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Meet the Candidates: Howard Dean

February 25, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Last night we heard from Congressman Richard Gephardt. Tonight we talk with former Vermont governor Howard dean. He is 54 years old, a New York City native, and a graduate of Yale University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After his medical residency, he and his wife, who is also a physician, set up an internal medicine practice in Vermont. He was first elected to the state legislature in 1983. Four years later, he was elected lieutenant governor, rising to governor in 1991, when Republican Richard Snelling died of a heart attack in office. Dean was easily reelected three times. He left office this year to run full time for the Democratic nomination. Howard Dean joins us from the campaign trail in Miami, Florida. Welcome, Governor.

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: You have said that the president has not made his case for leading an attack or starting an attack in Iraq. Why don’t you make your case against that for us?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Sure. I think there’s a high threshold for a unilateral attack, and the United States has traditionally set the moral tone for foreign policy in the world. My view of this is since Iraq is not an imminent danger to the United States, the United States should not unilaterally attack Iraq. Iraq does not have nuclear weapons. They do not have much of a nuclear program, if they have one at all left. And they have not… there is not any particular evidence that is convincing that they have given weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. All those three things would constitute, in my view, a reason to defend our country by unilaterally attacking. But those are not the cases. Sec. Powell and the president have not made those cases well.

We believe… I believe that Iraq does have chemical and biological weapons, and they are a threat to many nations in the region, but not to the United States. Therefore in my view, the United States ought not to attack unilaterally. The United Nations should disarm Saddam, and we should be a part of that effort. The risk for us to unilaterally attack Iraq is that other nations will adopt our policy, and I can very easily see perhaps the Chinese saying one day, “well, Taiwan presents an imminent threat, and therefore we have the right to attack Taiwan.” What we do matters, and morals matter in foreign policy.

GWEN IFILL: Governor, by my count, you just used some version of the word “unilateral” six times in that response. If… the president would argue he is not favoring a unilateral attack, that he has support from Britain and other nations and is now going to the United Nations for a second resolution. Under what circumstances could you imagine a multilateral attack?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Well, I think that the United Nations makes it clear that Saddam has to disarm, and if he doesn’t, then they will disarm him militarily. I have no problem with supporting a United Nations attack on Iraq, but I want it to be supported by the United Nations. That’s a well-constituted body. The problem with the so-called multilateral attack that the president is talking about is an awful lot of countries, for example, like Turkey– we gave them $20 billion in loan guarantees and outright grants in order to secure their permission to attack. I don’t think that’s the right way to put together a coalition. I think this really has to be a world matter. Saddam must be disarmed. He is as evil as everybody says he is. But we need to respect the legal rights that are involved here. Unless they are an imminent threat, we do not have a legal right, in my view, to attack them.

GWEN IFILL: Governor, you have criticized other Democrats in the race for seeming to support the president by voting for the use-of-force resolution last October in Congress, yet you say that you support… you would support… you’d be willing to support a United Nations-backed effort to disarm Saddam Hussein. How is that different from what the people in Congress voted for?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: What they voted for was to allow the president of the United States to attack Iraq unilaterally without going back to Congress. So the four folks that I’m running against who are from Congress all voted to give the president that power. The objection that I have… the greatest objection is for the folks that voted for it and then went to Iowa and California and pretended they are against the war. That doesn’t wash. We’re not going to elect a president of the United States but nominating somebody who says one thing and does something else, and appears to be willing to say whatever it takes to become president. That’s a guarantee that we won’t beat George Bush that way. We have got to stick to our guns. We’ve got to defend our positions, and we’ve got to be proud of our positions.

GWEN IFILL: Are you supportive of the second resolution, which is now apparently making its way to the United Nations Security Council?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Sure. Look, I don’t have a problem with the second resolution because the United Nations will ultimately make the decision about how Saddam is to be disarmed. My own preference is that we give the inspectors some more time– we’re making some progress there– but that if Saddam refuses, for example, to destroy the missiles as the United Nations has demanded, then I think the United Nations is going to have an obligation to disarm him. I think our role in this has been pretty awful. We really have made it more difficult for the United States to carry out its policies by alienating practically everyone, including our friends, in regard to this matter of Iraq, and I think that’s a mistake. I think it would have been a lot easier for us had the president not last July essentially declared that we were going to go in, and if people didn’t like it, that was too bad for them. That was the wrong way to handle it.

GWEN IFILL: It sounds more like you disagree with our approach to this war than to the idea of waging war.

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: We need… well, I disagree with unilateral war. At this point, I don’t think it’s justified and I don’t think the case has been made. I don’t disagree with disarming Saddam. I support that. I think the proper folks to do that are the United Nations, and we should be part of that.

GWEN IFILL: Is Saddam Hussein, in your opinion, an immediate threat now?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: No. If he were, I would advocate unilateral action. That’s… the whole point I’m trying to make is unless he possesses a way of attacking the United States, either by giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, which the president has not made the case for, or by having a nuclear program, then he’s not an imminent threat.

Here is my biggest concern: North Korea is about to go nuclear on this president’s watch, because he refuses to discuss the matter with them. That is a far greater danger to the United States, and frankly, far more likely to lead us into war sooner than any danger posed by Iraq. And of course, the greatest danger remains al-Qaida, which this president is not committing the resources to, is not dealing with the Saudis’ funding of terror and the Saudis’ funding of schools which teach small children in Islamic countries to hate Americans, Christians and Jews, which is the next, second generation of terrorists and suicide bombers. The important problems, the real important threats to the United States-al-Qaida and North Korea– are not being dealt with. They are being put on the back burner because of this president’s obsession with unilateral disarmament of Iraq, which is not a threat to the United States.

GWEN IFILL: Pardon me. So if you say that if you were president, you would back-burner Iraq and put North Korea on the front burner?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: My strategy for dealing with Iraq, as president, would be to contain them, to continue to push the United Nations to disarm them, and then to open talks with North Korea with the impetus… I have a four-point plan which I outlined last weekend at Drake University, and it essentially includes beginning bilateral talks, having an interim solution where both parties agree that, “A,” the United States will not attack North Korea, and “B,” that the North Koreans will not develop nuclear weapons during the talks; and then beginning the process of the five-power talks including South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States to deal with this threat. That is a very serious threat. Under no circumstances can North Korea be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and they are about to do it because this president isn’t paying enough attention.

GWEN IFILL: You are a physician. You were governor of a very small state for some years. What in your background prepares you to be president of the United States?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: I can balance the budget. No person in this race, including Pres. Bush, has balanced a budget. When he was governor of Texas, the system in Texas makes it so that the lieutenant governor actually runs the budget. So I’m actually the only person in this race that has balanced a budget. That’s a critical issue. We have… we have pursued what I call the argentine fiscal plan: Borrow and spend, borrow and spend, and borrow and spend. Our children are going to pay for that, and we need to do better than that. Health insurance is a big issue. I’m the only one that has ever delivered a health insurance plan — investing in small children, creation of jobs– governors get to do those kinds of things, and I have an advantage there.

GWEN IFILL: I guess what I’m asking specifically is your foreign policy background.

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Well, first, I have more foreign policy background than Pres. Bush, Pres. Clinton, Pres. Reagan, or Pres. Carter did when they got there. I have been in over 50 countries, lived abroad, and fortunately have an extraordinarily strong team of advisors which have been working with me for a year to develop my views on foreign policy.

GWEN IFILL: You have gained a reputation now as the antiwar candidate. How do you… if that gets… stirs some hearts, gets blood running among democratic activists, and you were to be elected president, how would you govern a nation that appears to support action?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: I don’t think… I think the nation is actually exactly where I am. There was apparently a poll in the New York Times today, which I haven’t seen, which said that most Americans believe that we should disarm Iraq with the United Nations. That’s what I’ve been saying since last July. I think the president’s mistaken. I think the four folks I’m running against from Congress are mistaken.

GWEN IFILL: Is Iraq a litmus test issue in this year’s election?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: I don’t know. I think we will have dealt with Iraq one way or the other before we get to the primaries. I believe either the president, as determined as he is to make war, will do so shortly, or the United Nations will in fact disarm Saddam, probably through peaceful means. And I think that will be a settled issue before the first caucus in Iowa.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Dean, thank you very much for joining us.

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks very much, Gwen.