- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert yesterday said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's criticism of President Bush came "mighty close" to giving comfort to U.S. adversaries and undermining the president as he headed toward war.
"Senator Daschle has spent more time criticizing the leadership of President Bush than he has spent criticizing the tyranny of Saddam Hussein," Mr. Hastert said.
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, on Monday said Mr. Bush's failed diplomacy had forced the nation to war.
"Those comments may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close," Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, said in a statement.
Mr. Daschle, addressing a union audience in Washington, said he was "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."
He said yesterday that he stood by his remarks.
"For us not to even have Canada and Mexico and some of those key allies with us as we go forward is an illustration of what I was saying. We have not had the diplomatic success that many of us had hoped," he said.
Mr. Daschle contrasted Mr. Bush's promised coalition with the "perfect model" that President George Bush assembled for the 1991 Gulf war.
"Having the 20 coalition members, the 200,000 coalition troops, the 90 percent support financially of those coalition countries is a lot different than what we're experiencing today," he said.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer noted that Mr. Daschle went with the majority when the Senate voted 77-23 in the fall to authorize the use of force in Iraq and that Mr. Daschle had supported President Clinton when he took military action against Saddam.
In September 1996, Mr. Daschle took to the Senate floor and said Saddam's "willingness to brutally attack Kurds in northern Iraq and abrogate U.N. resolutions is simply unacceptable."
"We intend to make that point clear with the use of force, with the use of legislative language and with the use of other actions that the president and the Congress have at their disposal."
In February 1998, with troops in the Persian Gulf and the threat of war rising, Mr. Daschle declared that Saddam "has to agree that there will be compliance with international law and the agreements that he signed in 1991. Period."
"We have exhausted virtually our diplomatic effort to get the Iraqis to comply with their own agreements and with international law. Given that, what other option is there but to force them to do so?" he said. "The answer is, we don't have another option. We have got to force them to comply, and we are doing so militarily."
Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Daschle did not voice his criticism when he and other congressional leaders attended a White House meeting Monday.
"Just as recently as last fall, Senator Daschle said, 'We ought not politicize this war; we ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death. We have to rise to a higher level. It's not too late to forget the pollsters, the campaign fund-raisers,'" Mr. Fleischer said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, defended Mr. Daschle. "In expressing his views, Tom Daschle is being patriotic," she said. "The Republican leaders are being partisan."
Despite his criticism of Mr. Bush's diplomacy, Mr. Daschle said, the resolution authorizing use of force remained good policy.
"I think that it's clear that Saddam Hussein poses a threat today as he posed last fall. What we said last fall is that it was very important for us to deal with that threat and to use every diplomatic means necessary, especially the United Nations and the international coalition we hoped could be built, before we committed the use of force," he said. "I supported it then; I'd support it now."
He also stressed that as a veteran he served in the Air Force from 1969 to 1972 he supported the troops who would be committed to battle.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said he was not surprised by Mr. Daschle's comments.
"Is Tom Daschle the official Democrat hatchet man or just a taxpayer-funded pundit?" he asked. "Fermez la bouche, Monsieur Daschle." That translates roughly as "Shut your mouth, Mr. Daschle."
Other Republicans expressed outrage.
"I think Senator Daschle clearly articulated the French position, and I just don't think that's how most Americans see it. I don't think that's how most members of Congress see it. I, frankly, don't even think that's how most Democrats here in the United States Senate see it," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.
Republicans plan to introduce a resolution expressing support of American troops.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he expects such a resolution to gain wide bipartisan support.

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