- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Sen. Robert C. Byrd yesterday criticized the “flamboyant showmanship” he said President Bush showed by declaring victory in Iraq from aboard USS Abraham Lincoln last week.”It is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech,” said Mr. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.He said he also was “disturbed” by the content of the president’s speech, criticizing Mr. Bush for linking Iraq to the effort to capture Osama bin Laden and hunt down al Qaeda operatives.Mr. Bush flew Thursday to the aircraft carrier, which was off the California coast bound for San Diego, to announce the war in Iraq was winding down and to declare victory, though not to proclaim all hostilities ended.Cable TV networks covered his landing in a Navy S-3B Viking plane and showed cheering sailors and Marines greeting him. Later that evening the news networks aired his 22-minute address.”The tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free,” Mr. Bush said. The carrier’s island was draped with a banner reading “Mission Accomplished.”Some Democrats said the president was politicizing the war and sending the wrong message by holding the event on the carrier. Mr. Byrd said the banner reminded him of tobacco advertisements on old barns.”I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw,” he said.Administration officials said the president went to the carrier to thank the troops for a job well done in Iraq.”There were more than 100 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend the United States, and the president was honored to personally thank those on board the USS Lincoln,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. “Our men and women in the armed forced deserve nothing less.”Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the president’s airplane landing was unnecessary because the ship was close enough to be reached by helicopter. But he said the president wanted to go through with the flight and landing anyway.”The president wanted to land on it, on an aircraft that would allow him to see an aircraft landing the same way that the pilots saw an aircraft landing. He wanted to see it as realistically as possible,” Mr. Fleischer said.He said when plans initially were made for the speech, the carrier was expected to be several hundred miles from shore, outside helicopter range. But he said the carrier traveled faster than expected, probably due to good weather, and so was only 30 miles off the coast at the president’s arrival time.The explanation by Mr. Fleischer prompted California Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, to demand a full accounting of the costs associated with the flight.Mr. Waxman said the explanation means the president could have arrived “less theatrically” on the carrier. He asked the General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, to report on the event, which he said “had clear political overtones.”For the White House’s part, Mr. McClellan dismissed the criticism, saying that “investigations are a dime a dozen with Congressman Waxman,” and that the cost of the plane flight is “virtually identical” to that of a helicopter flight.Mr. Byrd, the longest-serving current member of Congress and a former majority leader and president pro tem of the Senate, recalled hearing the “soaring oratory” of former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and the “painful soul-searching” of former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. But he said Mr. Bush’s speech compared unfavorably to those.He also said he “could not help but contrast the reported simple dignity of President Lincoln at Gettysburg with the flamboyant showmanship” of Mr. Bush.

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