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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Strong Calls for Widening War Come From Democratic Front

Politics: Sens. Lieberman, Kerry and Biden, possible 2004 presidential contenders, are viewed as neo-hawks and focus on the need for ground troops.

November 09, 2001|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — In an unusual political alignment, several potential Democratic presidential contenders in 2004 are urging President Bush to intensify and expand the war against terrorism.

While not criticizing Bush's management of the war so far, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware in varying ways have taken positions more hawkish than the president. On issues from the use of ground troops in Afghanistan to the targeting of Iraq and policy toward Saudi Arabia, Lieberman and Kerry in particular have echoed conservative activists pressing Bush to pursue the war more aggressively.

"In certain ways, Lieberman and . . . Kerry have been closer to us than parts of the Bush administration," said conservative strategist William Kristol, a leader among Republicans hawks.

This unlikely confluence underscores the current political dynamic of this war: To the extent the administration faces domestic political pressure, it is almost all in the direction of escalating, rather than restraining, the military campaign.

The martial notes from the Democratic senators may also herald the first real policy division among possible contenders for their party's 2004 presidential nomination. The other leading Democrats--including former Vice President Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri--have supported Bush's decisions on the pace and scope of the struggle against terrorism without reservation.

Democrats Less Apt to OK Use of Power

"I think the steps we've taken so far make sense," said Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), another potential 2004 contender in that camp. "Generally, I think the administration has done well."

Since the Vietnam War, most Democrats have been less enthusiastic than Republicans about employing U.S. military power abroad. In early 1991, for instance, most congressional Democrats (including Biden and Kerry, though not Lieberman) voted against the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

President Clinton somewhat reversed that pattern--deploying U.S. forces in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. But no Democrat has seriously sought the party presidential nomination as an unabashed foreign policy hawk since the late Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) in 1976.

Lieberman, Kerry and Biden, the neo-hawk Democrats, don't agree on all the next steps. And each says diplomacy ought to play a role in combating terrorism. But among them, they have urged more aggressive action on three different fronts. These are:

* Use of ground troops in Afghanistan.

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has been more outspoken than perhaps any other lawmaker except Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in arguing that the campaign against the Taliban is unlikely to succeed without a substantial commitment of U.S. ground troops.

"I think some ground forces are going to be necessary," Kerry said earlier this week. "No doubt about it. And I think we have to do whatever is necessary to win."

Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hasn't been as forceful, but he has argued that the United States will ultimately need a greater ground presence to achieve its goals.

Several Republicans criticized Biden after he told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York late last month that the sustained bombing in Afghanistan risked portraying the United States to Muslims as a "high-tech bully." But in that same address, Biden said the Islamic world was "exponentially" more likely to remain supportive if the United States fought "mano-a-mano" with Taliban and Al Qaeda forces on the ground.

He said in his speech: "I think the American public is prepared, and the president must continue to remind them to be prepared, for American body bags coming home."

Their words about ground forces have placed Kerry and Biden well beyond most other Democrats on the issue; even Lieberman hasn't explicitly urged a ground offensive. More commonly, leading Democrats have said they would not rule out the use of more ground troops but would effectively defer to Bush on whether and when they might be necessary.

Edwards, for instance, said, "We are there to win the war . . . and I don't think any option should be off the table."

But he added that the current reliance on air power and limited use of Special Forces deserved more time to succeed. "Anything we can do that is effective but puts less lives at risk is preferable," Edwards said.

* Widening the war to Iraq.

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