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Gephardt: U.S. should focus on 'root causes' of terrorism

Democratic presidential contender Dick Gephardt
Democratic presidential contender Dick Gephardt

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Richard A. Gephardt
Acts of terror
U.S. Economy
United States

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Rep. Dick Gephardt took on the Bush administration Tuesday, tying the nation's foreign relations strategy to its economic policies and warning that alienation of other democratic nations would seriously damage America's ability to be a world leader.

Gephardt, the Missourian seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that the United States should look beyond a simplistic good guy-bad guy world view and address the "root causes" of terrorism.

"We must work to prevent them from emerging in the first place," he said.

"My vision is one in which America takes the lead in building, strengthening and expanding a community of like-minded nations (and) push to the periphery and eventually eliminate the destructive forces that strive on instability," he said. "That begins with a stronger, more vibrant United States economy."

Gephardt also stressed that he was in favor of "free and fair trade ... policies that raise standards so that everyone does better."

"If we don't, it's a race to the bottom," he said. "The Bush administration seems fine with that, but I'm not."

Gephardt, neck and neck with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in polls for Monday's Iowa caucuses, said that Bush's policies have put the country "in grave danger of weakening the world economy."

"President Bush turned a $5 trillion surplus into a $5 trillion deficit," he said. "Remember that our historic budget surpluses were completely gone before Sept. 11 (2001)."

Bush has also alienated the countries allies, he said, and called for America to take a "leading role among industrial nations in addressing the root causes of extremism and terrorism" -- in the form of foreign assistance, promotion of democratic institutions, support for emerging economies and other methods.

Among the possibilities, he said, was a global minimum wage, adjusted to reflect individual nation's economies.

"We must reach out to these people, not push them away," he said. "America stands for more than Cold War anachronisms, something more than unilateral abandonment. We are still the world's capital of human freedom."

"We must act now," he said. "Four more years of this administration's approach to the world will only make the problems more difficult to solve and increase our isolation and inability to lead."

Gephardt also defended his vote to give Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq, saying that he believed the intelligence he was given at the time and adding that if the intelligence was wrong, then the process that gathered it needs to be fixed.

"After 9-11, we cannot allow a weapon of mass destruction to be used in our country," he said. "It cannot happen."

Regarding the terrorist attacks themselves, Gephardt admitted that the signs leading toward an attack on U.S. soil were in place.

"We all failed," he said. "We had warnings. None of us believed it could happen here. It did."

That, he said, is the bottom line reason that United States must turn its attentions to the root causes of terrorism.

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