Bush says war critics embrace propaganda
WASHINGTON - President Bush asserted Friday that critics who claim the Iraq war has made America less safe embrace "the enemy's propaganda." He acknowledged setbacks in Afghanistan against a Taliban resurgence but predicted eventual victory.
"You do not create terrorism by fighting terrorism," he told a receptive military audience. "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."
It was the latest in Bush's series of speeches defending his Iraq and anti-terrorism policies against heightened attacks from Democrats, who now are citing a government intelligence assessment to bolster their criticism. The classified National Intelligence Estimate, parts of which Bush declassified earlier this week, suggests the Iraq war has helped recruit more terrorists.
"Some have selectively quoted from this document to make the case that by fighting the terrorists — by fighting them in Iraq — we are making our people less secure here at home," Bush told the Reserve Officers Association. "This argument buys into the enemy's propaganda that the terrorists attack us because we're provoking them."
With just over five weeks left before congressional elections, Democrats were quick to react. "President Bush's election-year attacks are the product of a desperate White House with no credibility left with the American people," said Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"It was yet another example of how he is in denial over what is happening in the war on terror," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Bush spent most of his speech talking about the conflict in Afghanistan, where militant violence, particularly in the southern part of the country, has spiked in the worst outbreak since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government.
"The training of the Afghan police has not gone as smoothly as that of the army," Bush said. "The police have faced problems with corruption and substandard leadership. And we've made our concerns known to our friends in the Afghan government."
Bush noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has named a new team to lead the national police. "As the police become more capable and better led and more disciplined, they will gain legitimacy and they will earn the respect of the Afghan people," Bush said. He met with Karzai on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bush said he welcomed NATO's decision this week to take the lead in providing security and reconstruction assistance throughout Afghanistan.
"Under the plan, the U.S. will transfer 12,000 of our troops that are now serving in the country to the NATO force, while the rest will remain under coalition command and continue anti-terrorist operations across the country," Bush said.
The president also discussed Afghanistan in an Oval Office meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a Central Asian ally and important oil supplier. The former Soviet republic borders Afghanistan.
Bush thanked Nazarbayev for supporting the war in Iraq and for helping Afghanistan become a stable democracy.
"I have watched very carefully the development of this important country from one that was in the Soviet sphere to one that now is a free nation," Bush said as the two sat side by side. Bush offered support for Kazakhstan's desire to join the World Trade Organization.
No mention was made of criticism of Kazakhstan for human rights abuses, corruption and heavily restricted political and civil freedoms.
Nazarbayev said his country would not have enjoyed its recent economic growth if the Taliban had still been in power in Afghanistan.
"Nobody in Central Asia will feel safe and in peace if we'd be surrounded by countries populated with terrorist people, and if we'd be surrounded by countries where some people crave to put their hands on nuclear weapons, which Kazakhstan renounced," said Nazarbayev.
Bush's speech to the military group followed one he gave the day before at a GOP fundraiser in Alabama, where he accused Democrats of "obstruction and endless second-guessing" and not having the stomach to persist in Iraq.
He said Friday that unauthorized disclosure of the National Intelligence Estimate had "set off a heated debate here in the United States, particularly in Washington. ... It's an indication that we're getting close to an election."
Bush was greeted warmly by the military audience. "We're safer because you stand ready to put on the uniform," he told the reservists.
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