry of critical comments about the president’s justification for the war and about those who supported it.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, also didn’t seem to be on the same page as her husband. She repeated her call yesterday for an investigation into the Iraq-Africa nuclear link.

“I think there should be an independent investigation,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I’ve called for it. How credible are these claims? What else do we need to find out about other claims?”

Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat said, however, that too much is being made about the assertion in Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address that the “British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

“We didn’t go to war because they were buying uranium from Africa,” said Mr. Breaux, who had voted to authorize Mr. Bush to take military action in Iraq. “The information was incorrect. Does that make Saddam a good guy? No.”

Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Tennessee Democrat and a staunch supporter of the war, said he agrees with Mr. Clinton’s call for political moderation.

Mr. Clinton “knows a thing or two about the game,” Mr. Ford said. “I hope they tone down their rhetoric. The administration has answered the uranium question. What the American people care about is, what we are going to do in Iraq.”

Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat, said Mr. Clinton’s comments were a message to the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls that bashing Mr. Bush on the war could create the impression that the party is weak and short-sighted with regard to defense and national-security issues.

“That’s the wrong message,” Mr. Turner said. “The Democratic Party clearly has difficulty discussing this issue because they are perceived as not being as strong on national security as the Republican Party. That’s just not true.”

To secure wide appeal, Mr. Turner said, Democrats have to be seen as part of “a united front in rebuilding Iraq and bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq.”

“The question is not what didn’t happen, or what was said in the past, but what should happen next,” he said.

Mr. Turner, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, also did not share Mr. Dean’s views on the deaths of Saddam’s sons.

“The stability of Iraq and the movement toward democracy hinges on getting rid of Saddam and his two sons,” Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Clinton also warned on “Larry King Live” about leaving the impression that Democrats are hoping for Iraq to fall into chaos.

“We should be pulling for America on this. We should be pulling for the people of Iraq,” he said.

Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, Texas Democrat, said Mr. Clinton’s comments were “right on target.”

“I don’t think anyone is rooting against America, but that could be the perception,” Mr. Stenholm said, adding that it’s a “fair assessment” that the Democratic presidential contenders are drifting leftward.

“The enthusiasm that the candidates have for exciting the left, we can’t have that if we want to win elections,” Mr. Stenholm said.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said it’s possible to criticize Mr. Bush without being labeled “unpatriotic,” but agreed that the presidential contenders are moving out of the political mainstream.

“I thought [Mr. Clinton] was saying, ‘Use some caution and don’t drift too far to the left, because that is not an area that will win elections,’” Mr. Nelson said.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat and former top aide to Mr. Clinton, credited him for being “generous and supportive” to the current commander in chief.

“Only presidents know about the lonely decision to go to war,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that Democrats can still effectively criticize the president on developments in the aftermath of the war.

Mr. Emanuel pointed out that the Clinton administration had led the attack to secure peace in Bosnia, “but not a single soldier was killed when the fighting was over.”

“Now we’ve got soldiers dying over there every day,” Mr. Emanuel said.

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