SAN FRANCISCO – Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt (search) issued a blistering criticism of the Bush administration's "chest-beating unilateralism" in its handling of the Iraq war, saying it weakened diplomatic alliances and squandered global goodwill following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Foreign policy isn't a John Wayne movie, where we catch the bad guys, hoist a few cold ones and then everything fades to black," Gephardt told the Bar Association of San Francisco on Tuesday. "No matter the surge of momentary machismo -- as gratifying as it may be for some -- it is shortsighted and wrong to simply go it alone."
Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader, reiterated his support for a congressional resolution that authorized the administration to go to war, saying he continued to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or was on his way to building them. But, Gephardt said, Bush's "utter disregard for diplomacy" and lack of a cohesive postwar plan left the United States isolated and vulnerable in an increasingly chaotic, lawless landscape.
"We've got 147,000 Americans there now, we're spending $4 billion a month in Iraq," Gephardt said. "It's not mere machismo to resist asking allies for help -- it's absolute insanity."
Support for Gephardt, long considered one of the Democrats' strongest candidates in the primary field, has slipped in recent weeks. Just 7 percent of California's likely Democratic voters support him, according to a Field Poll (search) released Tuesday, down from 12 percent in April. Gephardt released national fund-raising figures last week that lagged behind his stated goals.
While repeating the "machismo" charge against Republicans throughout the speech, Gephardt sought to put to rest what he called a partisan caricature that Democrats are weak on defense.
Gephardt said that if he was president, he would ask for United Nations Security Council assistance and NATO troops to help stabilize Iraq and would work with allies to reduce other rogue threats.
He also touched on the matter that has roiled Washington for several weeks -- Bush's State of the Union claim, based on now-discredited intelligence information, that Iraq had sought to purchase weapons-grade uranium (search) in Africa.
Gephardt attacked what he called Bush's "growing credibility gap," saying the president should take responsibility for the gaffe rather than trying to foist blame onto other administration officials.
Bush has sidestepped questions of whether he feels directly responsible for the tainted information appearing in the speech. CIA Director George Tenet (search) has apologized for not raising questions about it in advance.
Democrats have seized on the faulty claim as evidence the Bush administration misled Congress and the public into supporting the war.