The Iraq war is a "political product" marketed by U.S. President George W. Bush to help ensure electoral success for his Republican Party. That scathing accusation comes from Senator Edward Kennedy, a senior opposition voice in the Congress.
Washington, 15 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In keeping with the passions of an election year, Senator Edward Kennedy launched a major attack on U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday, accusing him of duping Americans into backing the Iraq war and using it for political gain.
A veteran Democratic leader in Congress and brother of the slain former U.S. president, Kennedy laid out his indictment of Bush's Iraq policies in a speech to a new liberal think tank in Washington -- the Center for American Progress.
Kennedy said Bush was recently asked whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction -- the main reason cited for going to war -- or only the possibility of acquiring them.
"President Bush answered: 'So what's the difference?' The difference, Mr. President, is whether you go to war or not. No president of the United States should employ misguided ideology, distortions of the truth, to take the nation to war. In doing so, the president broke the basic bond of trust between government and the people. If Congress and the American people knew the whole truth, America would never have gone to war."
Kennedy said the president capitalized on fears from the September 2001 attacks to deceive Americans and justify a war that -- in his words -- could become one of the worst foreign-policy blunders in U.S. history. Almost 500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began last March.
Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts since 1962, said the war was a "political product" marketed by the Bush administration to win mid-term elections in 2002 and presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections in November.
Kennedy said none of the administration's prewar assessments of the Iraqi threat has so far been proven true. These include assertions that Iraq possessed stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, that it was trying to produce nuclear weapons, and that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ties to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network, blamed for the September 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
As a result of the U.S. focus on Iraq, Kennedy said that bin Laden and his network were allowed to regroup after being knocked down in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. "The war has made America more hated in the world, especially in the Islamic world. And it has made our people more vulnerable to attack, both here and overseas."
Kennedy also praised former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who earlier this week asserted in comments made in a book about the administration that Bush had begun planning for regime change in Iraq long before the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The 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."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked about Kennedy's criticism at a briefing yesterday, replied, "I think the case that we outlined was very clear. Let me remind you that the world is safer and better because of the action that we took to remove a brutal regime from power in Iraq. The president worked to exhaust all diplomatic means possible before taking the action that we took."
But Kennedy said Bush and what he called Bush's "axis of war" -- Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- turned their focus on Iraq to divide Congress, distract Americans from the poor economy, and win votes.
He said new U.S. plans to turn control over to the Iraqi people this summer are now "intended to build momentum for the November elections."
U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican like the president, called Kennedy's speech a "hateful attack" that "insulted the president's patriotism."