Howard Dean, the newly minted leader of the Democratic Party, and former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle made clear their opposing views on the war in Iraq during a debate marred by a protester who tossed a shoe at Perle.
Perle had just started his comments Thursday when a protester threw a shoe at him before being dragged away, screaming, “Liar! Liar!”
Perle, who was Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s top policy adviser, was a key architect of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and Dean is among the war’s most prominent opponents.
In his new role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Dean has stressed that Democrats are stronger than Republicans on defense.
“Defense is a lot broader than swaggering around saying you’re going to kick Saddam’s butt,” Dean said Thursday, drawing cheers from the crowd in this city that overwhelmingly voted Democratic last November.
Perle said the war in Iraq was justified based on the intelligence available at the time. “Sometimes the things we have to do are objectionable to others,” he said.
'Low hanging fruit'
Dean also said the Bush administration has ignored the mounting threat in Iran and North Korea. “We picked the low hanging fruit in Iraq and did nothing” about the other, more dangerous regimes, he said.
Perle had his own barbs, too. He began his opening comments in the 1½-hour debate by saying Democrats “looked at the Democratic Party and chose a physician to lead them.”
Perle, a veteran of the Reagan administration and a former Pentagon adviser, was forced by one of the questioners to recast a comment he made on Sept. 22, 2003, in which he predicted that within one year, there would be “a grand square in Baghdad named for President Bush.”
“I’d be a fool not to recognize that it did not happen on the schedule I had in mind,” Perle said, adding that he did not deny that the administration had made mistakes in Iraq.
But, Perle added, “I will be surprised, yet again, if we do not see a square in Baghdad named after this president.” He did not specify a time.
Dean became chairman of the DNC earlier this month. The former governor of Vermont had been leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination but failed last January in the Iowa caucuses. His candidacy sparked interest among young voters and attracted millions of dollars, largely through the Internet.
Thursday’s debate was part of the annual forum held by Pacific University to honor Tom McCall, a former Republican governor of Oregon.