Former Vermont governor Howard Dean will offer a broad and blistering critique of President Bush's policy toward Iraq today -- and sharp criticism as well of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination -- in a speech asserting that Bush has not made the case for war and calling for United Nations weapons inspections to continue "as long as there is progress" toward disarmament.
Dean accuses the administration of focusing on "the wrong war at the wrong time" and argues that North Korea and especially Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network represent far greater threats to the security of the United States than does Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"To this day, the president has not made a case that war against Iraq, now, is necessary to defend American territory, our citizens, our allies, or our essential interests," Dean says in the text of a speech he plans to deliver at Drake University in Des Moines this afternoon. A copy of the text was made available yesterday to The Washington Post and some other news organizations.
Dean charges that congressional Democrats, including three who are running for president, helped give Bush "a green light to drive our nation into conflict" last fall by supporting a resolution authorizing war against Iraq even without the support of the United Nations. Dean says he would have opposed that resolution.
"That the president was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who postured for position instead of standing on principle," Dean says.
Dean's rivals take issue with his criticism, arguing that he is trying to have it both ways by attempting to stake out a position to their left in hopes of appealing to antiwar Democrats while acknowledging that he would be prepared to go to war unilaterally if Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States.
Bush's "reckless, go-it-alone" policies have damaged relations with the nation's most important allies and his policy of "preemption" has undercut "decades of bipartisan consensus" on foreign policy at home, Dean says
Dean asserts in the speech that America "may have to go to war" against Iraq, but says rushing to war without international support is a mistake. He argues that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's recent presentation before the U.N. Security Council of intelligence on Iraq's weapons program did little to marshal a broad coalition. "I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the secretary but rather by its sketchiness," he says. "He said there would be no smoking gun and there was none."
Dean asserts that Hussein cannot seriously threaten the United States at this time. "What can he get away with as long as Iraq is inspected, under constant surveillance, surrounded, grounded because of no-fly zones, and barred from receiving weapons and other strategic materials?" he asks in the text.
He urged the administration to work more closely with U.N. inspectors and keep pursuing that approach so long as the inspectors credibly say they are making progress.
Dean also criticizes Bush for failing to explain the risks of war, from possible humanitarian disaster if the war lasts more than a few weeks to environmental damage to Iraq's oil fields to the dangers of war causing a new round of terrorism aimed at the United States.
Dean calls the crisis created by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons "the most dangerous situation in East Asia in a decade, perhaps in five decades," but says the administration is treating it "as a sideshow" because it "doesn't fit into any of the administration's preconceived little boxes." He added, "They do not see themselves as negotiators, they see themselves as pre-emptors."
The real danger continues to be the fight against bin Laden and international terrorist networks, Dean says. Like other Democrats, Dean says the administration should be providing more funds for homeland security rather than tax cuts. Noting that Bush mentioned Hussein 18 times in his State of the Union address but never mentioned bin Laden, Dean says, "The president sounds like a war president, but I must ask whether he is focused on the right war."
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