Bush Lashes Back at Iraq Intelligence Critics

At a Veterans Day event in Pennsylvania, President Bush targets Democrats whom he says want to "rewrite the history" of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The president says questioning the intelligence that led to the war only gives "comfort to the enemy."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush traveled to Pennsylvania today to mark Veterans Day, and he used his speech at an Army installation in the Poconos to counterattack against his critics back in Washington. Mr. Bush called it irresponsible for Democrats who voted for the use of force in Iraq to criticize the fighting there now or to question the intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion. We have two reports on the event, beginning with NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

The president's remarks to veterans and military families at the Tobyhanna Army Depot began like any traditional Veterans Day speech with talk of the honor and decency of those who wear the uniform. But then Mr. Bush's tone became stern as he launched an attack on Democrats who have criticized his 2003 decision to go to war in Iraq. Mr. Bush made the argument that some criticism is acceptable and some is not.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. BUSH: Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.

GREENE: Mr. Bush didn't name any of his targets, but he came close. He said many of his war critics supported his opponent--that would be Democrat John Kerry--in last year's presidential campaign. The president noted that his opponent voted to authorize military action in Iraq, believing Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat.

Pres. BUSH: That's why more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate who had access to the same intelligence voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

GREENE: Democrats do not dispute that they saw some of the same intelligence that the president did, but they say Mr. Bush and his allies used the intelligence selectively and made presentations to Congress and to the public that exaggerated the danger posed by Iraq. A Senate investigation found that the prewar intelligence was deeply flawed, but that the intelligence agencies were not influenced by the administration. Democrats are now calling for an investigation of the second question: how the White House used the intelligence in making its case for war. They say their vote to authorize war didn't mean they would support the president at every turn in Iraq. Mr. Bush's message today was that such questions are irresponsible.

Pres. BUSH: These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

GREENE: Democrats quickly fired back. One of them, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, said the president was, quote, "using Veterans Day as a campaignlike attempt to rebuild his own credibility by tearing down those who seek the truth." Mr. Bush went after Democrats as an Associated Press poll found his job approval rating at an all-time low, 37 percent. When respondents were asked why they didn't approve, the most frequent answer was the war in Iraq. David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

I'm Robert Smith at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania. The president's speech delighted that assembled crowd of veterans here from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. While some joked that its 50-minute length was excessive, Dan Murphy, who was in the Air Force during the '80s, says that's OK because the president needed to restate his case for going to war in Iraq.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAN MURPHY (Veteran, Air Force): ...been four years since 9/11, and I think we need to be reminded once in a while what we're doing over there, why we're there, why we're still there.

SMITH: The president drew huge applause when he took on his critics, especially when he said that they should remain firm when the going gets tough. John Burns from Bushkill, Pennsylvania, served in the Korean War. He says nobody wants to shut down dissent about this war.

Mr. JOHN BURNS (Veteran, Korean War): That's your right--of every American, to question it. And controversy gives good results, but there's the right way and the wrong way. My opinion with some of the senators, they turn with the flow of the weather. You know, if you agree to do something, let's do it and let's finish it and let's do it the right way.

SMITH: But Michael Bowter(ph), who just returned from Iraq duty with the military police, says that the whole reason that the US went to Iraq is to foster democracy and that means standing behind it at home.

Mr. MICHAEL BOWTER: I do think that there's a reason for question only because of the society we live in and the culture we live in. We want to make sure that we're doing the right thing and that we're doing what's best, both for, you know, homeland, for our country, and for the international community.

SMITH: Another worker here at the Army depot in the audience, Russell Barrett, says it isn't necessarily political criticism that's causing low morale.

Mr. RUSSELL BARRETT (Army Depot Worker): I thought it should have been better thought out before he went in, you know, but that's hindsight. That's me thinking after the fact.

SMITH: But Barrett, who supports the president, says that you can't be too hard on the man just because of hindsight.

Mr. BARRETT: Pearl Harbor, our politicians, according to the records, didn't believe the intelligence they were getting, you know. And this time he believed the intelligence and now people are trying to throw it back in his face.

SMITH: And Barrett says the president shouldn't have to re-debate the reasons for the war when he's having a rough enough time already. Robert Smith, NPR News, at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania.

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