Congressional Democrats said President Bush’s repeated attempts last night to link the war in Iraq to the September 11 terrorist attacks rang hollow and did not constitute the plan to win the war that they said Mr. Bush needed to deliver.
“They only served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose and al Qaeda remains capable of doing this nation great harm nearly four years after it attacked America,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
Democrats spent the afternoon calling on Mr. Bush to acknowledge mistakes that he made both in the run-up to war and during the war as a way of reclaiming credibility on Iraq. After his half-hour speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., most Democrats said the president fell short.
Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s rationale for fighting terrorists in Iraq was the third different reason he has given for going to war.
“The first, of course, was weapons of mass destruction. The second was democracy. And now tonight, it’s to combat the hotbed of terrorism,” Mr. Kerry said on “Larry King Live.”
And Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Mr. Bush’s speech showcased “the darkness of divisiveness, attempting to garner support for his failed policies by pandering to fear, rather than inspiring us with a plan for hope.”
But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the president was right to take “the war to the terrorists” after the September 11 attacks.
“It is unfortunate that many Democratic leaders have chosen to politicize the war on terror and ignore the good work that our armed services are doing,” the Illinois Republican said.
Republicans stressed the accomplishments in Iraq since the beginning of the war — the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue on April 9, 2003; the capture of Saddam on Dec. 13, 2003; the transfer of sovereignty on June 28, 2004; and the elections on Jan. 30 this year.
Funding for the war in Iraq continues to win huge support in Congress, but members of both parties are becoming bolder in questioning whether there has been progress. A bipartisan group of legislators is calling for the beginning of a pullout in October 2006, and Democrats presented a united front yesterday, with even those who voted to authorize the war saying Mr. Bush must answer questions and do a better job.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, disputed Mr. Bush’s assertion that military commanders in Iraq don’t want more troops, saying that in his own trip at the end of May, every commander wanted more troops.
“Not one of them said they had enough troops. Not one,” Mr. Biden told CNN.
Democrats also said Mr. Bush missed an opportunity by not laying out specific benchmarks to measure the war effort in the future, but they were divided on whether his speech would boost support for his Iraq policy, with Mr. Biden saying he hoped so and Mr. Reid saying Mr. Bush fell short.
“There is a growing feeling among the American people that the president’s Iraq policy is adrift, disconnected from the reality on the ground and in need of major midcourse corrections,” Mr. Reid said.
Before the speech, Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations military subcommittee, said the administration is looking to try to extract itself from Iraq quickly, without finishing the job. He pointed to recent comments from Vice President Dick Cheney that the insurgency is in its “last throes” and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s statement on Sunday’s talk shows that the insurgency could drag on for years as evidence that peace might not be a prerequisite for a pullout.
“I believe they’re going to cut and run,” he said. “Mark my words, the first of the year — because of the elections in Iraq and the elections in the United States — you’re going to find a change.”
Even as Democratic lawmakers said they hope that Mr. Bush delivers a plan and succeeds in Iraq, some liberal activists are raising the possibility of impeaching the president.
“There can be no clearer case of an impeachable offense than lying to Congress and the American people about war and needlessly sending 1,744 young Americans to their deaths,” said Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com.
He said that if Mr. Bush doesn’t resign by the end of the year, his organization will begin a grass-roots push for impeachment.
But Mr. Murtha said he does not think that is the appropriate action.
“I’m past that. I think what we have to do is go forward from here,” he said.
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