- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

The nine Democratic candidates for president continued their assault on President Bush’s Iraq policy during last night’s debate in Baltimore, but some aimed their harshest critiques at the four candidates who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

“What bothers me is that some in the Congress that supported the president should have asked him, before they gave him entrance, what the exit was,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist. “That is a miserable failure — for us to allow this president to play these kinds of games.”

Asked specifically about their votes, those who voted to authorize force in Iraq said it was the only choice at the time.

“If there hadn’t been a vote, we would never have had inspectors. And if we hadn’t voted the way we voted, we would not have been able to have a chance of going to the United Nations and stopping the president in effect, who already had the votes, and who was obviously asking serious questions about whether Congress would enforce the effort to create a threat,” said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The debate, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and telecast by the Fox News Channel, was the first time all nine candidates had a chance to address Iraq policy head-on since casualties began to mount in the postwar period.

In addition to Mr. Kerry, Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina, and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri voted for the resolution authorizing force.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio particularly targeted Mr. Gephardt, who in 2002 was the House minority leader and who appeared at a rally with the president to celebrate an agreement on the resolution.

“When you were standing there with the president in the Rose Garden and you were giving him advice, I wish you’d told him, ‘No,’” Mr. Kucinich said.

The supporters of the Iraq resolution said they could not have foreseen what they said was Mr. Bush’s reluctance to engage other nations or his failure to anticipate postwar problems.

Mr. Kerry charged the president with “negligence of remarkable proportions.” Mr. Lieberman said there is “no exit strategy” in Iraq.

Mr. Lieberman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sparred over Mr. Dean’s recent comment that the United States needed to change policy to be an honest broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Dean would “break a 50-year record” of support for Israel.

Mr. Dean countered that he shared the same view as former President Bill Clinton — something Mr. Lieberman said wasn’t true. Mr. Dean said achieving peace means the United States must be “trusted by both sides.”

The debate took place at Morgan State University, a historically black institution. It was disrupted frequently by protesters chanting slogans, particularly for fringe candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., prompting Mr. Sharpton to criticize the protesters.

“Will you all respect our right to be heard?” he demanded of the audience.

The debate gave Mr. Dean a chance to answer questions about whether he could reach out to black voters as a candidate from a state with such a low minority population.

“If the percent of minorities in your state has anything to do with how you connect with African-American voters, then [Sen.] Trent Lott [of Mississippi] would be Martin Luther King,” Mr. Dean replied.

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