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Democratic Candidates on Iraq

Iraq was a major issue in the early stages of the battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. The Democrats running for president hammered away at President Bush, and each other, over how best to handle the situation in Iraq. Howard Dean criticized Senator Kerry and the other Democratic candidates who voted to support President Bush's request for congressional authority to use force in Iraq. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said his foreign policy experience in the Congress gave him an advantage over former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, the early front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination next year. Kerry supported the war in Iraq but now questions the administration's post-war approach. He also raised the specter of the long and bloody US involvement in Vietnam.

Continuing attacks against US soldiers in Iraq combined with a growing controversy over pre-war intelligence prompted opposition Democrats to raise new questions about President Bush's foreign policy record. Democrats sensed an opening to take on the president in an area where he has enjoyed strong public support. The wide public-backing of the president's foreign policy had long intimidated Democrats. But rising casualties among US troops in Iraq and a White House admission of faulty pre-war intelligence had Democrats on the offensive.

Congressman Kucinich was the only one of five members of Congress running for president who voted against the congressional resolution giving President Bush the authority to use military force to disarm Saddam Hussein. Four congressional Democrats running for president -- Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina -- supported the resolution on the use of force. The remaining Democratic candidates, former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton, and former General Wesley Clark, also opposed the war with Iraq.

In February 2003 public opinion polls indicated about 60-percent of Americans supported the president on Iraq. But those same surveys suggest that nearly 50-percent of Democratic voters opposed war. By March 2003 a New York Times-CBS News poll found that 70-percent of Republicans surveyed agreed with the notion that removing Saddam Hussein from power is worth American casualties. But among Democrats, only 35-percent agreed with that view while 61-percent were opposed. This put some of the Democrats running for president in a difficult position. They want to seem loyal and patriotic and tough on Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. And at the same time, they knew that the grass roots Democrats were not enthusiastic about a war, and are worried about the president going too far too fast.

With President Bush's popularity falling amid rising public concern over his handling of Iraq, North Korea and the shaky economy, Democratic contenders saw optimistic signs for 2004. On the question of Iraq, most challengers voiced opposition in varying degrees to the Bush administration's position on the use of force to disarm Iraq.

"Dean is beyond categories like liberal and centrist because he is beyond coherence.... When you actually try to pin him down on a policy, you often find there is nothing there. For example, asked how we should proceed in Iraq, he says hawkishly, "We can't pull out responsibly." Then on another occasion he says dovishly, "Our troops need to come home," and explains, fantastically, that we need to recruit 110,000 foreign troops to take the place of our reserves. Then he says we should not be spending billions more dollars there. Then he says again that we have to stay and finish the job. At each moment, he appears outspoken, blunt and honest. But over time he is incoherent and contradictory. He is, in short, a man unrooted. This gives him an amazing freshness and an exhilarating freedom."

"The Mysterious Stranger" By DAVID BROOKS
The New York Times December 9, 2003

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