Democrat Howard Dean said yesterday that he was right to doubt U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and oppose the U.S.-led conflict, insisting his stance should not be political fodder for pro-war presidential rivals.
“Some in the Democratic Party claim that a candidate who questioned the war cannot lead the party in the great national debate that lies ahead,” Mr. Dean told the Council on Foreign Relations.
“I would remind them that during the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy took on the hawks among the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the ‘me-too’ers’ in Congress. The president and his advisers used toughness, patience and diplomacy. The missiles came out of Cuba and war was averted,” Mr. Dean said.
While he and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida opposed last fall’s congressional war resolution, President Bush was backed by four other major Democratic presidential hopefuls: Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina.
Mr. Dean accused Mr. Bush of alienating allies by acting “with unparalleled arrogance” on the world stage.
He said the pre-emptive attack against Iraq threatens to spawn more hatred of Americans and produce recruits for terrorism networks.
“There is a dawning realization across the land that despite winning a military battle in Iraq, the United States may be losing a larger war. That we may well be less secure today than we were 2 years ago when this administration took office,” Mr. Dean said.
The rest of the Democratic field has strongly questioned U.S. intelligence and Mr. Bush’s preparations for postwar Iraq. Mr. Dean, who has little foreign-policy experience, tried to set himself apart with his opposition to the war, casting the stance as an act of political courage.
“I stood up to this administration and even when 70 percent of the American people supported the war, I believed that the evidence was not there, and I refused to change my view. As it turned out, I was right,” Mr. Dean said.
Yet, he said later in the speech that “substantial stockpiles” of weapons of mass destruction may still be found. The other possibilities, Mr. Dean said, are that the weapons no longer exist or they have been shipped out of Iraq.
The address came as Mr. Dean tries to broaden his candidacy after getting off to a surprisingly strong start, largely owing to his opposition to the war. That stance drew attention to the little-known candidate whose bluntly worded attacks on Mr. Bush’s tax, education and foreign policies excited Democrats who believe their party leaders are too soft on the president.
Lumping Mr. Bush in with his party rivals, Mr. Dean said, “I question the judgment of those who led us into this conflict — this unfinished conflict — that has made us, on balance, not more secure, but less.”