Democrats' platform backs sustained presence in Iraq

HOLLYWOOD, FLA. — HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Liberals wanted a target date for pulling American troops out of Iraq, but the Democratic Party platform for 2004 instead calls for remaining until that country is secure.

The party's platform committee approved a 35-page draft covering a variety of issues, including the war, national security and gay marriage, at a meeting yesterday in the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Fla.


Final approval will come during the Democratic National Convention in Boston this month.

Supporters of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who challenged Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for the party's presidential nomination, wanted a clearer exit strategy and language saying: "It has become clear that it was a mistake to invade Iraq."


But the draft adopted by 186 delegates, two of them Kucinich's, compromised.

They wrote instead: "The U.S. will be able to reduce its military presence in Iraq, and we intend to do this when appropriate so that the military support needed by a sovereign Iraqi government will no longer be seen as the direct continuation of an American military presence."

But the platform is highly critical of the war in Iraq, saying, "The administration badly exaggerated its case, particularly with respect to weapons of mass destruction and the connection between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaida."

The draft reflects Kerry's strategy, which has been to criticize handling of the war in Iraq but not appear weak on national security.

About half of the platform focuses on national security, up from about 20 percent in the past.

Kerry is trying to establish his credentials as a potential commander in chief. The platform calls for adding 40,000 new troops to maintain commitments abroad and doubling Special Forces that are often the first fighters in a war.

It calls for strengthening America's position abroad, a Democratic swipe at a Bush foreign policy that has isolated the United States and angered allies.

"We didn't have enough allies, we didn't have enough troops, we didn't have a plan for what happens the day after," said Samuel R. Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser and a Kerry supporter, referring to the war.


"But we are now there, and we've got to succeed," Berger said.

Some of the other issues covered by the platform:

Cuba: The platform calls for "a policy of principled travel to Cuba that promotes family unity and people to people contact," marking an attempt to tap into the discontent among Cuban-Americans over new travel restrictions.

Israel: The platform calls for ensuring "that under all circumstances, Israel retains the qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense."

Abortion and health: The platform would protect abortion rights and calls for expanded health care programs to cover all children.

The platform also wades into the difficult issue of gay marriage, opposing a constitutional amendment that the president favors for banning such unions but not going as far as gay, lesbian and transgender voters had hoped. It would continue letting states define marriage.


The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.