WASHINGTON – Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Thursday his assertion that the United States cannot win the war in Iraq was reported "a little out of context," saying Democrats believe a new U.S. strategy is needed to succeed there.
Seeking to clarify a statement in a Texas radio interview that Republicans harshly assailed and some Democrats questioned, Dean said, "They kind of cherry-picked that one the same way the president cherry-picked the intelligence going into Iraq."
Dean was questioned on CNN about an interview he gave Monday to radio station WOAI in San Antonio. "The idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong," the former Vermont governor and unsuccessful 2004 presidential candidate said.
His Republican counterpart, Ken Mehlman, called Dean's prediction "outrageous" and said it "sends the wrong message to our troops, the enemy, and the Iraqi people just 10 days before historic elections."
On Thursday, Dean stressed at several junctures in the interview that Democrats support U.S. troops struggling to secure Iraq. He seemed to be striving to counter charges that statements by some Democrats suggesting a pullout are having the effect of undermining U.S. servicemen and women.
Democrats have been struggling to find party unity on Iraq. Dean's broadside Monday, likening Iraq to the Vietnam experience, went beyond an earlier call by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., to begin to pull troops out. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., embraced Murtha's position Wednesday. But other Democrats have been more cautious about second-guessing President Bush on this issue.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said earlier this week that Democrats "undercut the president's credibility at our nation's peril."
Asked Thursday to defend his statement in the Texas radio interview, Dean said: "It was a little out of context. ... We can only win if we change our strategy dramatically. ... We want to serve our troops well. They're doing a fantastic job in Iraq."
Dean charged that Bush is "going in the wrong direction. We'll go in the right direction and save soldiers lives while we're doing it."
"We can and we have to win the war on terror," the Democratic Party chairman added. "We can't do it with this kind of approach."
Asked about Lieberman's statement, Dean replied, "I am not as worried about the president's credibility. ... We need to redeploy our troops and stop making our troops the target over there. We believe that talking about the president's failed strategy is not unpatriotic. It may undercut the president but it does not undercut the troops. We are for the troops and we are going to support the troops."
He acknowledged, however, that Democrats "may have some small disagreements" on the timing of any withdrawal.