- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

The Democratic National Committee is asking party members to defend Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's criticism of the way President Bush has handled the Iraq crisis even as U.S.-led forces invade the country.

In the hours before and after the president's order Wednesday night to begin the war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, the DNC sent e-mails to its grass-roots activists that said "Democratic leaders are standing up to Bush; Make sure you stand up for them!"

"Republicans will stop at nothing to gain a political advantage from this military conflict," said an e-mail yesterday.

Republican National Committee officials declined requests to comment on the DNC e-mails, copies of which were obtained by The Washington Times. But another Republican official called the messages "outrageous. Our people are at war, risking their lives, and the Democrats are playing politics."

Another e-mail sent Wednesday to DNC's members and supporters just hours before hostilities in Iraq were about to begin, said, "We must spread the word that Democrats are standing up and speaking out for all Americans in this dangerous time."

The e-mail took Republicans to task for rebuking Mr. Daschle for his attack on the president's war policies Tuesday.

The South Dakota Democrat said at that time that he was "saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. 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."

His statement was denounced by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who said the remarks "may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."

The rebuke by Mr. Hastert and other Republicans triggered a wave of DNC e-mails to Democrats, saying that "Republicans have responded with personal attacks on Democrats, questioning their patriotism in order to gain a political advantage from the military conflict."

The tone of the DNC e-mails was in sharp contrast to statements put out by Democratic presidential front-runners, who support Mr. Bush on the war. Several of the candidates made clear they had no differences with Mr. Bush over the mission to liberate Iraq.

"Now is one of those times when we are all standing shoulder to shoulder," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. "President Bush is a Republican. I'm a Democrat. But at this moment there's not an inch of distance between us."

"Nobody wishes for war. But we must face the challenge of terrorism head on and I support our commander in chief and the American military at this critical time in that struggle," Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said.

Mr. Daschle and his Democratic counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have vowed to continue to speak out on the war, while other Democrats say the time for debate is over.

"There are better ways to express opposition to the war. I don't think the statements by the Democratic leadership have been examples of better ways of expressing opposition to the war," said Bill Galston, a veteran policy strategist with the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council.

Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic state chairmen during the past two days showed that while all of them defended Mr. Daschle for speaking out, they wanted the party to end its criticism of the war.

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