President Bush’s failed attempt to once-again link his invasion of Iraq with the 9/11 terrorist attacks came under fire from both Democrats and Republicans Wednesday.
“I feel compelled … to set the record straight about why we got into this war,” said Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.
“It had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. It had nothing to do with al Qaeda. It had nothing to do with September 11th,” Rockefeller told a news conference.
Rockefeller and other Democrats pointedly noted that the stated reason for U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which have never been found.
Bush delivered a prime-time speech on Tuesday designed largely to shore up sagging public support for the increasingly costly war in Iraq.
In the half-hour address, Bush referred five times to the Sept. 11 attacks. And he sought to connect Iraq’s insurgency to bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, blamed for the worst assault ever on U.S. soil.
“What the president was talking about was that September 11 taught us important lessons,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “It taught us that we must confront threats before they fully materialize, before they reach our shores.”
Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said Bush had delivered the right message.
“He said it’s going to be a long, hard, tough slog, but we’re going to stay the course, and we will achieve the goal of enabling the Iraqi people to take over their nation,” Warner said.
Although Bush’s address drew praise from many fellow Republicans, lawmakers of both parties criticized him for not offering any major changes in war strategy. Some also charged that the training of Iraqi forces was moving far slower than claimed by the White House.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said it was a mistake not to have more U.S. troops on the ground. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush’s Democratic challenger in last year’s presidential election, said Bush missed an opportunity to give concrete details on how to fix the difficulties in Iraq.
“We don’t need any American, I think, to be reminded about the passion of 9/11. What we need is a policy to get it right in Iraq,” Kerry told NBC’s “Today” show.
No connection between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks was ever established. But Bush said Iraq was a central front in the war on terrorism, in part because the insurgency is led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has sworn allegiance to bin Laden.
House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, America had no choice but to “take the war to the terrorists.”
“If there is any doubt why we are in Iraq, one must only remember the events of September 11th,” Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said.
McCain said he had not seen any compelling evidence linking Saddam to the Sept. 11 attacks. But he told CNN, “The point is now that if we fail in Iraq and the terrorists are there now, then clearly there would be all kinds of international terrorist connections.”
McClellan dismissed the mostly Democratic criticism, saying, “I don’t think politics and pessimism help us complete the mission.
Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, among four lawmakers who proposed a bipartisan resolution earlier this month calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, said Bush offered nothing to change his opposition to the war.
“But I think the sooner we withdraw the better,” Paul said.