Washington, 15 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bush conceded that his decision to go to war was based on inaccurate intelligence. Still, he said his goal has always been not just to depose Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq, but also to establish democracy there.
Bush directly answered a growing number of critics in Congress -- reflecting the popular mood measured in polls -- who accuse his administration of falsely representing prewar intelligence on Iraq's suspected arsenal of illegal weapons.
"Some of the most irresponsible comments about manipulating [prewar] intelligence have come from politicians who saw the same intelligence I saw, and then voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These charges are pure politics. They hurt the morale of our troops," Bush said.
Polls show a significant majority of Americans believe Bush has no clear plan for victory. And some in Congress have called for Bush to set some sort of timetable for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
John Murtha, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and a former U.S. Marine and war veteran, originally supported the Iraq war, but has recently become one of its most vocal critics. Yesterday, Murtha again accused the administration of misleading Americans on Iraq and assailed its decision to go to war.
"We go to war because of our national security interests. We don’t go to war to start democracy in another country. We go to war for one reason, and they keep mischaracterizing why we went to war by telling a history that turns out not to be true," Murtha said.
But Bush, speaking at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, vowed that America would stay the course in Iraq and leave only after achieving victory. He defined victory as the end of the insurgency and the Iraqis' ability to defend themselves.
Bush also said today’s elections would start Iraq on the road to freedom, security, and stability. He noted that Iraq's Sunni Arab minority now appear set to turn their backs on insurgents and the remnants of Hussein's regime.
"Sunni Arabs who failed to participate in the January elections are now campaigning vigorously in this week's elections, and we can expect a higher turnout of Sunni voters. As Sunnis join the political process, Iraqi democracy becomes more inclusive, and the terrorists and Saddamists are becoming marginalized," Bush said.
Bush’s decision to give a series of speeches on Iraq comes as polls show his popularity among Americans at all-time lows.
Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington policy-research center, told RFE/RL that the speeches are at the core of an administration counteroffensive designed to take control of the debate from Bush's critics. He said the speeches -- as well as comments by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- have so far led to a slight improvement in Bush's approval ratings.
But Ornstein said speeches are not enough. "The fate of the president in the end is not going to rest with a few well-delivered, tough-minded speeches, it’s going to rest with what happens on the ground [in Iraq]," he said. "And whether the approach that's taken now, and some adjustments being made -- if they work, he won't need speeches to see an upswing in his own political standing. And if they don't work, you can deliver the best speeches in the world and you're still going to have nervous Republicans in Congress and a lot more vociferous opposition."
Ornstein said that from the start, the Bush administration has been disciplined and efficient in communicating with the American people -- until the past few months. He points to the debacle of its slow and insufficient response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated large areas of the Gulf Coast four months ago.
Recently, the administration has also poorly communicated its policy on Iraq, according to Ornstein. "This administration, which had been for a long time very, very adept at its communications efforts, has not been as adept in recent months," he said. "Frankly the administration should have been making its case a year ago, acknowledging some of the mistakes and acknowledging up front the costs that would be there. I think they've been so focused on getting through it [the war], making it work, that they haven't done what they needed to do for the public."
Ornstein said Bush also may be a victim of his own success. Having won reelection a year ago, he said, there is no need for the president to curry favor with voters because he is constitutionally forbidden a third consecutive term.
Still, Ornstein said a president's primary duty is to lead, and that is best done by keeping people informed about what he is doing -- and why. Otherwise, he says, a president and his people might end up headed in different directions.
The Multinational Force in Iraq on December 15, 2005, released official images of the voting in the legislative elections. To view a slideshow of their photographs, click on the image.
To see RFE/RL's special webpage about the election, click here.