WASHINGTON – President Bush fired a shot across the bow of the Democratic Party Thursday, saying "the party of FDR... has become the party of cut and run."
In his most direct attack this election season, Bush flatly charged that Democrats are incapable of effectively fighting the War on Terror.
"The stakes in this war are high and so are the stakes this November. Americans face a choice between two parties with different attitudes on this War on Terror," he told an audience in Birmingham at a Republican fundraiser for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley.
"Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing. The party of FDR, the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run," Bush said.
With less than six weeks to go until a November election that polls suggest could result in lost seats for Republicans in both the U.S. House and Senate, Bush chided Democrats, saying they don't understand the enemy nor do they grasp that succeeding in the War on Terror means not retreating from Iraq.
"Our party record is clear. We see the stakes, we understand the nature of the enemy. We know the enemy wants to attack us again. We will not wait to respond to the enemy. We are not going to wait for them to attack us in order to respond," Bush said.
Bush quoted ominous words by Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden to make his point that the war in Iraq is not divorced from the global War on Terror. The president also quoted an April National Intelligence Estimate that he declassified earlier this week after selective passages in it were published in newspaper reports. Bush said those passages were "selectively quoted for partisan political use."
The NIE states that if would-be terrorists perceive success in Iraq, it will inspire more fighters to continue elsewhere. But it also reads that should "jihadists" perceive their efforts in Iraq to have failed, it will lead to fewer fighters signing up to carry on the war.
"The Democrats can't have it both ways. Either they believe that Iraq is a distraction from the War on Terror or they agree with the intelligence community and the terrorist themselves that the outcome in Iraq is important to the War on Terror. Truth is the Democrats used the NIE to mislead the American people and justify their policy to withdraw from Iraq," he said.
"I strongly believe that Iraq is a central front in the War on Terror. The Democrats may not think so, but Usama bin Laden does," Bush said.
The president also rejected an argument frequently used by Democrats to claim that the terrorists have declared war on the United States because of the situation in Iraq. He said that's untrue. If it were not Iraq, terrorists would use the excuse of "our relationship with Israel as a reason to recruit, or the crusades or cartoons as a reason to commit murder, a recruit based upon lies and excuses. And they murder because of their raw desire for power," Bush said.
Bush accused Democrats of misleading Americans using selective passages from the NIE to criticize Republicans and endorse their calls for withdrawal from Iraq. Without naming her, Bush referenced House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Jane Harman of California, quoting her as recently saying that removing Saddam Hussein from power had been a bad idea.
Bush noted that if the former Iraqi dictator were still in power, today he would still be sponsoring terror and paying off the families of suicide bombers; he'd still be pursuing weapons of mass destruction and killing his own people; and he would still be firing at U.S. pilots protecting the no-fly zone, defying the United Nations on sanctions and bilking the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program.
"Some Democrats in Congress say we should not be fighting the terrorists in Iraq, it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place. I think these Democrats must answer a question. Do they really believe that we'd be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power?" Bush asked. "If this is what the Democrats think, they need to make this case to the American people — that the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power."
The president defended two pieces of legislation in Congress. One, the warrantless wiretapping bill, has gotten stuck and will likely not be approved before Congress recesses this term. The second, a terror detainee interrogation and trial bill that was required by the Supreme Court, is likely to be completed in the Senate on Thursday. The measure passed the House on Wednesday 253-168. Seven Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill.
"I want to remind you of the (House) vote," Bush said. "The bill passed over the objections of 163 House Democrats, including the entire Democratic leadership. We must give our professionals the tool necessary to fight this War on Terror and those in the House of Representatives were wrong to vote against this bill."
Senior White House officials said the president's fiery speech is the first of many variations aimed to punctuate the race before the midterm election on Nov. 7. The GOP's rallying cry will be that Democrats are unable to defend the country effectively. Similar speeches in tone and feeling are to come, the officials said, and will be used as a "roadmap" for the party on their national security credentials.
"There will be a sustained hammering home of the top issue — and the president is the best at laying out the differences between the two parties on the issue," one official said.
After Wednesday's mostly party-line vote, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement that Democrats who voted against the measure "voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists."
He added, "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan."
Before the president spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she thinks "the speaker is a desperate man for him to say that. Would you think that anyone in our country wants to coddle terrorists?"
She added that Bush was selectively releasing the findings of the NIE rather than its entirety for his own political gain.
"As you all know, a National Intelligence Estimate was partially — very partially — released this week. And no matter how the White House wants to characterize it, it says very clearly: We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the international jihadist movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of this Estimate. One of those factors, says the Estimate, is the Iraq jihad," said Pelosi of California.
"They've gone from shock and awe to an American public shocked at how awful the situation in Iraq is," added Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Rather than heed the warnings in the NIE, President Bush politicized this discussion and the Republican Congress has stood on the sidelines."
FOXNews.com's Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.