Friday, August 11, 2006

Democrats say plot shows Iraq war a diversion

Democrats say plot shows Iraq war a diversion
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prominent Democrats said on Thursday a foiled plot in Britain to blow up U.S.-bound planes showed the Bush administration's pursuit of war in Iraq had diverted resources from the bigger threat of terrorism and made the danger worse.

With national security likely to play a crucial role in November's elections, some Democrats attacked President George W. Bush's justifications for the Iraq war and said the plot showed the terrorism threat was growing under his watch.

"Five years after 9-11, it is clear that our misguided policies are making America more hated in the world and making the war on terrorism harder to win," Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bush and Congress needed to change course in Iraq and ensure Americans are protected around the world.

"The Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists," Reid said.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman responded that "instead of focusing on political attacks," Democrats should be reminded the country is at war and needs every tool to win.

"If Harry Reid had his way and killed the Patriot Act and ended the Terrorist Surveillance Program, authorities would be less able to uncover terror plots," he said.

The U.S. government heightened security on passenger planes and barred air travelers from carrying liquids on Thursday after Britain foiled the plot aimed at blowing up planes flying to the United States.

Bush, who launched a global war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks, said the plot was "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."


But Bush's foe in the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said America was "not as safe as we can and must be" and in part blamed the president's focus on Iraq.

"This event exposes the misleading myth that we are fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here. In fact, the war in Iraq has become a dangerous distraction and a profound drain on our financial and military resources," Kerry said.

National security and the Iraq war are likely to play prominent roles in congressional elections in November, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.

Despite Bush's low poll ratings, the handling of national security and the war on terrorism has remained one area where Bush and Republicans are preferred by voters in some opinion polls and Republicans effectively used the issue in 2002 and 2004.

Republicans led by Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Democrats as soft on national security on Wednesday, the day after Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman lost a Democratic primary to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont over the senator's support of the war.

Lamont issued a statement on Thursday saying national security and the ability to fight terrorism had been weakened under Bush and "both anger at America around the world and the number of terrorists seeking to do us harm have increased."