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Democratic Officials Discuss Foreign Policy Divisions in the Democratic Party

July 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Iraq and jobs, jobs and Iraq: Whatever the order, the pundits and the polls agree those, in shorthand, are the overriding issues of the 2004 presidential election. What do Kerry and the Democrats offer in each?

Well, Margaret Warner looks first at Iraq and the terrorism and national security issues that go with it.

MARGARET WARNER: And to explore those issues, I’m joined by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who voted against the war and based his losing bid for the Democratic nomination largely on that issue; Washington State Congressman Norm Dicks, a Democratic member of the Defense Appropriations Committee — he supported the Iraq war; and Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, he’s now a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry.

And welcome to you all.

All right. Dennis Kucinich, there are many Democrats who did oppose the war. John Kerry voted for it. How does John Kerry now satisfy those Democrats, like yourself, people who supported you, and prevent them from essentially going to Ralph Nader?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all as someone who led the effort in the House of Representatives challenging the war in Iraq, there’s one thing that I agree with, those such as Congressman Dicks who voted for the war, and that is this is George Bush’s war. It’s not John Kerry’s war. George Bush has to bear the responsibility for the decision-making. Whether someone is for the war or against the war it’s George Bush that has to take the responsibility for the war. And so this is George Bush’s war; it’s not John Kerry’s war.

MARGARET WARNER: And you think that will be persuasive with very liberal progressive Democrats?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: No, we’re going to go beyond that. We’re going to say that we understand that there are differences in our party. We’re going to unite our party; we’re going to unite our party to elect John Kerry and then we’re going to continue the debate within the Democratic Party.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But Norm Dicks, talk about talking to voters like yourself from more conservative districts, military districts who supported the war and still aren’t very comfortable with really, you know, hot anti-war rhetoric. How does John Kerry do both?

REP. NORMAN DICKS: I think John Kerry is doing a great job of talking about the fact that once the war was over — we did very well the first three weeks — but then once that part of the war was over and we got into dealing with this insurgency, it was obvious that we didn’t have enough troops there. General Shinseki said we should have had 200,000 troops there. We have nothing close to that. And we’re struggling now to get the right number of forces there. John Kerry has pointed out that we don’t have a true international coalition and that as president he would work harder to build that coalition. So those are two things that we can talk about.

MARGARET WARNER: Jamie Rubin, how hard is it and how does John Kerry essentially straddle these two factions or groups within the Democratic Party and at the same time appeal to independents on this issue?

JAMIE RUBIN: Look, throughout the nominating process, this was a primary issue for the voters. And John Kerry ended up as the nominee because the voters concluded that all of us can agree that the way we went to war was wrong. The way George Bush took the country to war was wrong. He didn’t exhaust diplomacy. He didn’t build an international coalition. He didn’t, as Congressman Dicks said, have enough forces to win the peace. I think everybody can agree on that. And when Kerry becomes President Kerry, I think the party understands that a failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the world, for the people of Iraq, and for the region. And he wants to succeed there.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. So what is the essential difference between John Kerry’s approach going forward in Iraq and President Bush’s that you’re going to present to the voters?

JAMIE RUBIN: Well, President Bush has forgotten that we can’t do this alone. He’s grudgingly at the last minute only after exhausting all the other alternatives asked for help. But having alienated the world, having broken treaty after treaty, having lost the respect of the United States it’s very hard for George Bush to get help. If John Kerry were elected president, our allies are going to help us. He’ll win back respect for the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: What assurances did you get, Dennis Kucinich, about what John Kerry wants to do going forward in return for or when you agreed to endorse him?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: There was no deal made. Look, I understand very clearly what Sen. Kerry’s position is. I maintain that there are those of us inside the Democratic Party who will continue to oppose the war in Iraq, who will continue to call for the end of the occupation. But where we agree is that we need to get international involvement as a way of bringing our troops home. So there are some areas where we fit. But the bottom line here is –

MARGARET WARNER: But your supporters would like to get out – they’re part of the group that Andy Kohut –

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The New York Times said nine out of ten Democratic delegates, you know, oppose the war in Iraq. Now, I believe that we can keep that debate going inside the party but we’re all going to unite on one question. And that is electing … you know … who should be the next president of the United States. No question about that. It should be John Kerry.

REP. NORMAN DICKS: And we’ve got troops in the field from all over this country who deserve our support, in my judgment. We should continue to support them. George Bush has burned his opportunity with all these other countries. What we need is a fresh start. And that’s what Kerry can give us. He can go to NATO, he can go to the EU, he can ask these countries to rejoin this effort and help Iraq become a democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: So the bottom line, in other words, the Kerry message is I will be the new person, I will be the new president, I will be able to do what President Bush cannot because as you know he went to NATO and totally, not totally failed but failed to get help with other troops in Iraq.

REP. NORMAN DICKS: Yeah. And I think the reason he failed is because he has the same people opposing him that have opposed him all the way. And Kerry would be… would give a new fresh start to this diplomatic effort. And these people are going to want to have a better relationship with the United States and so a new president can do something that the old president can’t.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s broaden this out now to the whole issue of making America more secure and combating terror. And, Jamie Rubin, as you know in the polls even people who no longer give President Bush a very high approval rating still give him much higher marks on keeping America safe from terror than they do to John Kerry. How does John Kerry overcome that and persuade voters that he can keep them as safe or safer?

JAMIE RUBIN: Well, that conversation begins this week. This is really the first time most voters are going to focus on the fact that John Kerry will fight a better and more effective war on terrorism. He’ll use intelligence; he’ll use law enforcement. And he’ll use force as necessary. He’ll use force first if necessary, but John Kerry will be able to get support from the rest of the world. There’s no issue where it’s clearer than this. You cannot win the war on terrorism without help from the rest of the world. John Kerry will get that help and win a more effective war on terror.

MARGARET WARNER: What would you say are the differences between President Bush and John Kerry on how they would fight the war on terror?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, let’s first ask ourselves and Americans will ask themselves are we any safer today than we were four years ago? And I think whatever your political persuasion your answer to that is going to be no, we’re not. Not only that, but there are those of us who feel very strongly that the positions that this administration has taken in not only the Patriot Act but this movement into creating a national security state — even here at this convention you see the evidence of it — is the wrong direction for a free society. But we are going to keep those debates within the Democratic Party and create a basis of support for John Kerry if he wants to change directions. So the important thing to remember about this election is the wisdom of Democrats who can still maintain our differences on policy but unite to elect John Kerry.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s take the 9/11 Commission report because John Kerry moved very quickly, in fact he suggested a national intelligence director, what, a week before the report came out. And he basically endorsed the recommendations. But just today the Bush administration is sending signals that they too are ready to move. Could President Bush essentially out flank John Kerry on that issue?

REP. NORMAN DICKS: Well, he’s the President. He can always do an executive order. We need to make these changes. And the Commission has made we may need to make them now. Now I’m on the Homeland Security Committee and I’m on the Defense Subcommittee.

This administration has failed in homeland security. I’m amazed that the American people don’t get it. The Council on Foreign Relations laid it out — that we haven’t got any safer. The Commission said we’re a little bit safer than we were three years ago but we’re not safe. And we look at all the areas– container security, border security, dealing with all these issues of how do you fund the firefighters and take care of these problems? How do you get better communications? In every area we’re still extremely vulnerable. And it’s shocking to me that somehow this administration has fooled the American people into thinking that therefore they’re for homeland security. They have not done a good job, period.

MARGARET WARNER: The last question to you, and this has to do with Sen. Kerry’s own record. As you know, the Republicans are saying he’s weak on defense. Vice President Cheney’s attacked him for voting against weapons systems. The President has for voting against intelligence. Is his long and, of course, mixed voting record an Achilles Heel now when he’s trying to present himself as a credible commander in chief?

JAMIE RUBIN: I think after this convention’s over, the American people will see a man who served his country in war, who won awards and ribbons and medals for war, who served in that way, in ways that perhaps other people didn’t. They’ll see someone who understands national security. John Kerry understands the world we live in. He’s been following it for 20 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he looks out at the world now and he has a better way to make America safe through intelligence, through homeland security plans, through use of force, if necessary, through getting the world to support us. He will convince the American people of that.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think it should be said that if President Bush wants to make the charge that somehow John Kerry is weak on defense I think it’s very easy to have the rejoinder that this administration isn’t very smart about defense.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all three very much.