President Bush is stepping up his attacks on Democrats in the U.S. Congress who have challenged his handling of crucial evidence prior to the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush took on his critics once again during a speech to military personnel in Alaska.
President Bush stopped at an air force base near Anchorage (Alaska) while traveling to Asia for a week of summitry, speeches, meetings and public appearances in four countries.
He used his last few minutes of the trip on American soil to fire a parting shot at his critics.
"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," Mr. Bush says.
In a speech to cheering air force personnel and their families, Mr. Bush said some of those leveling these charges originally voted to support the invasion of Iraq. He suggested they are now raising questions about the administration's handling of pre-war intelligence for political reasons.
"Some of our elected leaders have opposed this war all along," Mr. Bush says. "I disagree with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand. Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past. They are playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."
The president quoted from statements made by three Democrats prior to the war in which they supported the need for action against Saddam Hussein. The three were later identified by White House officials as Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, and the top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees (Jay Rockefeller and Carl Levin) - three current critics of the president's Iraq policy.
"They spoke the truth then and they are speaking politics now," Mr. Bush says.
The president said members of the U.S. Congress saw the same pre-war intelligence he did. He said only one person actively manipulated intelligence and misled the world - and that person was Saddam Hussein.
On Capitol Hill, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, took issue with the president's comments. He said the administration did not share all the information at its disposal with Congress, and knowingly cited questionable evidence to make the case for war.
"The bottom line is that the president and his administration did mislead America into war. In fact, the war in Iraq was and remains one of the great acts of misleading and deception in American history," Mr. Kerry says.
Senator Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards of North Carolina, voted for legislation in late 2002 that set the stage for the invasion of Iraq. Both have grown increasingly critical of the administration's Iraq policy.
While standing united on the need to support the troops, the political split over Iraq seems to be growing deeper by the day, with statements from both sides increasingly resembling comments usually heard in the heat of an election campaign.
Public opinion polls show concern over the war in Iraq has had an impact on President Bush's popularity. He now has the lowest approval rating of his presidency, with a majority of those surveyed saying they disapprove of his handling of Iraq.
The president went on the offensive last Friday with a Veterans' Day speech in Pennsylvania. He appeared energized and aides indicated he is eager to rebut all the criticism being leveled by the Democrats.