The arrest of Saddam, widely considered a boost for President Bush’s policies amidst continuing attacks against U.S. troops, triggered a wave of statements and interviews from the nine Democratic candidates as they refocused their foreign policy views on Iraq.
Former Vermont governor and apparent front-runner Howard Dean, whose rise to the top of the Democratic field was fueled in part by his blunt opposition to the Iraq war, said Monday that “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”
But Dean also issued a broader attack on the president’s foreign policy, saying he was taking the country “in a radical and dangerous direction” by failing to win greater international cooperation.
“This president talked the talk of Western Hemisphere partnership in his first months, but at least since 9/11 he has failed to walk the walk,” Dean said during a broad foreign policy speech in California. “He has allowed crises and resentments to accumulate and squandered good will built up over many years.”
In a statement on his campaign’s Web site, Dean praised Saddam’s capture as “a great day for the Iraqi people, the U.S., and the international community” and also said that the development “provides an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war.”
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called the capture “a great day for U.S. forces, the Iraqi people and the world,” on Sunday. Kerry reportedly shifted his schedule in order to deliver a foreign policy speech on Tuesday in Iowa, site of the Jan. 19 caucuses, entitled “Foreign Policy in a Post-Saddam World: Rebuilding Our Alliances and Iraq.”
Former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun said Sunday that Saddam’s capture is good news but “does not change the fact that our troops remain in harm’s way and we are no closer to bringing them home.”
Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., made reference to his support of the congressional resolution that gave President Bush broad authority to wage war in Iraq.
“I supported this effort in Iraq without regard for the political consequences because it was the right thing to do,” Gephardt said on Sunday. “I still feel that way now and today is a major step toward stabilizing Iraq and building a new democracy.”
Gephardt added that Americans “need a president who has the credibility to unite the American people and our allies in an effort to make our nation and our world safe.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a staunch supporter of the war to oust Saddam, was effusive in his comments.
“Hallelujah, praise the Lord. This is something that I have been advocating and praying for for more than 12 years, since the Gulf War of 1991,” the presidential contender said. “Saddam Hussein was a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, who wanted to dominate the Arab world and was supporting terrorists.”
Lieberman said that Saddam should face the death penalty and should be tried before an Iraqi or U.S. military tribunal. Lieberman further urged that the United States seek more international cooperation for the rebuilding effort in Iraq.
Lieberman also criticized front-runner Dean for his criticism of President Bush and the war.
On Monday, Lieberman said Dean is in a “spider hole of denial,” a reference to Saddam’s underground hideout and Dean’s assessment of the capture’s impact.
Gephardt also criticized Dean for trying to reposition his anti-war policy in light of Saddam’s capture.
“That to me is playing politics with foreign policy,” he told reporters in Milwaukee on Monday.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said in a speech in The Hague, where he is testifying in the U.N. war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, that “the war is not over.”
“The entire resistance in Iraq was not run by a pathetic ex-dictator hiding in a hole,” said Clark.
Earlier, Clark praised the abilities of U.S. forces in executing the raid on Saddam’s hideout.
“I could not be prouder of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces for capturing this horrible despot. This is a testament to their courage and determination,” Clark said on Sunday. “We’ve been due good news from Iraq, and the world is a safer and better place now that he is in custody.”
Sen. John Edward, D-N.C., also expressed pride in the work of U.S. forces and urged President Bush to seek more international cooperation in Iraq.
“We are all so proud of their efforts not just today, but every day as they work tirelessly to bring democracy to Iraq,” Edwards said. “I hope President Bush will use this opportunity to chart a course in Iraq that will bring in our allies in a meaningful way to achieve a democratic and peaceful Iraq.”
U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said Monday that the U.S. should seize this opportunity to pull its troops out of Iraq and end the its occupation there, a long standing tenet of his platform.
“The events of day make it more important than ever for United States to proceed with plans to get out of Iraq,” Kucinich said in a press briefing in Iowa.