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Foreign policy adviser puts aside early disagreement with Dean over Iraq

WASHINGTON -- It is an oddity of Howard B. Dean's campaign for president that he is a former governor with no foreign policy experience and yet has made foreign policy and, in particular, the war in Iraq a pillar of his campaign.

Odder still: His chief foreign policy adviser disagreed with him initially about Iraq and tried to convince Dean that the president could not be expected to reveal sensitive national security information, such as evidence of chemical and biological weapons.

"We argued about that," said the adviser, Danny Sebright, a defense specialist who spent more than a decade as an intelligence and policy official at the Pentagon. "I said, `It's hard for the president to say, `This is what we have discovered,' and Dean kept coming back to the Cuban missile crisis,' " in which President John F. Kennedy showed the world clandestine images of the Russian buildup in Cuba.

"Dean's point was, the president has not come forward to the American people and made the case the threat is imminent," Sebright said.

Sebright, who worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency under both Republicans and Democrats, left the Pentagon during the early planning stages of the Iraq military campaign.

As a special assistant for the war on terrorism, Sebright had a front-row seat as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, made the case for attacking Saddam Hussein "up close and personal, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," giving him an unusual perspective now as he advises Dean on the same subject.

But even before Iraq was a central political focus, Sebright was intrigued by Dean. Two weeks after leaving his career post at the Pentagon in 2002, Sebright heard the former governor speak at a Democratic National Committee event.

"Dean got up and spoke, and he just blew me away," said Sebright, 42. "Iraq wasn't even really on the agenda yet; it was still Afghanistan, the war on terror, the Bush worldview, Kyoto. I was like, `Wow, this guy is thinking and talking the way I do,' about the fact that we need to work with our allies and engage them."

After the speech, Sebright, an international strategy consultant in Washington, introduced himself to Dean, saying he was "really impressed" with Dean's message. He offered to help the candidate should he ever need it in Washington. Dean's longtime aide, Kate O'Connor, took down Sebright's information, and a professional relationship was born.

Although he works as a volunteer, outside his full-time job, Sebright has tried to help Dean get up to speed on the complexities of international affairs through a series of policy dinners with luminaries from previous administrations, such as former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright and former national security adviser Sandy Berger.

Sebright has hosted Dean at his Victorian house in Logan Circle numerous times and has accompanied him on a trip to Israel.

Sebright insists that Dean had a solid grasp of foreign affairs when they first met. "That struck me, that, wow, this guy is governor of Vermont, and all these people who say he doesn't know anything about foreign policy and defense don't know what they're talking about."

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