WASHINGTON – The Iraq war was a "political product" marketed by the Bush administration to win elections, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search), D-Mass., said in a speech Wednesday.
As a result, Kennedy said, Bush and the Republicans in Congress "put the state of our nation at risk, and they do not deserve another term in the White House or in control of Congress."
In a speech sponsored by the Center for American Progress (search), a liberal advocacy group, Kennedy said the Bush administration's decisions to target Saddam Hussein, go to war in Iraq and transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people have all been made for Republican political gain and timed to influence American elections in 2002 and 2004.
Kennedy said the administration's march to war in Iraq did not make America safer, but instead has given Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda new life and made the war on terrorism harder to win.
"The war has made America more hated in the world," said Kennedy. "And it has made our people more vulnerable to attacks both here and overseas."
Asked about the speech, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush worked to exhaust all diplomatic means before going to war.
"The president took the action he did because his most solemn obligation is to protect the American people," said McClellan. "And America is more secure because of the action that we took in Iraq."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called the speech a "hateful attack" and said Kennedy "insulted the president's patriotism, accused the Republican Party of treason and resurrected the weak and indecisive foreign policy of Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis."
The speech continues Kennedy's vigorous assault on Bush's Iraq policies. Last September, in an interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy called the war a fraud "made up in Texas." Bush later called Kennedy's remarks "uncivil."
Kennedy praised Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (search), who earlier this week asserted that Bush had begun planning for regime change in Iraq long before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. O'Neill, said Kennedy, has great integrity and intelligence, and "it is easy to see why he was so concerned by what he heard about Iraq in the Bush administration."
The Bush administration has denounced suggestions that the war was planned long before the terrorist attacks. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that Bush made the decision to go to war in March 2003 "after trying everything else in the world."
Drawing on O'Neill's remarks and statements by other officials over the past two years, Kennedy concludes that Bush and his "axis of war" -- Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- turned their focus on Iraq to divide Congress, distract Americans from the troubled economy and secure votes in the 2002 elections.
And now, he said, the ongoing reconstruction in Iraq and plans to turn control over to the Iraqi people this summer "are intended to build momentum for the November elections in this country as well."
As a result, said Kennedy, the American military is overextended and soldiers have been needlessly killed and wounded. And, he said the shift to Iraq allowed Al Qaeda and the Taliban fighters to regroup, restore their drug trade, and step up their terrorist campaign in Afghanistan.