- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Democratic leaders around the country said yesterday it is time for their party to "speak with one voice" and pull behind President Bush on the looming war in Iraq to depose and disarm Saddam Hussein.
Interviews with Democratic state chairmen and other party leaders showed there was still deep opposition to the war and the way Mr. Bush has handled the diplomatic front with America's allies. Most said despite the bitter debate in their party about going to war, the time for criticizing the administration's war policies must end once Mr. Bush gives the order to send U.S. air and ground forces into Iraq.
"At that point, it is important for Democrats to indicate that they support both the president as well as our armed forces. It is important to unify when our men and women are going into battle and need to have our support," said former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta.
"The debate went on, but now we are in a different situation," said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Kathleen Sullivan.
"I have serious reservations about this war, but now that we are about to go to war, every American believes we should get in there, get the job done and get out with a minimum of casualties."
The centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, which has fiercely attacked Mr. Bush for his handling of the Iraq conflict, called on "fellow Democrats to rise above the partisan fray and avoid letting their anger … distract them from the national interest in winning this war."
"Now is the time for Americans to unite in support of the president and our troops as they finish the job left undone in 1991 as quickly and humanely as possible," the DLC said in a statement.
"The time is over for recriminations," the DLC said.
Other Democrats who have been critical of Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq said circumstances had changed now that hostilities had begun.
"We need to speak with once voice about Hussein," said former Democratic Rep. Tim Penny of Minnesota. "I think Bush stumbled on several occasions. But in criticizing those missteps, you have to be cognizant of the tragedies Hussein and his regime have done to the Iraqi people."
These views represented a dramatic change in tone among Democrats, whose House and Senate leaders, only one day earlier, were lambasting Mr. Bush for putting the country on a war path without a stronger international coalition behind it.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle drew bitter Republican fire Tuesday when he 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 so critical for our country."
But Democrats yesterday refused to find any fault with Mr. Daschle's remarks. "What Daschle said reflected the frustration that a lot of us had," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "Now it is important to support the president."
Still, some Democrats expressed dismay that their party had not been able to come up with a more unifying position on Iraq, one that emphasized national security issues and the need to eliminate Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
"Ultimately, the Democratic Party would have done better if we had developed a coherent position with regard to Saddam Hussein," Mr. Panetta said. "There was a lot of frustration that the Democrats could have spoken with a stronger voice, but with an alternative approach the administration should have taken."
Despite surveys showing upward of 70 percent of Americans supporting Mr. Bush's stance on Iraq, pollsters and Democratic strategists said the party remained deeply split on the war.
"I've polled extensively in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the prototypical Democratic primary voters in both states are very opposed to the war," said pollster John Zogby.
The latest remarks by Mr. Daschle and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Zogby said, represented a coordinated effort to appeal to the party's large anti-war base to hold them in line in preparation for the 2004 presidential elections.

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