Published November 13, 2005
President Bush on Friday shot back at critics claiming his administration misconstrued or lied about pre-war intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, saying "it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began."
"The stakes in the global War on Terror are too high and the national interest is too important for the politicians to throw out false charges," Bush said. "These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."
Bush also reiterated the need to defeat extremists seeking to destroy America and other modern governments, saying the "murderous ideology of Islamic radicals" is the great threat of the 21st century.
On the day America is commemorating Veterans Day, Bush said just like heroes of yesterday fought bravely against the threats of communism and Nazism, today's heroes are fighting the War on Terror against groups led by "evil men" he likened to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, who "consumed whole nations in war or genocide."
"Today our nation pays tribute to our veterans — 25 million vets who have used the uniform of the United States of America," the commander-in-chief said.
"At this hour, a new generation of Americans is defending our flag and our freedom in the first war of this century. This war came to our shores on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. ...We know that they want to strike again and our nation has made a clear choice. We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire or rest until the War on Terror is won."
He added: "No act of ours invited the rage of killers and no concession, bribe or appeasement will change or limit their plans for murder," referring to terror networks like the Al Qaeda group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Usama bin Laden.
"They target nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence ... there is only one effective response: We will never back down, we will never give in, we will accept nothing less than complete victory."
After noting that Al Qaeda and other terror groups have attacked not only the United States but also countries like Britain, Indonesia and Jordan, Bush stressed that those violent acts were not representative of Islam as a religion.
"Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam," Bush said. "This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision."
Iraq is the central front against this war on terrorism, Bush repeated, noting that Zarqawi himself has said that country serves as "the greatest battle" in Al Qaeda's war against humanity.
"These militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all modern governments in the region and establish a radical empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," the president said. "Some may be tempted to dismiss these goals as radical or extreme. They are radical and extreme but they cannot be dismissed."
These terror networks "thrive like a parasite" on the suffering of others and exploit the resentment and disillusionment of young men and women, Bush said, recruiting them through radical mosques and modern technology like the Internet.
And those who harbor, help or otherwise enable the terrorists are just as bad as the terrorists themselves, Bush said, specifically citing Syria and Iran as two countries who "share the goal of hurting America" and other modern governments.
Dems: Bush 'Cherry-Picked' Intel
In his 50-minute speech, Bush blasted critics at home for bailing out when the going gets tough in the war in Iraq, saying it is detrimental not only to Washington but also to the morale of troops serving in the war.
"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," the president said. "Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that, whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united and we will settle for nothing less than victory."
Although many weapons caches have been found and many believe Saddam had enough time to move any chemical or biological weapons he may have had to Syria or elsewhere before his regime was toppled, no WMD stockpiles have yet been found.
Democrats have questioned not only the intelligence reports and briefings leading up to the war that said Saddam did have those weapons, but also the public statements and speeches made by Bush, particularly in the fall of 2002.
"On this Veterans Day, the president had the opportunity to honor our troops, both those who have served and those who are currently serving, by laying out a clear strategy for success in the war in Iraq. Instead, the president resorted to his old playbook of discredited rhetoric about the War on Terror and political attacks as his own political fortunes and credibility diminish," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement.
"Attacking those patriotic Americans who have raised serious questions about the case the Bush administration made to take our country to war does not provide us a plan for success that will bring our troops home."
"It's deeply regrettable that the president is using Veterans Day as a campaign-like attempt to rebuild his own credibility by tearing down those who seek the truth about the clear manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war," added Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "Instead of providing open and honest answers about how we will achieve success in Iraq and allow our troops to begin to come home, the president reverted to the same manipulation of facts to justify a war we never should have fought."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Bush is "playing the politics of fear and smear" and accused the administration of "cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition."
"It's a dangerous day for our national security when an Administration's word is no good," Kerry said. "Today they continue the same games hoping Americans forget the mess they made in Iraq that's cost over 2,000 Americans their lives and their failure to find Usama bin Laden."
Bush: We All Saw the Same Information
But Bush shot back, saying lawmakers had the same intelligence the White House had when making the decision whether to support the resolution giving the president the authority to use military force to oust Saddam. He also noted that more than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate agreed with that resolution.
Even Kerry, Bush's 2004 election opponent, said he believed Saddam and his weapons posed a "grave threat to our security"
"When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong, bipartisan support," the president said. "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."
Bush also blasted those who claim that his administration somehow pressured intelligence experts to formulate threat assessments more favorable to the war effort, noting that critics know a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs.
"They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessments of Saddam Hussein," he added. "They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction."
The Silberman-Robb commission, formerly known as the Commission of the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, submitted its report to the president in March of this year.
"In no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments," the report states. "We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments."
The commission notes that the intelligence community's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate said Iraq was in fact still pursuing its weapons of mass destruction programs. In the end, the assessments turned out to be wrong, and the commission found that intelligence experts didn't explain fully to the administration just how thin its evidence was, which led to "serious errors" in statements made by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and others in making the case for going to war in Iraq.
"Our statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein were based on the aggregation of intelligence from a number of sources, and represented the collective view of the intelligence community," National Security Adviser Steven Hadley said Thursday. "Those judgments were shared by Republicans and Democrats alike."
Democrats who claim Bush and others in the administration misled the public have been emboldened by the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff and national security adviser, who was accused of lying to federal officials investigating who in the administration may have leaked the name of a CIA operative to reporters. Administration critics say the leak was a retaliation move after the operative's husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson, publicly refuted the administration's claims about Saddam's weapons.
Fred Barnes, co-host of FOX News' "The Beltway Boys," said it's surprising the White House has waited so long to push back against the Democrats' charges.
Bush's speech comes as polls show the president's approval ratings hitting a new low.
The latest FOX News poll found that 36 percent of Americans approve and 53 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president. That's a slide from two weeks ago, when 41 percent said they approved and 51 percent disapproved, and from the beginning of his second term, when 50 percent approved and 40 percent disapproved.
Until this week, Bush's approval rating had been at 40 percent or above.
"We've seen this downward trend in the president's numbers over a period of time and that's what's significant and that's what's alarming to the White House," said Washington Post reporter and FOX News contributor, Ceci Connelly.
The speech took place at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, the largest, full-service electronics maintenance facility run by the Defense Department. It designs, manufactures, and repairs hundreds of electronic systems like satellite terminals, radio and radar systems, phones, night vision, and guidance and control systems for tactical missiles. The depot also works to keep "Firefinder" systems operational in Iraq. Firefinder systems automatically locate the firing position of hostile mortars, rockets and artillery.
The White House estimated that there was about 2,500 people in attendance, including depot personnel, military families, veterans and community leaders.
FOX News' Greg Kelly contributed to this report.