- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate say they retain their right to criticize President Bush and his foreign policy during a war with Iraq, even as other Democrats promise to rally behind the president once war begins.
"In a democracy, you have to express yourself and be honest with how you see the war unfold, and, as we've seen in other times in history, wars can be controversial," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "We support strongly the troops, but there's a difference between the troops and the administration of a war."
His words echoed those made last week by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
"I think that we give [the troops] a chance to go in," Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at a briefing. "I reserve the right in the course of the war to make judgments about how it's proceeding and what it means to the American people. I certainly don't surrender my right to speak out on it."
Mrs. Pelosi made clear that on a recent trip to the Middle East she showed her "appreciation to the troops for their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifice they are willing to make" but that "part of what they fight for is freedom for us to disagree."
She cited a speech given by Sen. Robert Taft, Ohio Republican, on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II: "Criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."
That view stands in contrast with those of other congressional Democrats.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, yesterday gave what he called his last speech critical of the president's diplomacy.
"It is important that our troops know that this country is behind them, regardless of what position we took relative to the importance of sticking with the U.N.," Mr. Levin said.
"They are implementing not just the order of a commander in chief, they are implementing a decision of Congress that was democratically arrived at," he said. "I may have been in the minority on that decision, but I believe fervently that those troops deserve our support."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, shared those sentiments.
"It is time to come together and support our great American men and women in uniform and their commander in chief," he said.
Asked about those who still would criticize Mr. Bush during war, Mr. Lieberman said, "Every candidate for president has to make their own judgment about what they think is appropriate here." He predicted that "once hostilities commence, we will all be united."
At a campaign stop in Iowa this month, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and another seeking his party's presidential nomination, said he would hold his fire against Mr. Bush's foreign policy once shooting begins in Iraq.
"If the war begins, I support the troops and I support the United States of America winning as rapidly as possible," said Mr. Kerry, who had been criticizing the administration's "rush to war."
"I think [the troops] need a unified America that is prepared to win," he said.
Multiple phone calls to the campaigns of Mr. Kerry and Democratic presidential candidates Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean were not returned yesterday.
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and presidential aspirant, has been a staunch supporter of using force to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmeri said Mr. Edwards "will continue to support the troops" and speak about foreign policy only when "he feels it appropriate."
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and another contender, said he would support Mr. Bush's execution of war.
"At a time like this, all Americans must come together to support our commander in chief and our men and women in uniform," Mr. Graham said. "We pray for a rapid completion of our forces' mission and their safe return home."
Mr. Graham added that he remained "concerned that the start of a war will mean an escalation of terrorist activity" and urged the Bush administration to "step up its preparedness" to thwart any terrorist attacks.
Mr. Daschle lashed out before a group of union leaders yesterday, saying the Bush administration had "forced" the United States into war.
"I'm saddened saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're forced to go to war," Mr. Daschle said. "I'm saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was critical for our country."
Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot called the remarks "divisive and brazen political posturing."
"It is disheartening and shameful for Senator Daschle, who has previously advocated and authorized the use of force in Iraq, to now blame America first," he said.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, cautioned against sending a message of disunity to the world, although he did not specify any individuals.
"There is a proper time and place for vigorous debate, but now is the time for America to speak with one voice," Mr. DeLay said yesterday in a statement. "In the weeks and months ahead, let us rededicate ourselves to our common mission, the defense of freedom."

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