Former Dem Presidents Don't Back Bush Iraq Plan

Published October 16, 2002

| Associated Press

President Bush isn't getting much support for his Iraq policy these days from Democrats who used to live in the White House.

In times of international peril, there normally is a rallying around a president from opposition party predecessors.

But this tendency has not been evident in the Iraq situation, despite Bush's warnings of grave danger.

Bush has the support of fellow Republican Gerald Ford, but Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton see Iraq differently from Bush, as does Al Gore, Clinton's vice president and Bush's 2000 opponent.

Carter, reacting to his Nobel Peace Prize, said Friday he opposed a congressional resolution that authorized Bush to use military force against Iraq.

Carter announced his position just hours after the Senate, following the House's lead, voted to support the resolution.

Clinton has not spoken out on the resolution but, in an appearance in Britain on Oct. 2, he suggested that talk of war against Iraq is premature.

"If the inspections go forward, perhaps we can avoid a conflict. ... Until they fail we don't have to cross bridges we would prefer not to cross,'' Clinton said.

In early September, Clinton made the case for pursuing al-Qaida and not Saddam.

"Saddam Hussein didn't kill 3,100 people on Sept. 11. Osama bin Laden did,'' Clinton said.

In a similar vein, Gore said the administration's focus on Iraq could distract from the war on terror.

"The president's strategy confuses the threat posed by Iraq, which is serious indeed, and the threat posed by Osama, which is both serious and imminent,'' Gore said though a spokesman, voicing opposition to the Bush-backed congressional resolution.

Asked by The Associated Press on Tuesday for comment on Bush's Iraq policy, Ford's office said the former president supports Bush's policy of emphasizing peace based on "full compliance by Saddam Hussein in permitting total inspections of weapon potential.

"If Saddam Hussein denies U.N. rules for weapons inspections, then President Bush should take military options,'' Ford said.

Ford's GOP colleagues have been generally supportive of Bush's policy, although often with caveats. The most outspoken critic has been Brent Scowcroft, who served as the first President Bush's national security adviser.

Like Gore and many other Democrats, Scowcroft believes the overall war on terror deserves highest priority.

"Any campaign against Iraq ... is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism,'' Scowcroft wrote in August. "Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time.''

Bush generally does better with Democrats in Congress than with out-of-office party leaders.

Many Democrats among congressional leaders backed Bush on the Iraq use-of-force resolution. Overall, 29 Senate and 81 House Democrats supported it.

Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, says, "If you're up for election, you don't want to be out there explaining to voters you're against Bush at a time of war against terror.''

He said many believe the Iraq situation has not reached crisis proportions yet, which leaves room for Democratic leaders such as Clinton and Gore to stray from the president's policy without leaving their patriotic credentials open to challenge.

"You don't hear Clinton and Gore opposing war. Basically they are saying there's a better way to do this,'' Ornstein said.

Clinton seems to have moderated his views, at least compared with 1998 when, sounding much as Bush does today, he talked about the consequences if Saddam is allowed to flout U.N. resolutions.

"Well, he will conclude that the international community's lost its will,'' Clinton said. "He will then conclude that he can go right on doing more to build an arsenal of devastating destruction.

"If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow. The stakes could not be higher. Some way, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal.''

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