Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Howard Dean urged President Clinton to “take unilateral action” in Bosnia, a characterization of the Iraq war for which the former Vermont governor has criticized President Bush.

“Since it is clearly no longer possible to take action in conjunction with NATO and the United Nations, I have reluctantly concluded that we must take unilateral action,” Mr. Dean wrote in a July 19, 1995, letter.

The advice echoes the frustration outlined by Mr. Bush over the years of U.N. inspections and demands that were flouted by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which led to his decision to invade Iraq with help from some U.S. allies but not the approval of the United Nations.

But the supposed unilateral character of the war also has been the source of Mr. Dean’s most stinging rhetoric against the Bush administration.

“This unilateral approach to foreign policy is a disaster,” Mr. Dean warned in April last year, referring to Mr. Bush’s action in Iraq.

“All of the challenges facing the United States — from winning the war on terror and containing weapons of mass destruction to building an open world economy and protecting the global environment — can only be met by working with our allies,” he said. “A renegade, go-it-alone approach will be doomed to failure, because these challenges know no boundaries.”

He also said, “It could well take decades to repair the damage this president and his cohort of right-wing ideological advisers have done to our standing in the international community.”

The letter, published in yesterday’s USA Today, put Mr. Dean on the defensive over his relentless attacks once again.

“The campaign can probably explain this away,” said Andrew Smith, who conducts polling for the University of New Hampshire. “The problem is that we’re seeing more and more of this. You don’t want to have to explain in politics.”

The Dean campaign released a list of quotes from speeches by Mr. Dean in which he said unilateral action is warranted in certain cases.

“America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary,” he said in a speech last month. “But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort.”

All this comes as retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark closed to within 10 percentage points of Mr. Dean in polling in New Hampshire.

“We feel pretty good about where we are,” said Mo Elleithee, a Clark spokesman. “People are clearly moving in our direction.”

Possibly hearing footsteps behind him, Mr. Dean turned his fire to Mr. Clark while campaigning in Iowa.

“I think General Clark is a good guy, but I truly believe he’s a Republican,” Mr. Dean said.

“Look, I don’t mean offense to General Clark. He is a good guy. And I don’t mind that he voted for Nixon and Reagan. That was a long time ago,” he added. “What bothers me is he went out and raised money for the Republican Party and said great things about Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush.”

Mr. Dean also saw his numbers fall slightly in Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses next week.

A three-day Iowa tracking poll showed Mr. Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri slipping, with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts coming to within three percentage points of them.

“This is officially a three-way race,” said John Zogby, who conducted the poll. “Kerry is surging. He actually led the pack on Monday with 25 percent for the day. Dean had his worst single day with only 18 percent.”

• Donald Lambro contributed to this report.

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