- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

President Bush yesterday asserted his authority as the chief decision maker on postwar Iraq and lashed out at critics for portraying his advisers as paralyzed by political infighting.

“The person who is in charge is me,” Mr. Bush said in an interview with Turner Broadcasting. “In all due respect to politicians here in Washington, D.C., who make comments, they’re just wrong about our strategy. We’ve had a strategy from the beginning.”

Mr. Bush was referring to Democrats as well as fellow Republicans like Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator suggested on Sunday that Mr. Bush was losing control of Iraq policy to squabbling subordinates.

“The president has to be president, over the vice president and over these secretaries,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He was referring to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, each of whom, along with Mr. Bush, gave addresses about Iraq last week. Mr. Lugar complained they were four “distinctly different speeches.”

In addition, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week he had not been informed that Miss Rice was being put in charge of a new task force to cut red tape in the reconstruction and democratization of postwar Iraq. Democrats and journalists pounced on the revelation as evidence of disarray within the administration.

Mr. Bush insisted he was making the decisions about Iraq, based largely on advice from envoy L. Paul Bremer.

“Jerry Bremer is running the strategy and we are making very good progress about the establishment of a free Iraq,” the president said.

He also gave a speech praising Americans who “are willing to sacrifice for the country they love.” Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, had accused the president Sunday of failing to protect U.S. troops in Iraq.

Mr. Bush said GIs and other Americans “remember the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. And so do I. It’s something we should never forget.”

His remarks came 24 hours after Mr. Kerry, a presidential candidate, accused the White House of treating the Iraq war like a political “product,” not a matter of life and death.

“It’s not a product,” Mr. Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s the lives of young Americans in uniform.”

He said Mr. Bush had created a “mess” in which “young Americans are dying by the day in Iraq.”

Two more American soldiers were killed yesterday — one when a convoy was ambushed southeast of Jalyula, and another in a grenade attack in Tikrit — bringing to 97 the number of American combat deaths in Iraq since major operations ended May 1.

Such setbacks have given political ammunition to Democrats. On Sunday, Mr. Kerry demanded that Mr. Cheney apologize to the American people for ridiculing war critics during his speech last week.

“He ought to be apologizing to the people of this country, because what they’ve done now is launch a PR campaign instead of a real policy,” Mr. Kerry said.

“They rushed the war without a plan for the peace, and we are paying an enormous price for that now,” he added. “This is haphazard, shotgun, shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy, and I think it’s causing us great risk.”

But it was Mr. Kerry who was accused of shooting from the hip yesterday by rival Democrat Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor, whose presidential campaign released numerous conflicting quotes by Mr. Kerry on the subject of Iraq.

For example, last month Mr. Kerry said: “It was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition — and with no plan to win the peace.”

The campaign for Mr. Dean said in a statement: “Perhaps the Senator should re-read the resolution that he voted for.”

It then cited the congressional authorization for Mr. Bush to wage war: “The president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

Mr. Bush used most of yesterday’s Columbus Day holiday as an occasion to honor Americans of Italian ancestry who had fought in the war against terrorism. He made clear that they included civilians like former New York City Fire Chief Peter Ganci.

“He died at the World Trade Center when he went into the destruction to save men and women,” the president said. “Fifty of his men were rescued before the second tower fell.

“The chief was in there urging them to flee for their safety. He ordered all out of the area. He refused to go.

“And his statement was, ‘I’m not leaving my men,’” Mr. Bush added. “One brave guy who embodies the best of the sons and daughters of Italy.”

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