In a major foreign policy address Monday, Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean hailed the capture of Saddam Hussein as “good news for the Iraqi people and for the world,” but also claimed that his capture “could have taken place six months ago.”
Dean foreign policy adviser Susan Rice said after the speech that the former Vermont governor meant that if the Bush administration had done thorough planning for the aftermath of the military conflict, it could have developed better intelligence sources and in turn might have more quickly captured the deposed Iraqi dictator.
“The capture of Saddam has not made America safer,” Dean also said in the speech.
Lieberman: Dean in 'his own spider hole'
That remark drew a caustic reply from one of Dean’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.
“Howard Dean has climbed into his own spider hole of denial if he believes that the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer,” Lieberman said. “Saddam Hussein is a homicidal maniac, brutal dictator, supporter of terrorism, and enemy of the United States, and there should be no doubt that America and the world are safer with him captured.”
In a question-and-answer period following the speech, Dean also said, “I have never found the evidence convincing that Iraq was ever a significant threat to the United States.”
Dean’s candidacy has been powered by his attack on what he calls “the president’s unilateral intervention in Iraq.”
The Bush administration disputes the characterization of the removal of Saddam as “unilateral.” Several other nations, most significantly Great Britain, have contributed troops to the Iraq operation and have suffered casualties.
Dean said in Monday’s speech to the Pacific Council in Los Angeles that Bush had “launched the wrong war, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help and at extraordinary cost.”
'Rallying cry for terrorist recruits'
The Iraq war, he alleged, “diverted critical intelligence and military resources … and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.”
Dean said he “would not have hesitated” to launch an attack on Iraq “had the United Nations given us permission and asked us to be part of a multilateral force.”
And he emphasized that he would support use of American military force in some cases, noting that he did support the rollback of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the effort to halt ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo.
He also said that in Iraq he would have supported U.S. intervention to halt Saddam’s massacres of Shiites in 1991.
Dean, who many polls show is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, also charged that Bush “is about to be responsible for the fact that North Korea has become a nuclear power.” He said, “There is no disgrace in having the most powerful nation on earth negotiate bilaterally with North Korea, while we also pursue a multilateral track.”
Dean assailed “the hard-liners in the Bush administration” for spurning the possibility of engaging in bilateral negotiations with the regime of Kim Jong Il.
In the speech, Dean blasted what he called Bush’s “go-it-alone approach to every problem,” as well as what he said was its “radical unilateralism” and “brash boastfulness.”
“We find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented,” he declared, charging that Bush administration officials “seem to believe that nothing can be gained from working with nations that have stood by our side as allies for generations.”
He pledged to expand the existing U.S. program to find and control the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons inventory of the former Soviet Union.
Fire from Lieberman, Kucinich
Of Dean’s eight rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, his most severe critics have been Lieberman and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Lieberman told reporters Sunday, “the capture of Saddam Hussein makes clear the choice between Howard Dean and me, which is the clearest choice that the candidates for president in the Democratic Party present.”
Lieberman said, “If Howard Dean has his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison.”
Kucinich meanwhile has criticized Dean for offering no timeline for withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq and for not being willing to cut the Defense Department budget – which Kucinich proposes to cut by $60 billion or about 15 percent of current outlays.
“No one else is saying definitively that we must end the (Iraq) occupation and I’m the only one doing it,” Kucinich told MSNBC.com recently. “I see this as a defining issue in this election. We must have a plan to get out. Not maybe. … We must have the Democrats united in ending the occupation.”