Democratic presidential candidates made a point of reminding voters that Tuesday was the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s speech declaring an end to major combat in Iraq.
“One of the most shameful episodes in American history,” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign Web site read in bold type below a photo of Bush standing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a sign that read “Mission Accomplished.”
“Never before has a president pulled a political stunt when so many American lives were and remain in harm’s way,” the New York senator and former first lady said in a statement. She said the war “will stand as one of the darkest blots on leadership we’ve ever had in our nation’s history.”
Clinton and her rivals for the party’s presidential nomination seized on the image to promote new leadership in Iraq.
All the Democratic candidates say the war must end and say they would redeploy troops out of Iraq if they were in the White House, while all the leading Republican candidates are backing Bush’s troop increase to try to stabilize the country.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president was aware of the anniversary, although he didn’t mention it during a meeting in Florida with military commanders. She said the president has since acknowledged mistakes in Iraq, but Tuesday was a day to thank the commanders for the successes and talk about his new strategy for the war.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said the anniversary is a day to grieve for the fallen soldiers and urge the president to bring troops home.
During a conference call Tuesday evening with with veterans in Iowa, Obama said, “I have been one of the fiercest critics of the Bush administration policies in Iraq … but we have to reserve terms like war criminal to behavior that goes beyond initiating a foolhardy war.”
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said the speech is one of several reasons why the president has lost all credibility. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said “photo ops” like the one four years ago couldn’t hide Bush’s disastrous mismanagement of the war.
Said Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd: “The time has come for clarity and a new mission: To end the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home, and to begin restoring America’s standing in the world.”
While the Democratic presidential candidates were united for the day against Bush, Iraq has not been an easy issue for them. They have been pitted against each other over whether Congress should have ever approved the start of the war and over what to do now to stop his troop increase.
The Democratic-controlled Congress sent Bush legislation Tuesday that calls for troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1, but he quickly vetoed it.
Video posted on YouTube showed Biden telling a voter in South Carolina that Congress should “shove it down his throat.” He issued a statement Tuesday calling for a 90-minute presidential candidate debate focused solely on Iraq.
Edwards and Dodd say Congress should cut funding for the war. But Obama and Clinton have not committed to pulling funding without a plan to draw down forces.
Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Clinton voted to authorize the war. All but Clinton have said they regret that vote â€” she has refused to say it was mistake. And Obama takes every opportunity to remind voters that he was opposed to the war from the start.
“Congress should not back down from this president at all on this issue,” Edwards told reporters as Bush prepared to veto the bill calling for withdrawal. “The president is wrong. He’s on the wrong course. The American people support what the Congress is doing. They believe that America needs to be withdrawing from Iraq and we should give no ground.”
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