WASHINGTON – Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean says President Bush is focused on "the wrong war at the wrong time" and needs to do more for homeland defense such as providing money for emergency workers and suggesting more effective security measures.
"What happened to the war against al-Qaida," said the Democratic presidential candidate in the text of a speech he planned to deliver Monday afternoon at Drake University in Iowa, a key Democratic primary season battleground state. "Why has this administration taken us so far off track?" he asked.
Dean said he believes it is his "patriotic duty to urge a different path to protecting America's security."
He said the U.S. government should "focus on al-Qaida, which is an imminent threat and to use our resources to improve and strengthen our security while working with the other nations of the world to contain Saddam Hussein."
The former governor aimed his harshest criticism at Bush foreign policy, but he also targeted congressional rivals for the Democratic nomination.
"I do not believe the president should have been given a green light to drive the nation into conflict without the case having first been made to Congress and to the American people for why this war is necessary," Dean said. He noted that Congress should have required that he go through the United Nations before acting.
Dean says he would have opposed the resolution on war.
"That the president was given open-ended authority to go to war in Iraq resulted from a failure of too many in my party in Washington who postured for position instead of standing on principle," Dean said.
He has said he would be prepared to fight Iraq, even unilaterally, if it posed an imminent threat. That stance has been criticized by his Democratic rivals
Dean criticized Bush for "go-it-alone" policies that he said are reckless and have damaged relationships with long-standing allies.
Several other Democratic candidates who are members of Congress like North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman have voiced support for military action against Iraq. But they've also urged Bush to get the strongest international coalition possible. The Rev. Al Sharpton has expressed his opposition to the war.
Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke said he found it interesting that this was one of the first times that a Democratic candidate "went after the other Democratic candidates. It will be interesting to see how they respond."
He questioned whether the more liberal base of Democratic voters in contests like the Iowa caucuses "will empower the more liberal candidates and pull the entire field further to the left, making it more difficult to appeal to all Americans that fall into the mainstream."