WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (search) says his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq doesn't mean he would be a weak commander in chief.
With a new TV ad and a major foreign policy address, the former Vermont governor is portraying his stance against President Bush (search) and the war as an act of political courage.
"I do not accept that a candidate's national security credentials should be considered suspect for opposing the war in Iraq at the time it was initiated with the limited level of international support we had, the lack of postwar planning that had been accomplished and the failure to make the case that the threat was imminent enough to justify" war, Dean said Wednesday in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations (search) in Washington
"I stood up to this administration and even when 70 percent of the American people supported the war, I believed that the evidence was not there and I refused to change my view. As it turned out, I was right," Dean said.
While he and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida opposed last fall's congressional war resolution, Bush was backed by four other major Democratic presidential hopefuls: Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina.
"Some in the Democratic Party claim that a candidate who questioned the war cannot lead the party in the great national debate that lies ahead," Dean said. "I would remind them that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy took on the hawks among the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the 'me-too'ers' in Congress. The president and his advisers used toughness, patience and diplomacy. The missiles came out of Cuba and war was averted."
Dean compared himself to another Democratic icon who assumed the presidency with little foreign policy experience, President Harry S Truman.
"Harry Truman had faith, as I have faith, and as I believe the American people have faith, that if we are wise enough and determined enough in our opposition to hate and our promotion of tolerance; in our opposition to aggression and our fidelity to law; we will have allies not only among governments about among people everywhere," he said.
The address came as Dean is trying to broaden his underdog candidacy after getting off to a surprisingly strong start, largely due to his opposition to the war. The stance excited Democrats eager to attack Bush even as their party leaders shied from confrontation on Iraq and other issues.
But Dean's position on Iraq and lack of foreign policy experience have raised questions about his ability to convince voters that he could lead the U.S. military.
Dean addressed the concern Monday when he formally announced his candidacy, promising he would "take up arms in the defense of our nation," if necessary.
He's addressing the issue in another way, by casting his opposition to the war as an example of how he'll take tough stands, even when unpopular. Dean is now promising to fight special interests and corporate America with the same vigor he opposed the war.
A new television ad airing in Iowa, site of the first voting of 2004, shows Dean striding purposefully toward the camera as he declares "the only way to beat George Bush is to stand up to him." Deans then trumpets his opposition to the war.