Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Even before the applause for President Bush’s speech on Iraq had subsided at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania on Monday, Democrats were on the airwaves criticizing his vision for the Middle East.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California accused Mr. Bush of “aimlessness.” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the speech lacked specifics. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts called it “rhetoric” with “a hollow ring.”

Supporters heralded Mr. Bush’s five-step recovery plan for Iraq as one of his clearest statements to date of U.S. principles and vision for a free Muslim nation at the heart of an unstable Middle East.

But it was the Democrats who responded the loudest.

“The plan outlined by the president last night might have had more of a chance for success had it been announced a year ago,” Mrs. Pelosi said yesterday.

“The apparent aimlessness that has characterized Iraq policy for the past year has not encouraged international cooperation in either security or reconstruction, and has hardened the negative attitudes of some influential Iraqis.”

Mr. Kennedy was the harshest critic among the Democrats.

“The lack of substance made it a defense of the current failed course on Iraq, instead of an announcement of the new course we know we must take,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy said he wants to know “whether the president’s effort to work with the international community will result in more troops, police and resources from other nations” and wants to know “how heavy and long the burden on our forces will go on.”

Mr. Biden, who was in a television studio during the speech Monday night, wasted no time unleashing criticism.

He said Mr. Bush offered nothing new. “I didn’t hear anything about how we’re more likely to accomplish” the goal of a free and stable Iraq with secure borders, he said.

Although Mr. Biden said that goal still is “doable,” some of his Democratic colleagues were not so positive.

“It’s impossible to see any light at the end of the tunnel yet,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Too much remains unknown.”

Mrs. Pelosi said: “What was most clear from the president’s words last night is that there is a dangerous and expensive road ahead for the United States before the mission in Iraq will be accomplished. He should have made that clear before we went to war, not more than a year later.”

One bright note in Mr. Bush’s speech for many Democrats was his suggestion that Abu Ghraib prison be demolished.

Mrs. Pelosi called that announcement “significant.”

Mrs. Pelosi’s Republican counterpart, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, saw the speech differently.

“The president’s speech gave us the two things we needed most: an honest report on the present and a detailed plan for the future,” he said. “Violence may continue to escalate as we near the June 30 handover, but we will not be deterred by the forces of international terror.”

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