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Gephardt says Bush ignored Iraq advice

CAMBRIDGE -- President Bush blundered by failing to bring more countries into the war in Iraq, in part by refusing to listen to a wider circle of advisers, Democratic presidential candidate Richard A. Gephardt said yesterday.

Bush relied too heavily on Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and not enough on moderate voices like Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Gephardt said, adding that Bush also refused to listen to critics outside of the White House, including Gephardt.

"I told the president four times in the White House that we needed help," the US representative from Missouri said. "This is going to be difficult. He literally did not answer my questions.

"It's five months after he landed on that aircraft carrier in his flight suit and we still don't have the help that we need," Gephardt said.

Gephardt voted to go to war, but said he would have changed his mind if he knew Saddam Hussein did not have active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Gephardt called for a blue-ribbon commission to study the military intelligence-gathering operations that helped lay the groundwork for the war.

He was interviewed on Chris Matthews's MSNBC show "Hardball" as part of a series of weekly interviews of Democratic candidates broadcast live from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Gephardt also took a swipe at Bush's style, saying the president "almost has an anti-intellectualism," and "doesn't want to appear highly well read. He kind of thinks that's geeky."

Though he missed the recent congressional vote on a bill that banned certain kinds of late-term abortions, Gephardt said he supported such a ban unless the health or life of the mother was in jeopardy. "As president, I would not sign a bill without that exemption," he said.

Gephardt said he would push to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour and would oppose efforts allowing nonunion workers to work in union shops.

He also said that Attorney General John Ashcroft has been too heavy-handed in his use of the USA Patriot Act. "I voted for it, but I never expected the attorney general would apply it the way he did," Gephardt said.

Gephardt is in a virtual tie for first place with Howard B. Dean among Democrats competing in the Iowa caucuses but is trailing front-runners Dean and Senator John F. Kerry in recent New Hampshire primary polls.

Kerry, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, and the Rev. Al Sharpton have already participated in Harvard forums.

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