Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said he would offer a package deal to North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs and he embraced an unofficial peace plan that establishes the borders of a Palestinian state — breaking dramatically with the approaches of the Bush administration.
Dean, who has risen to the top of the Democratic field in part because of his early and vehement opposition to the war in Iraq, also said he favors immediate elections in Iraq to replace the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which he said is viewed by the average Iraqi as "simply a council of American-chosen puppets." Dean further said he would end funding for the deployment of a missile defense system, a centerpiece of President Bush's presidential campaign four years ago.
But in a wide-ranging 50-minute interview on foreign policy, given as he flew from Burlington, Vt., to Omaha on Friday, Dean also indicated he agreed with a number of Bush's foreign policy stances. In a speech Monday, Dean will seek to counter his image as a darling of the left by positioning himself as a centrist Democrat on foreign policy. Dean portrayed himself as a realist, willing to use military force if necessary, and to maintain relationships and alliances, even if freedom and democracy in countries such as Russia and Pakistan are eroded.
Indeed, Dean suggested that on some issues, the difference between Bush and himself was more of tone and temperament. He said, for instance, he would not have warned Taiwan not to hold a referendum on Chinese missiles if the Chinese premier was at his side, as Bush did last week. "The president's policy is right, but the president's public slap [at Taiwan] wasn't necessary," Dean said.
"Nuance matters in foreign policy," Dean said. "Not only does this administration have a tin ear and want to push through whatever they want to do without regard to people's feelings or thoughts, I think nuance escapes this administration."
The interview, the first time Dean has been questioned in detail about his foreign policy views, appeared to be part of an effort to transform Dean from a candidate known largely for a single, defining issue — opposition to the war in Iraq — to someone with the gravitas to be president and deal with the complex foreign policy challenges of the age.
In March 2000, Dean told a Canadian public affairs program that 98 percent of the public does not vote based on a candidate's foreign policy views, "unless they are really a wacko." Now, he says, because of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Iraq war, national security is the most important issue in this election after the economy. "This president has forfeited our moral leadership in the world because people dislike us so much," he said.
As part of this transition, Dean has begun to pull into his campaign a team of senior foreign policy advisers, many of whom served in the Clinton administration. His campaign will announce the members of this "kitchen cabinet" Monday when he makes his speech, which along with a planned economics speech is intended to lay out his major themes before the New Hampshire primary Jan. 27.
Growing more comfortable
During the interview, the former governor of Vermont appeared at ease handling questions that hopscotched across global trouble spots. One of his foreign policy aides, Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution, sat at his side as he tackled back-to-back newspaper interviews on foreign policy. Dean and Daalder, a former Clinton aide, huddled for five minutes after The Washington Post interview to review Dean's comments before beginning the second session.
Questioned on foreign policy statements he made before he became a presidential candidate, Dean acknowledged a tendency to "say what I think" and that he may have "used undiplomatic language" in the past. But he said he realized that "as president you have to watch your words more carefully."
Though Dean has repeatedly criticized Bush for failing to win international support for the Iraq war, for instance, in June 1998 he defended Clinton's bombing of Iraq by arguing on the Canadian program, "I don't think we could have built an international coalition to invade or have a substantial bombing of Saddam."
During another 1998 appearance on the show, "The Editors," Dean said it was not worth trying to woo French support on foreign policy initiatives. "The French will always do exactly the opposite on what the United States wants regardless of what happens, so we're never going to have a consistent policy," he said.
Asked about the comment, Dean said he now thinks that because the French "have seen how bad things can get with the United States, they might respond to a new president who's willing to offer them respect again."
In addition to Daalder, campaign aides said, Dean's core foreign policy team includes former national security adviser Anthony Lake; retired Gen. Joseph Hoare, a former chief of U.S. Central Command; retired Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, former chief of staff of the Air Force; two former assistant secretaries of defense, Ashton Carter and Frank Kramer; former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice; and political theorist Benjamin R. Barber. Danny E. Sebright, a former Defense Department civil servant who works for the consulting firm headed by Clinton defense secretary William Cohen, is Dean's foreign policy coordinator.
Dean has also reached out to leading members of the Democratic foreign policy establishment as he tries to fill in the gaps in his foreign policy approach. "Dean certainly represents continuity with the bipartisan centrist line that has characterized American foreign policy from 1948 until shortly after 9/11," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski reviewed a draft of Dean's speech but has not endorsed any candidate.
But others in the Democratic Party are troubled by what they see as Dean's inconsistency and a willingness to stake out positions for political gain.
"You can argue persuasively he's a centrist. You can also argue persuasively he is a liberal," said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist think tank. "He's bounced around and not landed anywhere solid yet."
Marshall said he was put off by Dean's "stridently antiwar stance." During the debate over the congressional resolution on Iraq, Marshall said, "he made a critical vote a test of political manhood for Democratic aspirants. He seems to have been opposed to war for the reason that Bush was for it, choosing partisanship over national security."
Lake, President Bill Clinton's first national security adviser, said he has signed on as a key Dean adviser precisely because Dean has both core beliefs — such as engagement, multilateralism when necessary and use of force when appropriate — and a willingness to make decisions according to the facts at the moment. "One of the attractive things about him — though it is also slightly worrisome — is that it is very hard to characterize him," Lake said. "A more doctrinaire approach leads to error."
In the interview, Dean lavished praise on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, saying he never understood why he was a Republican since "his advice is simply for the most part ignored." One Dean adviser said he has discussed with Dean the possibility of keeping Powell on as secretary of state. "That may or may not be in the cards," Dean said, emphasizing that it was too early for that kind of discussion. "We've put almost no time into that [discussing cabinet selections] whatsoever."
New ground on North Korea, Mideast
During the interview, Dean staked out new ground in several important areas. While Bush has tried to forge a five-nation coalition to confront the North Korean crisis — and refused to hold direct talks with Pyongyang — Dean said he would move immediately to bilateral negotiations with the communist nation. Dean's package deal would include economic aid, energy assistance and what he called a "nonaggression pact" in exchange for a dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program that was verified through "an intrusive inspection regime."
Pyongyang has called for such a package of incentives, including a nonaggression treaty. But Bush has rejected a treaty, offering instead written assurances of nonaggression. Bush also has been vague on what incentives, if any, he might offer once the nuclear programs are ended. "North Korea is an example of this president dawdling and dallying for 15 months because the hard-liners in his administration, of which apparently he is one, thought a small nation, a few tens of millions of people, could blackmail us," Dean said.
"Down the line," Dean said, North Korea "ought to be able to enter the community of nations. We have much better control over the rogue behavior of errant states if they are in the tent than not."
On the Mideast peace process, Dean said he agreed with Bush's decision to cut off relations with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But he supported the concept behind what is called the Geneva Accord, which resolves border issues and other vexing matters before the negotiations envisioned in the U.S.-backed "road map" plan. "I think that's the right thing to do," he said, though he was not yet willing to "sign on to every last detail." The Bush administration has said it would not entertain such "shortcuts."
In Dean's speech Monday in Los Angeles, he will note that in the past dozen years, he supported four military interventions: the Persian Gulf War waged by Bush's father, Clinton's campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the invasion of Afghanistan. "As president, I will never hesitate to deploy our armed forces to defend our country and its allies and to protect our national interests," Dean will say, according to a draft of the speech provided by the campaign.
"People have equated his opposition to the war in Iraq to a peacenik approach to foreign policy," said Daalder, a National Security Council staffer under Clinton. "That's not where he comes from."
Dean plans to say he will put troops "in harm's way only when the stakes warrant," after postwar planning has been done, and after "we level with the American people about the relevant facts."
In the speech, Dean also will call for returning the National Guard to home-front duties and limiting its role in overseas conflicts. He will propose the creation of a new fund to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction, as well as spending $30 billion to fights AIDS and other infectious diseases.
During the interview, Dean outlined what could be called his doctrine on the use of force. He said it was appropriate in three instances: after an attack on the United States, when there is clear evidence of an imminent attack and in cases of genocide when other world bodies failed to act. But, he added, he did not favor military interventions in areas where there was no functioning government.
Thus, he said, he might have supported using force to prevent genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, but would not have provided U.S. forces in Somalia or the Congo. As for the Iraq war, he said, "It is now very clear Saddam Hussein presented no threat to the United States whatsoever." He later amended that to "no imminent threat."