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Graham tones down criticism of Bush over war

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 19, 2003

When war looms for America, partisan fighting tends to give way to rallying around the troops.

Now Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a candidate for president, is temporarily softening his criticism of President Bush's handling of Iraq. He voted against the congressional resolution authorizing military action in Iraq last fall, and he has criticized the Bush administration for getting distracted from other terrorism threats.

Those specific criticisms are muted now.

"At a time like this, all Americans must come together to support our commander in chief and our men and women in uniform," Graham said.

"I remain concerned that the start of a war will mean an escalation of terrorist activity. I again call on this administration to step up its preparedness -- both here at home and abroad -- to protect the safety of Americans," he said in a statement.

Most west-central Florida lawmakers support attacking Iraq, though Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, had wanted the president to build more international support before going to war. On Tuesday, the day after Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave, Davis avoided second-guessing the president.

"At this point I'm going to focus on looking forward," Davis said. "The president has committed us to the situation where we are today, and I hope that he and the secretary of state will continue to work to build more support among our allies."

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted for the resolution authorizing force in Iraq, supports taking out Saddam Hussein, with or without United Nations support. But he said America could have earned more global support.

"It is striking," Nelson said, "that the United States at the pre-eminence of its power and prestige, with longstanding relationships with countries, would be so ineffective in its diplomacy to engender intense anti-American sentiment (abroad)."

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, said he's unconcerned about going to war without U.N. backing.

"While we might not have a majority of the Security Council, we do have a large number of countries, including Muslim countries, that do support us. . . . If we didn't do something to prevent Saddam from inflicting damage in the future, people would never forgive us," said the House Appropriations Committee chairman.

Reps. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, and Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, also strongly support taking out Hussein, regardless of international support. Furious with French opposition, Brown-Waite received national publicity by sponsoring a bill to allow American families to transfer to America the remains of relatives buried in France during World War II.

Graham is raising money for his presidential campaign, but he underwent heart surgery in late January and is awaiting the green light from his doctor to start campaigning. He expects to start next month, but war could delay him.

Several Florida congressmen are actively campaigning or considering running for Graham's Senate seat, and most support attacking Hussein.

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