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Via Opinion Journal, a portion of an interview between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean:

Wolf Blitzer: Last month he called it the wrong war at wrong time. The former Vermont governor, the current Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's policies as far as Iraq is concerned.

With the conflict pretty much over does he feel differently now?

Howard Dean is joining us from Burlington, Vermont.

Governor, do you feel differently?

Howard Dean: Not really. I don't think anybody could reasonably suspect we weren't going to win. The problem now is how to govern, and that's where the real rubber is underneath the road. The hardest part is still ahead of us, and I think the events that we were watching on CNN showed that. The Shi'a in the south would like in some cases fundamentalist religious state or province, that would be much worse than Saddam Hussein in terms of a threat to the United States it would allow al Qaeda to move in. We seen chaos in Baghdad with the proclamation of somebody claims he's the mayor. And this is going to go on and on. So we've really got to now build a Democratic society out of a...

Blitzer: But governor, nobody -- nobody disagrees there are going to be problems. But aren't the people of Iraq so much better off now without Saddam Hussein on their back?

Dean: We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity. We have tumultuous occasions in the south where there is no clear governance. We have a major city without clear governance. We don't know yet, and until we do...

Did Dean say what I think he said? Because what he seemed to imply was that living under Saddam Hussein's rule -- i.e., living without freedom -- might be preferable to living without electricity or "clear governance."

As I have described, though I supported the war in Iraq, I opposed the diplomatic steps the US took leading up to it. Moreover, I have many good friends who opposed the war, and I have great respect for their opinions. War is serious business, and disagreement about it is not only normal but vital to a healthy democracy. But I cannot understand Dean's comments. For a candidate for the US presidency to imply that freedom is less than our most cherished value is, for me, unacceptable.

Of course, it's not just Dean. As I wrote in August of last year:

[C]onsider the following statements by President Bush at a recent press conference:
The number one priority of this government and the future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack...

Protecting American citizens from harm is the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government.

And here I thought the first priority of the President was to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
It is vitally important that we restore the Iraqis' essential services and restore their infrastucture. I have been extremely disappointed in how seemingly unprepared the US was for the end of the war and how poor a job we have done in its aftermath. Winning the peace depends in large part in how compassionate the Iraqis perceive us to be in this difficult time. But the most essential service we can provide is freedom, and judging by the rather ironic protests against us, it's clear that we have done so. The Iraqi people are now free -- free to worship, free to speak their mind, free to assemble as they wish. We yet face the task of helping them build a stable government that will preserve these freedoms, but simply being free in the moment is a good start.


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Again, I think we agree far more than we disagree, but unless the context revealed more than the excerpt, Howard Dean's remarks held no implication that freedom is less than our most cherished value.

I can't believe I'm defending the likes of Howard Dean, but his concerns in the interview seem to be the same as your own. His reference to a lack of electricity and clear governance is a swipe at the current administration's lack of preparation for the war's aftermath.

The lack of planning would seem to go to the heart of his concerns that we don't know yet if Iraq will come out of this war as a free and/or Democratic society. That Iraqis are free during a US occupation will hardly be a comfort for either Iraqis or US foreign policy if Iraq ends up in similar or worse shape when we leave as when we got there.

You're right that I share Dean's concerns about how slowly we seem to be repairing Iraq's infrastucture and restoring basic services. But when Dean was asked:

[A]ren't the people of Iraq so much better off now without Saddam Hussein on their back?
His very first words were:
We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity.
Yes, he went on to talk about governance issues... but the first issue he mentioned was the lack of electricity. His words, not mine.

Howard Dean isn't saying, "They may be free, but at least under Saddam, they had electricity and clear governance." At least I hope not, it seems patently absurd.

Wolf interrupts Dean while he's talking about building a Democratic society and asks if the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam. Wolf does use the word "now", but the very first words out of Dean's mouth, "We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf." makes it clear his main concern is not about the present (except as an example of incompetence), but about how post occupation Iraq will compare to the pre-liberation Saddam regime.

Okay, we're going to have to agree to disagree on this, I think.

If you read the quote, of the six sentences uttered, three of them are "we don't know...". How can you possibly interpret his sentiments any other way?

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