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JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, the Democrats who want to be president were at it again last night. They appeared together at a CNN debate in Phoenix. It was one year ago today that the House of Representatives approved a resolution giving the president authority to wage war against Iraq. A key issue last night was who supported the resolution and why. General Wesley Clark was the primary, but not the only, target of criticism. Judy Woodruff of CNN moderated the debate. Here are some excerpts.
HOWARD DEAN: General Clark, a year ago today, advised to support the resolution. Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman, Representative Gephardt, Senator Edwards, all gave the president a blank check to go to war in Iraq, putting people today in the position of having to decide whether we’re going to spend $87 billion on health care or spend it in Iraq.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I must say that I’ve been very disappointed since Wes Clark came into this race, about the various positions he has taken on the war against Saddam Hussein. Howard Dean is right. Last fall, a few days before the voting in Congress, he said he would have recommended it and would have supported the resolution. After the war, he wrote a piece in the “Times” of London praising President Bush and Tony Blair for their resolve. When he became a candidate he said he probably would have voted for the resolution. There was an uproar. Then he said, I never would have voted for the resolution.
WESLEY CLARK: Well, Judy, I would like to rebut this. I am not going to attack a fellow Democrat, because I think everybody on this stage shares the same goal. ( Applause ) I think it’s a little… I think it’s really embarrassing that a group of candidates up here are working on changing the leadership in this country and can’t get their own story straight. Let me tell you what my story is. I always supported taking the problem of Saddam Hussein to the United Nations and bringing international resolve to bear. I would never have voted for war. The Congress made a mistake in giving George Bush an open-ended resolution that enabled him to go to war without coming back to the Congress.
JUDY WOODRUF: But you acknowledge you made a…
WESLEY CLARK: And that’s the simple answer to it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You acknowledge…
WESLEY CLARK: At every stage as we walked down through this resolution, since I wasn’t in Congress and I was a CNN military commentator, I took the situation as it was and necked it down to look for the least worst choice. I did praise George Bush and Tony Blair for sticking with the offensive in Iraq once it had begun. But I also noted in every op-ed and every comment I ever made that there was not enough forces there, there was not a plan for dealing with it afterwards. And I’ve said all along, it was not an imminent threat.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, I disagree with General Clark that this is an attack when Joe Lieberman raises an issue. People are trying to decide who can lead the United States of America. And the positions we take are critical to their capacity to make that decision. The fact is that last year General Clark did say he would vote for the resolution that was in the Congress. In addition to that, at the time in May when he said that the right people were in charge, referring to Bush and to Cheney and Rumsfeld, and at that moment the general was prepared to say they’re the right people.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I would like to say that it would have been good if Senator Kerry and Congressman Gephardt, both have been articulate in criticizing the president, had actually voted against the resolution that took us to war. Mr. Dean has said he believes – he says what he believes. I want to ask: Do you believe in spending $87 billion to keep our troops to Iraq, because I don’t, do you?
HOWARD DEAN: Could I answer the question?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.
HOWARD DEAN: I believe if the president is serious about supporting our troops in Iraq, and he has to say where he’s got the money from, he has to get rid of the $87 billion in tax cuts that went to Ken Lay and Enron.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Would you fund keeping the troops in Iraq?
HOWARD DEAN: Yes.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: You would?
HOWARD DEAN: If the president is willing to pay for that.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I say bring our troops home.
HOWARD DEAN: You can’t do that and I’ll tell you why.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We have to bring our troops home. They’re targets right now.
HOWARD DEAN: Can I tell him why I disagree. Now that we’re there, we can’t pull out responsibly, because if we do, there are more al-Qaida in Iraq before the president went in. If they establish a foothold in Iraq, or if a fundamentalist Shiite regime comes in, allied with Iran, that is a real security danger to the United States when one did not exist before when Saddam Hussein was running the place.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Edwards, you voted with the president. What do you say to governor dean?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I say Saddam Hussein being gone is a good thing, good for the security of the American people, good for the security of that region, but I disagree so strongly with what he has just said. I stood up to the president over and over and over including back in 2001 when some people had hope for President Bush. I did not have hope for President Bush.
AL SHARPTON: If I were president, I would go in and say we were wrong. Tony Blair and George Bush had a meeting, acted as though it was a world summit, two guys and a phone booth, acted like the whole world had met, and they made a wrong move. I think if we were not inflexible, we could get more support and withdraw.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How long should the U.S. remain in Iraq?
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: I don’t know that you can put a timeline on this. It’s a matter of getting us out with honor as gracefully and graciously and sensibly as we can manage. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place. This administration failed the American people, misled the American people by sending our troops there to begin with, but now that we’re there, we have to come out with some honor.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: Incidentally, you know this army in Iraq was built by the Clinton administration, not by the Bush administration. They’ve done a pretty good job. I’m pretty proud of what they’ve done. So I don’t buy the idea that we didn’t stand for the right things.