Changing Course?

Congressman Ford moves to distance himself from Bush on Iraq and its aftermath.



U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, a member of his party's congressional Blue Dog caucus and of the equally moderate-to-conservative Democratic Leadership Council, continues to try to find a middle way on Iraq and other national controversies. But, like Massachusetts senator John Kerry, whom he supports for president, Ford may be edging toward a position of sharper opposition to President Bush on some key issues.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ford stayed well clear of the accusations of dishonesty that some Democrats have levied at Bush concerning the simmering WMD issue, but he called upon the president to publicly address the issue of "whether intelligence was twisted or exaggerated."

As Ford noted, "In January, the president came before the Congress and delivered a compelling case for immediate military action to be taken against Iraq. The case was predicated on Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction that could be used against our interests at home and abroad."

Ford subsequently voted with a congressional majority to authorize Bush's use of appropriate force to quell such a threat. A successful military campaign in Iraq targeting its then leader, Saddam Hussein, ensued. But unrest and guerilla action have continued, and American troops seem consigned to an indefinite presence. Ford's statement expresses misgivings about both his vote for the war resolution and the prospect of a quagmire in Iraq:

"As much as I wanted a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, I believed that the president had sound intelligence to justify an invasion and a comprehensive plan in place to stabilize Iraq after a successful military campaign."

But, says the Ford statement, "Since President Bush declared the military effort successful and over in May, assertions about exaggerated claims of weapons of mass destruction and poor postwar planning abound. As a matter of fact, it is obvious from daily news reports that the administration is struggling with bringing stability to Iraq. Moreover, a group of senators returning from the region last week report that our soldiers are growing restless and that Iraqis are less supportive of the U.S. presence.

"Over the weekend, another disturbing claim was made by a respected foreign service officer -- that he had informed the administration that the reports of Iraq attempting to purchase uranium from Niger were false.In spite of this, President Bush repeated these reports publicly and prominently in his State of the Union Address."

Ford's statement concludes by "urging" Bush "with all the specificity the president can spare -- and without compromising the safety of the 146,000 troops" to "address the nation and the Congress in order to answer questions about whether intelligence was twisted or exaggerated and to discuss plans to rebuild Iraq."

Ford, who acknowledges having designs on the U.S. Senate seat which incumbent Republican Bill Frist is expected to vacate in 2006, has made an effort of late to stake out a centrist position on prescription-drug legislation -- expressing preference for a Senate version that, he says, would not lead seniors to leave Medicare for private health-care coverage.

A House bill largely eschewed by Democrats would do just that, he said, though granting that one of its provisions -- welcomed last week by Shelby County mayor AC Wharton -- would confer instant financial grants upon beleaguered medical institutions like The Med in Memphis. Ford said he remained hopeful that a bill that both safeguarded Medicare and retained the grants would emerge from a joint House-Senate conference committee.

"Big Tent" Politics: Saturday's annual picnic at St. Peter Village drew the normal quotient of ambitious politicians, with the most prominent display being made by Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, whose reelection effort was boosted by a large tent which teemed with helpers and hot dog griddles.

Other, smaller tents were maintained by City Council candidates Jim Strickland and Carol Chumney, both seeking the District 5 (Midtown, East Memphis) seat. George Flinn, another candidate for that seat, was also in evidence, as were Lester Lit and Scott McCormick, candidates for the "superdistrict" 9, position 1 seat. Making a late appearance was former Commercial Appeal political reporter Terry Keeter, who also seeks that seat.

Would you buy a used pacemaker from this man? Shelby County Commissioner John Willingham, who underwent an operation last month to replace a defective pacemaker, emerged in apparent sturdy condition and promptly confirmed a report that he intends to auction off the discarded pacemaker.

It will be offered on, said Willingham, with proceeds to go to charity -- St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital being one prospect. Veteran pol Joe Cooper, a another candidate for the District 5 council seat and a Willingham friend, answered the obvious question by saying, "John's a legend in the barbecue world. That's why people will bid on it."

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