President Bush yesterday called Democratic criticism of the Iraq war "irresponsible" and predicted that today's parliamentary elections in Iraq will vindicate his embattled policy.
"We are living through a watershed moment in the story of freedom," he said in the culmination of four major speeches laying out his strategy for victory. "Iraqis will go to the polls to choose a government that will be the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world."
Mr. Bush reiterated his concession that Iraq did not have the weapons of mass destruction he cited as his rationale for war.
"It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong," he said at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the District's Ronald Reagan building. "As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq, and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities."
That did not satisfy Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"It's not enough to say the intelligence was wrong," the Massachusetts Democrat said. "Whatever flaws existed in the intelligence were far outweighed by the devious way the administration manipulated the intelligence."
Mr. Bush slammed Democrats for suggesting "we misled the American people."
"Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating intelligence have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence we saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein," he said. "These charges are pure politics.
"Whatever our differences in Washington, our men and women in uniform deserve to know that once our politicians vote to send them into harm's way, our support will be with them in good days and bad."
The president continued to warn that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops, which was proposed by some Democrats, would only strengthen terrorists. Americans agreed with him 58 percent to 13 percent, according to a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center.
The poll also found that 56 percent of Americans think progress is being made in the establishment of democracy in Iraq. Asked whether today's elections will make Iraq more stable, 37 percent of respondents said yes, 9 percent said no and 47 percent predicted no change.
Mr. Bush said the change would be dramatic because voter turnout among Sunni Arabs is expected to rise.
"As Sunnis join the political process, Iraqi democracy becomes more inclusive and the terrorists and Saddamists are becoming marginalized," he explained.
The president cautioned that "the elections will be followed by days of uncertainty. We may not know for certain who's won the elections until the early part of January."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the elections must be a turning point. "Iraq must get its political house in order" over the next four months so that U.S, troops can begin to come home, he said.