Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark has made his presidential debate debut sparring with nine other Democratic presidential contenders.
General Clark criticized President Bush for being, "reckless" in his move to cut taxes and go to war against Iraq. In a slap at the president's foreign policy, Mr. Clark said the United States should "engage", interact with its allies and only use force as a last resort.
Analysts viewed the debate as the first true test for the retired military officer, who made his first foray into politics when he entered the presidential race this month. General Clark says his personal beliefs are pro-choice, meaning he favors abortion rights for women, pro-affirmative action, pro-environment, and pro-health insurance reform.
During the two-hour debate late Thursday held at Pace University in New York City, the 10 Democrats vying for the 2004 nomination clashed on issues including medicare, international trade and the new Bush administration tax cuts.
Congressman Richard Gephardt, the former Democratic Party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, got into an angry exchange over Medicare health benefits with former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who is seen as the leader among the Democratic candidates.
Only two of the candidates, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and New York activist Al Sharpton, said they were opposed to President Bush's recent request to Congress for $87 billion to support the Iraq war effort.
The Democrats all criticized President Bush's economic policies.
Also taking part in the debate were Senator Bob Graham of Florida, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.