- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

President Bush yesterday lashed out at Democrats for accusing him of manipulating intelligence to justify the Iraq war, saying such “false charges” undercut U.S. troops in harm’s way.

“While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began,” Mr. Bush told soldiers and veterans at Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania. “These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America’s will.”

It was the president’s most direct rebuke of Democrats on the issue of prewar intelligence, which warned of weapons of mass destruction stockpiles in Iraq that never materialized. Yet the speech did nothing to silence Mr. Bush’s critics.

“The president reverted to the same manipulation of facts to justify a war we never should have fought,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

He called Mr. Bush’s speech an “attempt to rebuild his own credibility by tearing down those who seek the truth about the clear manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in an unusually aggressive move, fired back with a statement accusing Mr. Kennedy of finding “more time to say negative things about President Bush then he ever did about Saddam Hussein.”

The president, for his part, took the unusual step of criticizing the opposition party by name in a foreign policy speech.

“Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war,” he said. “These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.

“They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein,” he added. “They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr. Bush even took the unusual step of quoting his opponent in last year’s presidential election, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, one of more than 100 Democrats in the Senate and House who voted to authorize the war.

“When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Kerry said at the time, “it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security.”

Yesterday, the Democrat made clear he did not appreciate his words being resurrected.

“This administration misled a nation into war by cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition,” Mr. Kerry said. “I wish President Bush knew better than to dishonor America’s veterans by playing the politics of fear and smear on Veterans Day.”

Democratic leaders have ramped up their attacks against Mr. Bush since last month’s CIA leak probe indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, saying it showed the administration smeared war opponents. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada earlier this month forced the Senate into a rare closed-door session to debate the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.

White House aides said the presidential push-back against Democratic criticism will continue well beyond Veterans Day. Mr. Bush himself left little doubt that he is fed up with being accused of cooking the intelligence books.

“The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges,” he said, drawing applause from military members.

“As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them,” he added. “Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough.”

Mr. Bush spent much of yesterday’s 50-minute speech praising America’s 25 million veterans who fought in conflicts ranging from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“A handful of veterans who live among us in 2005 stood in uniform when World War I ended 87 years ago today,” he marveled. “These men are more than a hundred years old, many of their lives have touched three different centuries, and they can all know that America will be proud of their service.”

The president also paid homage to the more than 2,000 American troops who have died in Iraq since the U.S. invaded in 2003.

“On this Veterans Day, we honor the courage of those who were lost in the current struggle,” he said. “We think of the families who lost a loved one; we pray for their comfort.”

He added: “All of America’s veterans have placed the nation’s security before their own lives. Their sacrifice creates a debt that America can never fully repay.”

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