First Published: 2006-09-30

Embattled Bush sticks to Iraq guns

US President defends war policy amid rising criticism of his counter-terrorism strategy.


Middle East Online

By Olivier Knox – WASHINGTON

Staying the course, even if alone with wife and dog

US President George W. Bush on Friday accused critics who say the Iraq war has fueled terrorist recruitment have bought into "the enemy's propaganda."

It was the latest evidence that Bush, under fire on many fronts over the unpopular war, has tied his Republicans' election-year fortunes to an unwavering defense of his Iraq policy and sharp attacks on his opposition.

Democrats have seized on a US government report that the conflict fuels global terrorist recruitment to contradict Bush's longstanding claim that the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq has made the world safer.

"This argument buys into the enemy's propaganda that the terrorists attack us because we're provoking them," he fired back Friday. "Iraq is not the reason the terrorists are at war against us."

"If that ever becomes the mind set of the policymakers in Washington, it means we'll go back to the old days of waiting to be attacked and then respond," said the US president.

His strategy for the November 7 legislative elections resembles his winning pitch in 2002 and in the 2004 presidential race: Charging that opposition Democrats will raise taxes and cannot be trusted to tackle terrorism.

White House spokesman Tony Snow pointed to Democratic opposition to highly controversial Republican-authored bills allowing warrantless wiretaps; creating military tribunals for suspected terrorists; and allowing US interrogators to use tactics that critics have branded torture as signs of weakness.

"If you don't want to listen to terrorists, if you don't want to detain them, if you don't want to question them, if you don't want to bring them to justice, then tell us what you do want to do," Snow told reporters.

But Bush has found himself on the defensive this week after grudgingly releasing portions of a National Intelligence Estimate -- which represents the judgement of all 16 US spy agencies -- that found that the Iraq war helps recruit Islamist terrorists like those behind the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The NIE also warned that terrorists are being recruited more quickly than the US-led war on terrorism is thinning their ranks, and that this trend will probably continue for five years from the study's completion in April.

Some Democrats have accused the White House of stalling an NIE on Iraq until after the November elections. The White House denies any political motive but says the report will not be ready until January 2007.

Veteran US journalist Bob Woodward, well known for painting vivid portraits of behind-the-scenes debates in the US government, has charged that the Bush administration is hiding the true extent of violence in Iraq.

"The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon (saying) 'Oh, no, things are going to get better'," he says in an interview with CBS television due to air Sunday.

Woodward says Bush is certain that Iraq is on the right course and quotes the president as saying: "I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney (Bush's dog) are the only ones supporting me."

Polls suggest that the president's approval ratings have edged up to the mid-40-percent range, but many in Bush's Republican party still worry that they will pay a steep price on election day for the Iraq war.

Thursday, Bush made one of his fiercest rhetorical attacks yet on Democrats, calling them "the party of cut and run" and saying that they "offer nothing but criticism, obstruction and endless second-guessing."

But the Democrats have not been shy about firing back, with their 2004 White House hopeful, Senator John Kerry, saying Friday that "the only clear thing about the president's policy is that it's clearly not working."

Bush "has a stand still and lose policy in Iraq which isn't the center of the war on terror, and a cut and run policy in Afghanistan which is the center of the war on terror," he said in a statement Friday.


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