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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Deck the halls, everybody!

Bush gets early Christmas, Democrats tackle foreign policy

By Claire Brinberg
CNN Political Unit

President Bush
President Bush declares the end of a "dark and painful era" in Iraq during a Sunday television address.

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Democratic presidential candidates used the the capture of Saddam Hussein to take aim at anti-war front-runner Howard Dean.
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A cautious President Bush stopped short of saying the capture of Saddam Hussein was a turning point for the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Santa came early this year, leaving a scruffy, disheveled present for President Bush, and a lump of coal for his Democratic challengers.

Mr. Claus isn't leaving political reporters in the cold, either: On a day when foreign policy is on everyone's mind, not one but TWO Democratic presidential candidates will deliver what their campaigns bill as major foreign policy speeches.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will have her say, when she discusses the war in Iraq before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday.

Deck the halls, everybody!

Dean speech a test

The most-watched event will be Howard Dean's National Security address before the Pacific Council on International Policy, set for 1 p.m. EST at the St. Regis Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Dean, who built his campaign on a foundation of anti-war discontent, was hoping to use the speech as proof that he's, well, not a wimpy dove. It's a key piece of his electability puzzle and he wants the word to get out so badly, he previewed key themes for reporters in time for Sunday's papers.

Back in the days of falling statues and carrier landings, Dean was pressed to respond to the downfall of Saddam. The "I suppose that's a good thing" quip wasn't one of his finer political moments. No such flippancy this time around.

When asked to expound on the Iraqi dictator's capture, Dean called it "a great day for the Iraqi people, the U.S. and the international community." He said the development provided "an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war."

It's evidence of Dean's efforts to brand himself a centrist moderate in time for the general election, and an acceptance that Saddam's capture is nothing to sneeze at. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken after the news broke, finds 82 percent of Americans consider the capture of the Iraqi tyrant a major achievement.

So today Dean will present himself as more than a one-note-Johnny on foreign affairs. We wonder how much Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi and company have put their red pens to work since Sunday morning.

Edwards on nukes

The other White House hopeful tackling the shape of things abroad on Monday is North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who will unveil his "Global Nuclear Compact" in a speech scheduled for 11 a.m. EST in Des Moines, Iowa.

The senator describes his plan as "a series of specific policy ideas to stop the proliferation of weapons and get ahead of the terrorists."

Clinton tackles WMD

Never one to miss a party, Clinton's prepping to let loose the pups of war in the day's third "major" foreign policy speech. The 10 a.m. address before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City comes on the heels of her Thanksgiving trip to Iraq and Afghanistan (check the her Web site for a just-posted, bloggy first-person account of her travels. Don't miss the "Where's Waldo" photo accompaniments). Clinton will outline her line of attack for confronting the joint threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Aides say Clinton will call for "a return to post-Cold War bipartisan foreign policy consensus that recognizes the importance of allies and international institutions," arguing that the capture of Saddam creates a fertile climate for renewed international cooperation. It's a tune sung by several 2004 hopefuls on Sunday, including Edwards and John Kerry.

She will call for replacing the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq with an Iraq Stabilizing Organization, an international body formed and led by the United States. She also will propose increased military involvement in Afghanistan, contending that not enough attention is being paid to the struggling nation.

By day's end, the press corps will be playing Compare-n-Contrast, debating whether Dean and Clinton are playing on the same team or out to undermine each other. And President Bush will probably be pondering what else he might want for Christmas, now that he's already unwrapped one of the best gifts he could receive.


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