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Congressman Gephardt Backs Use of Force to Topple Saddam Hussein - 2002-06-04

A top congressional Democrat says he would support the use of military force to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives, made the comment in a speech in Washington Tuesday.

Many Democrats have questioned the wisdom of using military force against Iraq. So it was somewhat surprising that Congressman Gephardt told the Council on Foreign Relations here in Washington that he would be willing to support military action to oust the Iraqi leader.

"Saddam Hussein survives by repressing his people and feeding on a cult of victimization," he said. "He is clearly not a victim, and I share the president's resolve to confront this menace head on. We should use diplomatic tools where we can but military means where we must to eliminate the threat he poses to the region and our own security."

Congressman Gephardt is considering a run for president in 2004. His latest comments on Iraq are in stark contrast to the stand he took in 1991 when he opposed the use of U.S. troops to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

"History shows that even brutal dictators have been toppled and defeated by sanctions," he said. "Sanctions are force! Sanctions are effective!"

In a wide-ranging speech in which he sounded very much like a presidential candidate, Mr. Gephardt praised President Bush's handling of the war in Afghanistan. But he also urged the administration to turn away from isolationism and build more partnerships with other countries and international organizations.

On the home front, Congressman Gephardt was critical of what he believes has been the Bush administration's slow response to homeland security concerns in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks.

"Almost nine months after September 11, America still has not crafted and accepted a strategy to significantly strengthen our nation's security despite a series of recent warnings from our own government," he said.

Mr. Gephardt is urging the president to make Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge a member of the cabinet, increase his budget authority and make him more responsive to members of Congress.

The congressman's speech touched on a range of foreign policy and security issues including foreign aid, modernizing the military and fighting the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Mr. Gephardt will decide on a presidential run after the congressional midterm elections in November. That decision is complicated by the possibility that Democrats could gain enough seats to win back control of the House, putting the Missouri congressman in line to become the next Speaker of the House.