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Democrats label Iraq 'strategic blunder'

From NBC/NJ's Matthew Berger
CLEVELAND, Ohio --  The Democratic Party will formally call the decision to go to war with Iraq a "strategic blunder" in its 2008 platform, according to a draft debated Saturday. The party also included language on Iraq withdrawal echoed by its presumptive nomine, Barack Obama, as it expressed a desire to "be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in."

The party will also add calls for universal healthcare coverage, while keeping the current employer-centric system.

A drafting committee unveiled the 44-page platform for the national party, encompassing both traditional Democratic values and the plans unveiled by Obama.

The party's draft differs from four years ago on Iraq, when it said "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq." This time, reflecting a shift in American public opinion, the committee hopes to emphasize that "Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9-11" while reiterating complaints about the war's execution. It also echoes Obama's calls to remove one to two military brigades each month.

"I think the facts are clear now," Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, drafting committee chair, said after the hearing. "People of good will could disagree with the facts, but as clear as they are now, the facts are manifest that it was a blunder."

The language on Iraq is consistent with Obama's position, and is significant for a party that includes many leaders who initially backed the war in Congress. While some, including former Sen. John Edwards, have called the initial support a mistake, others, like Sen. Hillary Clinton, have said the error was largely in the war's execution.

Obama Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Susan Rice, who presented that section of the draft, said she had not heard complaints from other committee members, but would not know until the full Platform Committee meets and votes on the platform whether it represented the view of most Democrats.

On healthcare, the draft platform adds a call for universal coverage, offering a public plan while stressing people "should have the option of keeping the coverage they have" or participating in private programs.

"The Democratic Party is absolutely unified in a commitment to covering every single American," said Karen Kornbluth, Obama's policy director.

The 2004 platform called for "quality, affordable health care for all Americans," but stopped short of expanding a public program beyond one designed for children. It instead called for individual and business tax credits for more affordable health care and cutting costs.

On the economy, the draft platform calls for an "immediate energy rebate" for American families struggling with the price of gasoline and a $50 billion stimulus plan for building the economy and preventing job loss.

Throughout the meetings Saturday, committee members stressed proposals and language used by both Obama and Clinton during the primary cycle, a sign that the views of both candidates were being incorporated into the party's updated mission statement.

The committee's work came after the party received thousands of reports from small group meetings across the country, and after a day and a half of testimony from party members. Those that testified complained of the rising cost of healthcare and fuel, as well as the declining number of blue-collar jobs throughout the country.

"I hear every day about the struggles that are being faced," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.). "This is a phenomenal start in terms of presenting our party's values, as we hope to engage in this epic challenge in our next session, with our new president."

The document also includes a section on gender equity, noting the historic nature of Clinton's presidential campaign, the first woman to win presidential primaries. But it does not include language, advocated by some Clinton supporters, suggesting a "pervasive gender bias in the media."

"I haven't seen that yet, but obviously we're not done with deliberations," Napolitano said after the meeting.

There was little to no resistance to anything in the draft, with committee members offering new observations and language but not opposing anything in the document. The only opposition came from a small handful of protesters who yelled against going to war with Iran, but then quickly left the room.

The Drafting Committee will conclude its work Sunday. The draft will be voted on by the full Platform Committee next weekend in Pittsburgh, before being formally adopted by the party at the Denver convention later this month.