- The Washington Times - Friday, May 2, 2008

Capitol Hill Democrats piled on criticism of the Iraq war yesterday to mark the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s celebratory war speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a “mission accomplished” banner.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the president’s speech was “perhaps the greatest act of hubris that our nation has ever seen in wartime,” and he mocked Mr. Bush for landing on the aircraft carrier in a fighter jet and wearing a flight suit.

The Nevada Democrat, speaking on the Senate floor, said images from that speech five years ago belies the realities of the Iraq war today.

“With families fleeing from Iraq by the thousands to live as refugees — mission accomplished?” he said. “With extremists pouring into Iraq by the hundreds, spoiling for a fight — mission accomplished? With no government in place, with towns destroyed, with infrastructure in shambles — mission accomplished?”

Antiwar activists unfurled a 50-foot “Mission Accomplished?” banner in front of the White House.

Democratic leaders highlighted the anniversary at news conferences, in speeches at liberal Washington think tanks and on the presidential campaign trail.

The criticism comes as Congress prepares to take up next week the administration’s $108 billion war request for 2008, which Democratic leaders plan to use as a vehicle to pass billions of dollars in election-year domestic spending.

The White House pointed out that the banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln referred to the ship and its crew, which were returning from a successful deployment in Iraq, and that the president’s speech referred to the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s army.

“I think people should go back and actually see what, in fact, the president said that day,” said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. “The president talked about — as we have for some time — a long war and a long struggle, but we defeated an army in Iraq.”

He said the Iraq war today is a conflict with militias, insurgents, criminal gangs and terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.

“Our goals today, looking forward, are to make sure that the government of Iraq and the new army of Iraq is an effective fighting force to continue the fight against those insurgents and criminals and militias, and bring security to the country,” Mr. Fratto said. “So that’s what we’re focused on … to make sure that mission continues to show success.”

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, recognized the anniversary in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank.

Mr. Murtha, who said his vote to authorize the war was a mistake, said the mission remains far from accomplished five years later and the war plan “remains undefined and open-ended.”

“In Vietnam, we never had a strategy to win,” he said. “In Iraq, we have never had a strategy.”

The Democratic presidential hopefuls also marked the occasion.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois linked the current war policy to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and he reminded voters that Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton voted to authorize the war in 2002.

“It’s time to turn the page on Washington’s false promises and failed judgments on foreign policy … and end a war that should have never been authorized,” he said. “I am the only candidate in this race who opposed the war in Iraq when Washington was falling in line with George Bush, and as president I will end this war.”

Mrs. Clinton said all Americans honor the service and sacrifice of U.S. troops in Iraq but “the planning and strategy was flawed [and] our troops deserved and deserve better.”

Mr. McCain said the president was not to blame for the banner but that the administration and military leaders bore responsibility for upbeat assessments early on regarding the situation in Iraq.

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