NEW YORK (Nov. 7)
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Harkin is trying to paint President Bush as soft on Arab dictators.
In a speech here Thursday to the American Section of the World Jewish Congress, Harkin accused the president of giving Saddam Hussein a “green light” to invade Kuwait and expressed concern that Bush may be similarly “coddling” Syrian President Hafez Assad.
But the liberal U.S. senator from Iowa played down his own vote against authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq.
Regarding the current peace process, Harkin ridiculed “the idea that the Golan Heights is somehow important to Syria. Of course it is not,” he said. “We ought to let them know up front where we stand on the issue.”
The senator also affirmed his support for granting Israel guarantees covering $10 billion in loans it needs for the resettlement of Soviet immigrants. Pointing out that he co-sponsored a Senate bill authorizing the U.S. guarantees, Harkin called the loans “a moral obligation” after years of U.S. efforts for a Soviet Jewish exodus.
Since he began campaigning for the presidency, Harkin has made his motto “putting America first.” Before the Jewish leaders, where years of support for foreign aid is an asset, not a liability, he recast his populism as Zionism.
“We have to know who our friends are in the world,” he said.
“It’s wrong that George Bush coddles up to Hafez Assad, perhaps like he coddled up to his old friend Saddam Hussein. It’s antithetical to everything we believe as a democracy,” he said.
As for his own position on the Persian Gulf War, Harkin explained, “I said we should let sanctions work. I’d be glad to debate that war” with Bush, “but I refuse to accept that we have to begin that debate on Jan. 15,” when Harkin, along with many Democratic members of Congress, voted against launching the war.
“I want to talk about how he coddled Saddam all those years,” the senator said.
‘DAVID DUKE-TYPE FORCES’
Harkin spoke of his support for congressional sanctions against Iraq, including cutting off agricultural aid, prior to the invasion of Kuwait.
“I even went against my own farm interests to vote for it,” he boasted. “But the administration said, ‘Oh, no, we shouldn’t have any kind of sanctions against Iraq.’”
Displaying some of the sarcasm he often uses at campaign rallies, Harkin mocked the Bush administration’s statement that it did not expect Iraq to occupy all of Kuwait.
“How much did you think he’d take, Mr. Bush? Five miles? Ten miles?”
Notwithstanding his belief last winter that sanctions should have been given more time to work, Harkin said that had he been president, he would have sent U.S. forces to Kuwait as soon as Iraq began its buildup at the border.
His position, he claimed, would have been that “the first Iraqi across the border is a dead man. Period.”
“Where’s the rainbow after the storm now?” he asked. “The Kurds are a basket case, Hussein’s still in power.”
In response to a question, Harkin refused to renounce his opposition to the war in light of findings that Iraq was just a year from developing an atomic bomb.
“We will never really know the answer,” about the viability of sanctions, he said.
“It points out that our whole intelligence community has to be shaken up. They spend $30 billion, and they don’t know anything about what he has.
“Based on the intelligence we had, I became convinced at the time” of the war vote that Iraq’s atomic capability was “years away,” he said.
Regarding Soviet Jews, Harkin stated his opposition to linking the loan guarantees to either the peace process or the cessation of Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.
“These are human beings. They should not be used for bargaining chips,” he said.
The Democrats acceded to the administration’s request to delay a vote on the loan guarantees until January, Harkin said, because there was a feeling that if the loan guarantee battle was highlighted, “it might help those forces in America that are — that, well, I hate to say it, but I’ll say it — the David Duke-type forces, people like that.”
He was referring to the former neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader who is running as a Republican for the Louisiana governorship.
Like many presidential contenders before him, Harkin said he would move the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.
“I find it more than passing strange that we would be pressuring Israel to give up land for peace, to reach all these agreements, when we know the best thing for peace in the Middle East are more democratic governments,” he said.