NEW YORK – Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean's (search) insistence that the capture of Saddam Hussein hadn't made America safer was "ludicrous," fellow candidate Dick Gephardt (search) charged Tuesday.
Gephardt, speaking with reporters following a foreign policy speech with a thinly veiled shot at Dean, was far more direct in his comments.
"I think making a statement that America is not safer because Saddam Hussein has been captured is a ludicrous statement," Gephardt said. "I just don't agree with that statement at all."
Dean, after Hussein's capture in Iraq, said the arrest of the dictator was "a good thing" but added, "The capture of Saddam has not made America safer."
Gephardt said such remarks make Dean a less viable candidate to defeat President Bush this November.
"It's like a number of statements that I think Governor Dean has made that I don't think put him in the best position," Gephardt said.
In his remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations (search) in Manhattan, Gephardt said that "railing against the system" wasn't enough when it comes time to pick a challenger to Bush on foreign policy.
Gephardt accused Bush of conducting foreign policy based on "bluster and recycled Cold War taunts."
At the same time, he said, "I'm not going to come before you ... and say what's fashionable in our politics. That I'm a Washington outsider, that I couldn't find the nation's capital on a map, that railing against the system is good enough, that I don't have decades of experience around the world."
"I'm proud of my experience," said Gephardt, first elected to Congress in 1976 and the leader of House Democrats for eight years. "I think we could use more of it, not less of it, in the White House next year. And if you don't think seasoning and experience matters, you should probably vote for someone else."
Gephardt did not mention any of his rivals by name in his prepared remarks. But his reference to Dean seemed clear.
The former Vermont governor has sought to set himself apart from rivals who have served in Congress, and he often accuses them of failing to stand up to Bush in the run-up to the war against Iraq.
As he has many times in the campaign, Gephardt defended his vote in favor of the war. "I don't apologize for that, and I'm not sorry Saddam Hussein is gone," he said. "But the burden of proof for a failed foreign policy does not rest with those who supported it on good faith and with America's security at heart."
Rather, he said, "it is the Bush administration itself that bungled the debate at the U.N., fumbled the U.N.-supervised weapons inspections, failed to build a coalition to help our soldiers, and has no apparent plan to bring safety and democracy to the Iraqi people.
"So we can agree or disagree about the war in Iraq," he said.
Judging from the polls, Gephardt and Dean are in a close race for the lead in Iowa, where party caucuses Monday night are the first test of the nominating season.
The Missouri Democrat has predicted he will win the caucuses, and aides say he must. Dean is hoping for a victory to validate his remarkable rise from asterisk in the polls to campaign front-runner during 2003.
In his speech, Gephardt sharply attacked Bush's foreign policy and said he would take steps to "break the cycle of poverty and ignorance" that lead to terrorism.
"My problem with the Bush foreign policy team and the cold warriors they've brought out of semiretirement to run it, is their overwhelming arrogance and lack of appreciation for the subtleties of democracy-building or alliance-strengthening," he said.
"We don't need a president who says 'Bring 'em on' to those who would do us harm," he said. "We need a president who will do the hard work of diplomacy and says, 'Bring 'em in' to those who share our aspirations for freedom, peace and security."
The Missouri Democrat said he favored a steadier hand on international economics, a consistent dollar policy, greater debt relief for some foreign countries, and a trade policy that calls for higher wages and living standards for workers in foreign countries.