Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has declared it “plain wrong” to think of achieving victory in Iraq, prompting President Bush, and some fellow Democrats, to flatly disagree.

“The idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong,” Mr. Dean said Monday on WOAI Radio in San Antonio.

His stark opinion came after the White House released a 30-page “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” last week and Republicans began accusing Democrats of becoming the “cut-and-run” party.

Mr. Dean likened the more than 2-year war in Iraq to the 10-year Vietnam War. He also compared the administration’s faulty intelligence on stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon.

Republicans rolled out some big guns to rebut Mr. Dean, including Mr. Bush.

“I know we’re going to win, and our troops need to hear, not only are they supportive, but that we have got a strategy that will win,” he told reporters at the White House. “Oh, there’s pessimists, you know, and politicians who try to score points.”

Mr. Dean called for an immediate pullout of all National Guard and Reserve troops and then a full “redeployment” of remaining troops to an unnamed Middle East country and to the fight in Afghanistan.

“The White House wants us to have a permanent commitment to Iraq. This is an Iraqi problem,” Mr. Dean said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman yesterday followed Mr. Dean to the WOAI microphone.

“It’s fairly extraordinary,” he said. “I can’t remember any time in history where the leader of a national party, one of our two national parties, predicted that America would lose a war we were engaged in. I think it sends the wrong message to our troops.”

A number of Democrats disagreed with the idea that Iraq is a lost cause.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who faces re-election next year, said: “The senator disagrees with Mr. Dean, and he also feels in regard to establishing a timetable for troop withdrawal that is not the way to go. … At this point, the long-term national security interest are paramount issues, and cutting and running in Iraq is not the solution.”

A spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, who also faces re-election next year , said: “Senator Nelson believes that victory in Iraq is obtainable through establishing clear and measurable objectives, and he does not support immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.”

Karen Finney, DNC communications director, issued a statement that appeared to pull back from Mr. Dean’s no-win statement.

“We can only win if the Iraqi people are able to play a greater role in peacekeeping,” she said. “And we can only win if the president gives an honest assessment of what’s really happening on the ground in Iraq.”

Democratic congressional leaders were careful not to criticize their party chairman.

“Every Democrat I know of in the House of Representatives wants to have success of our policies in Iraq,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “They want to see a democracy; they want to see stability.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the war must be won militarily, economically and politically, and added: “We have the ability to win all three.”

He said Democrats can take credit for having changed the course of the debate in the past few weeks, beginning with his own move to shut down the Senate to force action on an investigation into prewar intelligence.

“Democrats in Congress together are saying we have to get out. It’s a question of whether it’s six months or 10 months or 12 months or 18 months,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Mr. Dean’s no-victory assessment — while 160,000 American troops are fighting and preparing for historic Dec. 15 elections in Iraq — is the latest Democratic ratcheting up of rhetoric on Iraq.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, intensified the Iraq debate last month by calling for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and likely 2008 presidential candidate, said on ABC’s “This Week”: “You know, this is not a war that we should really think in terms of winning or losing. What we tried to do there was go in and make sure that the Iraqi people could get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now it is a political matter, and the military mission, in my view, needs to come to an end.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Iraq should be divided into “three autonomous regions.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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