Interview with Tavis Smiley

July 15, 2003

SMILEY: We now turn to another Democratic presidential contender, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, his strong and early opposition to the war in Iraq vaulted him into the top tier of the field of Democratic candidates. And I'm pleased now to be joined via phone from Washington by Governor Dean.

Dr. Dean, nice to talk to you.

Former Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Tavis, great to be on.

SMILEY: Let me get right to it. You came out early and often strongly against the war. What did you see then that your fellow Democratic candidates are—many of them at least are starting to see now?

Dr. DEAN: If you look at the analysis of why we went into Iraq, the facts just weren't there. Look, Saddam Hussein's a dreadful human being and all that, but the time to take him out was after the 1991 war because he was committing genocide. That wasn't the case. Twelve years later, Saddam was not a threat to the American people and it looks now that the intelligence that the president shared with the rest of Americans was selectively managed so that it would appear the case is to be made to go into Iraq. That simply was not true.

And I think that if you're going to have the strongest country in the world, it takes two things to do that. One is to have the strongest military, which we do. But the other is to have high moral purpose in your foreign policy and your defense strategy so that people actually admire what you're doing. That is a very, very strong, long-range force in world politics and we have forfeited that and I think that's a shame.

SMILEY: Let me get your quick reaction to the latest news on Iraq, namely that more troops may be needed, more money is definitely needed. It's going to take more time, perhaps years, and still no weapons of mass destruction. Is it time now, time yet, to use the V-word, as in Vietnam?

Dr. DEAN: I don't think it's time to use the V-word yet. But I have—when I opposed the war, after the war was concluded, I said that we needed foreign troops in Iraq and we need to internationalize the occupation because we have an enormous percentage of our force over there. And we have reserves over there that shouldn't be there. We need foreign troops in Iraq to help us, NATO and the United Nations. And this president seems to have an inability to work with other countries, both our friends and our enemies. So I think we need a new president in order to get this done.

SMILEY: I say this with all respect, you're one of the smartest guys—excuse me—you're one of the smartest guys in the field of Democratic candidates running for the White House and no one better than you at articulating your point of view. And yet, with all due respect to your smarts and your articulation, the American public still would vote for President Bush if the election were held today. None of you guys could take him out. Why is that?

Dr. DEAN: Because people don't know who we are. If you look at—I don't believe in polling very much at this stage of the game, but if you look at the national polls, Dick Gephardt and I and Joe Lieberman and John Kerry are all in very low double digits. I actually think it's pretty remarkable that if the race were held today, the president would get about 50 percent and we'd get about 40 percent. And nobody really knows who we are. So that's what the campaign is about, to introduce ourselves to the American people. And I think that's the progress that we're making. But it's going to take some time before we're able to get ahead of President Bush in the polls. I would guess probably not till after we have a nominee.

SMILEY: Respectfully and notwithstanding the fact, Governor Dean, that most Americans don't know who you are, I guess the question is whether or not this surprises you that more Americans don't seem troubled by all these stories, these changing stories, quite frankly, coming out every day about Iraq.

Dr. DEAN: I think they are troubled, Tavis. I know this—again, I hate to refer to polling, but at least half the people in this country don't think it was worth it to go in. They think Saddam Hussein was a terrible person but a lot of people are really questioning whether we did the right thing now. And I don't think we did do the right thing. The other thing I think is that—you just had Bob Graham on. He and I agree that—neither one of us supported the resolution on Iraq. But the fact is, you know, what were the other guys thinking. If you're going to be president of the United States, you had better have some analytical capability to try to decide when the president's trying to sell you a bill of goods. I mean, I get a laugh out of the fact that they all say, 'Oh, well, Howard Dean, he doesn't have the foreign policy experience.' Well, I seemed to have had enough to figure out that this was a bill of goods. And that is really critical in a commander in chief.

SMILEY: Right.

Dr. DEAN: You have got to be able to figure out what the facts really are. I think—to be honest with you, I think my medical training helps me in some ways. In some ways it doesn't help me, but it helps me because what doctors have to do is sort out facts...

SMILEY: Right.

Dr. DEAN: ...that sometimes can be very complicated and then make conclusions about them and then stick to the conclusions.

SMILEY: Got about 20 seconds here left. Can the Democrats make the case between now and next November?

Dr. DEAN: Not only will we make the case, I think we're going to win and I think George Bush is going back to Texas. Four hundred and fifty billion dollars worth of deficit, 140,000 troops pinned down in Iraq in a war that probably shouldn't have happened, I think this president's in really serious trouble.

SMILEY: Howard Dean is the former governor of Vermont, one of nine Democratic candidates seeking the presidential nomination. As always, Governor, pleasure to talk to you.

Dr. DEAN: Thank you.

SMILEY: Be well.

Dr. DEAN: See you later.

Copyright 2003 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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