WASHINGTON — The White House quarreled with Democrats today over whether President Bush was trying to win political points by using a Sept. 11 anniversary speech to defend the war in Iraq and his war on terror.
Bush spokesman Tony Snow said although there were "three or four sentences" in the president's 17-minute address Monday night that could be considered controversial, Bush took pains not to be partisan. He said Bush had to discuss the dominant issue of Iraq, but he wasn't "picking fights" or making any demands of Congress.
"This was not a speech that was designed to single out anybody for partisan reasons, but gave the president's honest reflections and reactions to what has happened since September 11, 2001," Snow said. "The president decided that yesterday wasn't a day for partisanship."
Democrats, in a campaign to win control of Congress from the president's Republican Party, charged that Bush was using a national day of mourning for partisan gain. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said today that Bush was "more consumed by staying the course in Iraq and playing election-year politics."
"The American people deserved better last night," Reid said in a statement. "They deserved a chance to reclaim that sense of unity, purpose and patriotism that swept through our country five years ago."
In the speech broadcast in prime time on the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks, the president described a brutal enemy still determined to kill Americans, perhaps with weapons of mass destruction if they get the chance.
"If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons," Bush said. "We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world."
Bush began with a two-minute tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, but most of his 17-minute speech was devoted to justifying his foreign policy since that day. With his party's control of Congress at stake in elections less than two months away, Bush suggested that political opponents who are calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would be giving victory to the terrorists.
"Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone," Bush said from the Oval Office, with a photo of his twin daughters and the American flag behind him. "They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad."
While Democrats have been using public opposition to the Iraq war to argue for a change of leadership in Congress, Bush's prime-time address showed how he has been able to use the power of incumbency to command public attention and make his points. Democrats objected to the tone.
"The president should be ashamed of using a national day of mourning to commandeer the airwaves to give a speech that was designed not to unite the country and commemorate the fallen but to seek support for a war in Iraq that he has admitted had nothing to do with 9/11," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement. "There will be time to debate this president's policies in Iraq. September 11th is not that time."
On Monday, dozens of lawmakers from both parties put aside the campaigning and joined on the steps of the Capitol to remember the attacks. Together they sang "God Bless America" as they had five years ago.
"Partisanship would have been the one casualty the American people would have accepted following 9/11, but it remains the one thing the president refuses to give up," Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic effort to win control of the House, said after the president's speech.
Snow noted that Emanuel, Kennedy and other Democrats attacked the speech shortly after the president was finished speaking, suggesting they were the ones who injected politics. "It appears that there had been a desire immediately after the speech to go ahead and make partisan points," he said.
Bush said Iraq is part of the United States' post-Sept. 11 approach to threats abroad. Going on offense against enemies before they could harm Americans meant removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, pursuing members of al-Qaida and seeking regime change in Iraq, Bush said. At least 2,670 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq.
"I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Bush said. "The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat.
"America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over. So do I," Bush said. "But the war is not over, and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious."
Although his administration has been criticized for trying to link Osama bin Laden to Baghdad, Bush made further comparisons between the al-Qaida leader and Iraq. The president quoted bin Laden as saying the battle in Iraq is the "Third World War" that could bring America's "defeat and disgrace forever."
"If we yield Iraq to men like bin Laden," Bush said, "our enemies will be emboldened, they will gain a new safe haven, and they will use Iraq's resources to fuel their extremist movement. We will not allow this to happen."
Bush delivered a message to bin Laden and other terrorists who are still on the run. "No matter how long it takes, America will find you, and we will bring you to justice," Bush said.
source: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/4180623.html 13sep2006
WASHINGTON — Top Democrats on Tuesday accused President Bush of exploiting the September 11 anniversary to boost his faltering Iraq war policy and asked TV networks to give them balancing coverage in future.
"Until now, there has been a complete absence of balance in the news coverage of national security issues," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to the major networks as both parties jockeyed for position in the November 7 congressional elections.
"We ask that you commit your network to providing fair and equitable coverage to the viewpoints of both Republicans and Democrats," the two Democratic leaders wrote.
Democrats said Bush should have tried to recapture a spirit of national unity in his televised Oval Office on Monday, but instead sought to score political points and boost his party's sagging approval ratings.
Reid told reporters Democrats had been so confident the Republican Bush would be nonpartisan that they had not sought equal time on television to offer their party's response.
"Sadly, it was a missed opportunity for President Bush, who apparently was more consumed by staying the course in Iraq and playing election year politics," Reid said, accusing Bush of once again trying to "conflate and blur the war in Iraq with the response to 9/11."
Pelosi said, "The American people deserved an opportunity to grieve and come together as a nation last night. Instead President Bush gave them partisan and inaccurate rhetoric."
Republicans struck back, saying it was the Democrats who had injected politics into a national day of remembrance.
"I listen to my Democratic friends and I wonder if they're more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people," House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters.
Bush had raised partisan ire by saying in his Oval Office address that "whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone."
"The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad," he said in the address to mark five years since the suicide attacks by al Qaeda hijackers that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Reid and Pelosi, in their letter to the networks, wrote: "We write to you today to request that if you plan to continue to devote extensive live coverage to the President's national security speeches ... you similarly provide substantial coverage to the national security events and statements of House and Senate Democrats."
With polls showing the war to be unpopular, Democrats are widely expected to pick up seats in both the House and Senate in November's congressional elections, possibly seizing a majority from the Republicans in one or both chambers.
Bush has tried to frame the elections as a debate over national security. Democrats counter that the Iraq war is a distraction from the war on terrorism rather than a part of it and question whether America is any safer now.
At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said: "The president took pains yesterday not to be partisan, and that was the appropriate thing to do." He said it was the Democrats who seized on the September 11 anniversary to talk about Iraq.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro
source: http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2006-09-13T002538Z_01_N12313525_RTRUKOC_0_US-SEPT11-POLITICS.xml 13sep2006