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Crazy Dean

Everybody's linking to this New Republic article about Howard Dean's history of saying 'crazy' things about Iraq that turn out to be perfectly true, but you need to register to read it, which drives me up the wall. So here are the good parts:
Howard Dean is being vilified again--not only by Republicans in the White House and Congress, but by his fellow Democrats as well. And once again it's for making a critical comment about the administration's conduct of the Iraq war. In an interview Monday with a San Antonio radio station, Dean, comparing the conflicts in Iraq and Vietnam, said, "The idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong."...

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman accused Dean of sending "the wrong message to our troops, the wrong message to the enemy, the wrong message to the Iraqi people." House Speaker Dennis Hastert said, "Howard Dean has made it clear the Democratic Party sides with those who wish to surrender." Democratic senators Bill Nelson and Ben Nelson and Democratic Representative Jim Marshall all took issue with their party's chairman. "Dean's take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa: Both are uninformed and unhelpful," Marshall said....

The ... question, though, is whether [Dean's] judgment on Iraq has been sound. And there I would say that it certainly has been. During the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and during the invasion and occupation, Dean has been almost consistently correct in his statements. He has been the Democrats' and the nation's Cassandra--willing to reveal bitter truths about which Republicans and his fellow Democrats would prefer that he remain silent.

Dean's statements perfectly fit Michael Kinsley's definition of a "gaffe"--an assertion that is impolitic but true. Here is a brief timeline of Dean's most controversial statements about Iraq and his critics' responses during the months before and immediately after the invasion:

February 2003. After Secretary of State Colin Powell made his case for war at the United Nations, most other leading Democrats applauded. Senator Joe Biden called Powell's case "very powerful and, I think, irrefutable." Senator John Kerry called it "compelling." Only Dean dissented. "I heard little today that leads me to believe that there is an imminent threat warranting unilateral military action by the United States against Iraq," he said...

April 2003. Senator Joe Lieberman declared that the capture of Baghdad and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime vindicated his support for the invasion. "The vindication that I feel is the confidence that with Saddam gone, America's going to be a lot safer than it otherwise would have been," Lieberman said ... Once again the dissenter, Dean said, "All these folks who are crowing about their vote and the outcome are going to learn that the occupation will be very difficult." He added, "I'm not a pacifist. We've removed a horrible dictator, but the price we're going to pay is down the road."

June 2003. As reports began to surface that the Bush administration might have misled the country about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, many leading Democrats were hesitant to question the administration's probity. Biden said, "I don't think there is any doubt that the administration was right in saying that he had those weapons." Republicans dismissed any doubts. Senator George Allen asserted, "It's not a question." But Dean said, "We need a thorough look at what really happened going into Iraq. It appears to me that what the president did was make a decision to go into Iraq sometime in early 2002, or maybe even late 2001, and then try to get the justification afterward."

December 2003-January 2004. After Saddam Hussein was captured on December 14, Dean appeared to go out on the farthest of limbs. "[T]he capture of Saddam has not made America safer," Dean said. "The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits." Gephardt termed Dean's statement "ludicrous." Kerry took it as "more proof that all the advisors in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign-policy experience, leadership skills, or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times." Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said, "It's baffling that anyone could possibly think life under a brutal dictator who routinely tortured, raped, and imprisoned his own people is better than the freedom and democracy taking root in Iraq today."

Much of what Dean said on those occasions has now become conventional wisdom. But as the recent fracas over Dean's remarks demonstrates, his statements continue to be poorly received.

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