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Kerry, Lieberman Defend War Votes but Take Aim at Bush

Democratic presidential hopefuls call for foreign troops to help the U.S. secure peace in Iraq.

September 01, 2003|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Two Senate Democrats running for president defended their support for the war in Iraq on Sunday but faulted President Bush for not bringing in the United Nations to help win the peace.

"I do not want more American troops in Iraq. I want foreign troops," said Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who this week hopes to reenergize his campaign with a kickoff announcement in South Carolina on Tuesday. "We have to reduce the sense of American occupation. We have to take the target off of American troops."

And Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, said he was "convinced [it] was a just war. I believe today that the world is safer with Saddam Hussein gone."

"We ought to be happy to share the burden of keeping the peace and of rebuilding Iraq," Lieberman said.

Kerry and Lieberman have seen their campaigns eclipsed recently by that of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has opposed the war in Iraq from the start. His stand has propelled him to a lead in the polls in key primary states.

In October, Kerry and Lieberman voted in favor of a congressional resolution that authorized the president to use American armed forces "to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

In TV interviews Sunday, the senators sought to distinguish themselves from Dean and Bush on the topic of Iraq.

Kerry said he stood by his vote but faulted Bush for what he called "a rush to war."

"The difference is, I would have planned. I would have been patient. I would have worked with the United Nations," Kerry said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"It is inexcusable that this president did not do the planning that was necessary to know we had to secure a nuclear facility, that we had to secure Baghdad, that we needed [to be] training police, that we needed to restore the facilities in Iraq. So I'm running because I'm angry at the mismanagement of how we worked with our colleagues in the world, and how we, in fact, have conducted the war," Kerry said.

Kerry also said he voted for the war in part on the basis of intelligence reports saying Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't know whether we were lied to. I don't know whether [the Bush administration] had the most colossal intelligence failure in history. I don't know if the policies of the White House drove them to exaggerate. The bottom line is that we voted on the basis of the information that has been given to us, that has since then proven to be incorrect," Kerry said.

Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Lieberman said he supported the war to oust Hussein whether or not the Iraqi dictator had such weapons.

"I reached the conclusion about the evil and the threat that Saddam represented to his people, to the region -- most particularly to the United States of America. We're safer with him gone," Lieberman said.

Kerry and Lieberman said Dean does not have their experience in foreign affairs.

"Howard Dean has zero experience in international affairs," Kerry said. "George Bush has proven that the presidency is not the place for on-the-job training in this new security world."

Both Senate Democrats also said they favored repealing some of Bush's tax cuts but not all of them, as Dean has proposed.

"I want to protect the middle-class tax cut," Kerry said.

Lieberman agreed. Dean's "call that all of the Bush tax cuts be repealed would raise taxes on the middle class. That would be a terrible thing to do when the middle class is already so stressed today."

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