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Bush opens bid to sell Iraq war to midterm voters
San Francisco Chronicle


September 02, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Democrats - who came up on the short end of the national security debate in the 2002 and 2004 elections - reacted quickly and harshly to Bush's speech to the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City. They said Bush was resorting to his administration's usual election-year scare tactics and charged that Iraq has made the United States less safe by diverting resources from the real war on terrorism.

Bush, whose low standing in public opinion polls has left him shunned by GOP candidates in some parts of the country, plans several more speeches in coming days, timed both to the campaign for the Nov. 7 midterm congressional elections and to the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. His current series of talks on Iraq and terrorism will conclude with an address to the U.N. General Assembly, scheduled for Sept. 19.



Republican leaders have made it clear that national security and the war on terrorism will be top themes when Congress returns after Labor Day for its pre-election work. That means they will offer legislation on the fight against terrorism that is designed to force minority Democrats to support it or risk being portrayed as weak on the issue.

"We should all agree that the battle for Iraq is now central to the ideological struggle of the 21st century. We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the future of this century, so we will defeat them in Iraq," Bush told the same American Legion audience that on Tuesday heard Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sharply attack critics of the Iraq war.

The president didn't repeat his wording of last month, when he referred to "Islamic fascism" in an appearance, but still linked Islamic terrorists to fascism.

"As veterans you have seen this kind of enemy before," Bush told the Legion members. "They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century."

And Bush issued a stark warning that has become a standard part of his defense of a war that has killed almost 2,700 Americans and cost some $400 billion since Iraq was invaded in March 2003.

"If we give up the fight in the streets in Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities. We can decide to stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, in other parts of the world, but they will not decide to stop fighting us," he said.

Striking another theme that he will return to repeatedly before the Sept. 11 anniversary, Bush warned against complacency.

"As the horror of that morning grows more distant, there is the tendency to believe that the threat is receding and this war is coming to a close. That feeling is natural and comforting and wrong," he said.

Democrats, sensing big gains in November and moving to blunt Republican assertions and attacks, responded to Bush immediately.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said, "It's time to stop scaring the American people and start protecting us." She said the administration and the Republican Congress haven't done enough to protect ports, airborne cargo, mass transit and long-distance railroads from the possibility of terrorist attacks.

"The truth is Iraq is not part of the war on terrorism. It's a diversion. It's making us less safe," she said.

The House minority leader, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, said, "Bush demonstrated that he is in denial about his historic blunder in Iraq.

"The strain that the Iraq war has put on our military has crippled our ability to prosecute the war on terrorism and has dangerously limited our ability to respond to real challenges to our national security around the world," said Pelosi, who would become House speaker if Democrats win a net gain of 15 seats in November.

Rep. Pete Stark, another California Democrat, said Bush's speech was "cheerleading, and there aren't many in the stands. He's on the wrong side of the field."

"This is plain and simple an attempt to spin the media and the press away from his failure," he said.

Bush is defending his Iraq policy during a midterm election campaign when polls show the war is a top issue on voters' minds. Polls also show declining support for the war.

A Newsweek poll last week showed 31 percent of those surveyed supported Bush's handling of the war, compared with 63 percent who disapproved. A CBS News-New York Times poll in mid-August showed that 44 percent of respondents believed the war in Iraq was part of a broader war on terror; 51 percent rejected that idea.

Boxer said that when Congress returns next week after its August recess, she will introduce a "sense of the Senate" resolution calling on Bush to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whom critics blame for several errors in prosecuting the Iraq war. Bush has repeatedly stood by his defense secretary.


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