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Dem Donnybrook Over Saddam

The capture of Saddam Hussein has taken center stage in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Front-runner Howard Dean has forcefully renewed his anti-war credentials by saying "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer." Dean's remarks immediately drew fire from four of his presidential rivals.

Dean has vaulted to the top of the Democratic field largely on the basis of his firm opposition to the war in Iraq. On Monday, he signaled supporters that Saddam's capture has done thing to change his outlook.

"The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will keep our soldiers in Iraq and around the world safer," Dean said in a speech in Los Angeles. "But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Many of Dean's rivals see Saddam's capture as an opportunity to damage his standing with Democratic voters. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Dick Gephardt all attacked the former Vermont governor. Sen. John Edwards also offered muted criticism of Dean.

  • Lieberman, the most pro-war of the Democrats, delivered the harshest criticism of Dean. The Connecticut senator said his rival was in a "spider hole of denial," a reference to Saddam's ignominious hideout and Dean's assessment of the capture's impact.
  • Kerry said the front-runner's speech "is still more proof that all the advisers in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign policy experience, leadership skills, or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times."
  • Gephardt, the Missouri lawmaker who backed Mr. Bush's war resolution, accused Dean of trying to reposition his anti-war policy in light of Saddam's capture. "That to me is playing politics with foreign policy," he told reporters in Milwaukee.
  • Edwards, who also supported the war, offered the tamest criticism of the front-runner. "Because of the position I've taken on Saddam Hussein in the past … I differ with Gov. Dean about that," Edwards said of Dean's comments, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    In the first presidential election since the Sept. 11 attacks, national security looms large, a sharp change from the post-Cold War emphasis on domestic issues. Democrats need to show they are tough on terrorism.

    "Our most important challenge will be to address the most dangerous threat of all: catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction," Dean said in his speech to the Pacific Council in Los Angeles. "Here, where the stakes are highest, the current administration has, remarkably, done the least."

    Later, in a question-and-answer session, he added, "Saddam is a frightful person and I'm delighted that he's gone. But there are many frightful people in the world."

    Sensitive to criticism that his foreign policy record is thin, Dean pledged to bolster U.S. troops, particularly terrorism-fighting special forces, and U.S. intelligence. He faulted Bush for failing to deal with North Korea, saying, "this president is responsible for the fact that North Korea has become a nuclear power."

    Dean's campaign announced a list of prominent foreign affairs advisers, including Anthony Lake, national security adviser in the Clinton White House.

    The Dean team's first task will be to help the candidate smooth an uneven record on foreign policy. He has misspoken (calling Latin America a hemisphere), reversed course (he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement as governor, but opposes it now) and has been careless with his rhetoric (he said the United States would not "take sides" in the Mideast, a slap to longtime ally Israel).

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