Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bush says some war critics irresponsible

Bush says some war critics irresponsible

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush denounced some Democratic critics of the Iraq war as irresponsible on Tuesday and he wanted an election-year debate that "brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries"

In a speech, Bush made clear he was girding for battle with Democrats in the run-up to the mid-term congressional election in November, when he will try to keep the U.S. Congress in the hands of his Republican Party amid American doubts about his Iraq policy.

"There is a difference between responsible and irresponsible debate and it's even more important to conduct this debate responsibly when American troops are risking their lives overseas," Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The president predicted more tough fighting and more sacrifice ahead in Iraq in 2006 but said he believed progress will be made against the insurgency and on the Iraqi political process and reconstruction.

He also urged all governments to follow through on promised aid to Iraq, saying $13 billion had been pledged but not all of it delivered to date.

Bush, who has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of Iraq, said Americans know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being handled "and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."

He added, "So I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries."

Bush did not mention names, but aides said he was referring to Democratic Party chief Howard Dean, along with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, among others.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was irresponsible for Democrats to claim, as Dean, Reid and others have done, that Bush has no strategy for Iraq.


Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy used Bush's argument against the president.

"I wholeheartedly agree with President Bush about the need for accountability in the debate on the war in Iraq. 2006 must be the year when the American people demand that President Bush and other high government officials be held accountable for their mistakes," he said.

Reid said it was outrageous that Bush was using U.S. troops as a shield from criticism in an address to veterans and also had refused to address a recent Pentagon report on the inadequacy of body armor for American soldiers in Iraq.

"Patriotic Americans will continue to ask the tough questions because our brave men and women in Iraq, their families and the American people deserve to know that their leaders are being held accountable," Reid said.

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who was in Iraq in December, said he agreed with Bush's call for a reasoned discussion of the war and the need for constructive criticism.

"But the administration cannot question the patriotism of those who disagree on war strategy and at the same time call for greater civility," Schiff said, adding, "We should be exploiting the divisions among our enemies, not among ourselves."

Bush is trying to convince skeptical Americans that his strategy for Iraq will work even as the U.S. death toll continues to mount nearly three years after the invasion to oust President Saddam Hussein.

The president also urged disaffected Sunni Arabs to join in the governing process in Iraq, saying "compromise and consensus and power-sharing are the only path to national unity and lasting democracy."

"A country that divides into factions and dwells on old grievances cannot move forward and risks sliding back into tyranny," he said.

On concerns Iraqi security forces are engaging in torture against minorities, Bush called it "unacceptable" and said adjustments were being made in the way forces are trained.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Wilson and Tabassum Zakaria)