Bitter War Of Words Over Iraq

Vice President Dick Cheney and Harry Reid, U.S. Senator of Nevada
The White House continued a verbal tussle with Democrats who accuse the Bush administration of manipulating information in order to start the war in Iraq.

While in South Korea, President Bush told reporters he agreed with a speech last night by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said Democrats were pushing false accusations to make political points, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports.

"I agree with the vice president," Mr. Bush said Thursday when asked about Cheney's remarks. "I think people ought to be allowed to ask questions. It is irresponsible to say that I deliberately misled the American people.

"What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics," Mr. Bush added. "That's exactly what is taking place in America."

Cheney said Wednesday the accusation that the administration misrepresented intelligence to build support for taking the nation to war in Iraq is "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein," Cheney told the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a conservative policy group.

Cheney's speech was part of a GOP effort to push back against criticism on Iraq that presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said will continue.

Traveling with Mr. Bush, Bartlett said: "There's a bright line there that the Democrats have crossed. They have no facts on their side."

He said the administration to push back "will be sustained" because "in the last couple of weeks it has reached a critical mass and we felt it was important to respond."

Pushing back against the push-back, the Democrat's 2004 presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said Cheney "continues to mislead America about how we got into Iraqi and what must be done to complete the still unaccomplished mission."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Cheney was "playing politics like he's in the middle of a presidential campaign."

Meanwhile, in another sign of growing unease in Congress about Iraq, one of the most hawkish Democrats in the House called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Vietnam War veteran and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee defense panel, described the Iraq war as "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

Murtha, who voted to authorize the war in 2002, said if the U.S. pulls out, it will give Iraqi security forces more of an incentive to take charge.

"It is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region," Murtha said.

Murtha's comments came just two days after the Senate voted to approve a statement that 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty" to create the conditions for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

President Bush has made two speeches in recent days that painted Democrats as hypocrites for criticizing the Iraq war after earlier supporting the idea that Saddam should go.

The Republican National Committee has posted on its Web site a video compilation of past statements by prominent Democrats, including several 2008 presidential hopefuls, who supported a hard line against Saddam.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld singled out a number of Democrats, including former President Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who had depicted Saddam as a threat because of weapons of mass destruction.

Following up on that theme, Cheney said Wednesday that "these are elected officials who had access to the intelligence, and were free to draw their own conclusions. They arrived at the same judgment about Iraq's capabilities and intentions that was made by this administration and by the previous administration."

He said there was "broad-based, bipartisan agreement" that Saddam was a threat, had violated U.N. Security Council resolution and had banned weapons.

With polls showing the president's credibility at a low point, the White House is deeply concerned, says Plante, and the administration counteroffensive will likely continue.