Sunday, July 6, 2003

Democratic presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday compared President Bush to a Los Angeles gang leader and demanded that he apologize to the American military and their families for challenging dissident Iraqis to “bring them on.”

“I’m in Los Angeles. For the president to say, ‘Bring it on,’ almost like daring and provoking Iraqis to kill American soldiers,” Mr. Sharpton said, “he sounds more like a gang leader in South-Central L.A. than one that is trying to institute a policy of democracy and reconstruction in the world.”

The challenge, on a day in which another U.S. soldier was killed by a terrorist ambush, came in response to Mr. Bush’s angry comments Wednesday that attacks by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein will not run the U.S. military presence out of Iraq.

“There are some who feel like that if they attack us, that we may decide to leave prematurely,” Mr. Bush said.

“They don’t understand what they’re talking about. … There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is: Bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation,” Mr. Bush said.

During a wide-ranging interview on his presidential campaign on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Sharpton said, “I think that kind of rhetoric speaks to street brawling rather than international relations.

“I think what we must do is show the world we want to be partners in progress, not bullies in warfare,” Mr. Sharpton said.

The White House press office could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Sharpton also defended listing Communist dictator Fidel Castro as a good leader in his book “Al on America,” along with Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan.

In the book, Mr. Sharpton described the Cuban ruler as a “brilliant, reasonable, intelligent, awesome” man who has outlasted nine American presidents.

Mr. Sharpton said that he did not agree with Mr. Castro’s policies, but that the leader had “qualities that you look for in people even if you disagree with them.”

“I think Winston Churchill was an imperialist. I think Ronald Reagan turned the country backward. I think Fidel Castro has done a lot of wrong. When I talk about qualities of a personality, it does not at all support, condone or endorse their policies,” Mr. Sharpton said.

“And I think, clearly you must be able to divorce the character of people in terms of their personality traits, from policy so that you can say to people, ‘this is how good attributes could be used wrongly.’ Electricity can be good or bad,” Mr. Sharpton said.

“So for me to observe someone’s awesome personality doesn’t mean they used it in a positive way,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Asked by host Bob Schieffer whether he “admired” or considered it “awesome” that the Cuban president jails and deports his political opponents, Mr. Sharpton compared such repression to his trespassing arrest on U.S. Navy property to protest bombing exercises on Vieques.

“I don’t admire him putting his political opponents in jail any more than I admire the Bush administration for locking us up for protesting in Vieques.”

Asked whether he was comparing Mr. Bush to Mr. Castro: “Absolutely not. But I am going to say that we cannot, with the Patriot Act and other acts, start moving toward the things that we criticize in other people around the world.”

Criticism of administration policies didn’t stop at the party line. President Clinton has often been referred to as the “first black president,” but Mr. Sharpton defended his calling him the “beige president.”

The two Democrats disagree on welfare-reform legislation, anti-crime measures and the death penalty; however Mr. Sharpton said he still respects and supports other Clinton administration policies.

In yesterday’s interview, Mr. Sharpton said he favored in principle giving reparations to American blacks as compensation for slavery, but said the issue should be studied to determine “the most effective and broad-based way to repair the damage done,” whether it be cash payments or land distribution.

Mr. Sharpton said the central part of his campaign will be three constitutional amendments; one to guarantee the right to vote and “repair damages of voter disenfranchisement” and others to grant rights to health care and to education.

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