Bush: Democrats wrong on Iraq
Reid, Pelosi blast president's strategy, push for 'new direction'
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The attitude of many Democrats on Iraq -- a quick pullout of U.S. troops -- shows a lack of understanding of world politics and increases the threat of attacks in the United States, President Bush said Monday.
The top Democrat in the Senate responded by deeming Bush's policy in Iraq "a failure" and calling for "a new direction in the Middle East."
With the midterm congressional election just over two months away, the Republican president said while he doesn't question the patriotism of his Democratic opponents, he strongly disagrees with their opinions on Iraq.
"There are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done. Period. And they're wrong," Bush said at a Washington news conference.
"I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me," Bush said. "This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has everything to do with understanding the world in which we live."
Bush acknowledged that "these are challenging times" and said "they're straining the psyche of our country."
But leaving Iraq before a stable democracy is established increases the risk of a domestic attack, Bush said.
"I repeat what our ... our leading general said in the region. He said: 'If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here.' I strongly agree with that," the president said.
"We're not leaving so long as I'm the president. That would be a huge mistake," he said.
More than 2,600 Americans have been killed in Iraq, where about 130,000 American troops are battling a persistent insurgency and a rising tide of sectarian killings.
Poll: War unpopular
However, the American public is increasingly dissatisfied with the way the war is being conducted, according to a CNN poll released Monday. (Full story)
Thirty-five percent of 1,033 adults polled say they favor the war in Iraq; 61 percent say they oppose it -- the highest opposition noted in any CNN poll since the conflict began more than three years ago. A majority (51 percent) say they see Bush as a strong leader, but on most other attributes he gets negative marks. (Complete poll results -- PDF)
The poll was carried out for CNN by Opinion Research from Friday through Sunday. The polls had sampling errors of plus-or-minus 3 points.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said Bush "should have given more thought to the consequences of a failed state in Iraq before he launched his ill-advised invasion."
"He did not have a plan for preventing chaos in Iraq when the war started," the California Democrat said in a written statement. "The mounting death toll in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country is stark evidence that he does not have one today."
Pelosi said U.S. troops have been fighting in Iraq longer than they fought in Europe in World War II, and should be pulled back to focus on training Iraqi troops and police and on counterterrorism.
She and other congressional Democrats have called for Bush to lay out plans for an American withdrawal from Iraq, and some Republicans have joined those calls.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that the United States has "no good options" left in Iraq.
Bush defends NSA program
Bush criticized political opponents who applauded a federal judge's ruling last week blocking the National Security Agency's domestic, no-warrant eavesdropping program. The program continues while the administration appeals the ruling.
"Those who heralded the decision not to give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people just simply don't see the world the way we do," he said.
And he chided political opponents for not sharing his vision of how domestic security should be ensured.
"They say, on the one hand, you can't have the tools necessary and herald the fact that you won't have the tools necessary to defend the people and, sure enough, attack would occur, and [they'd] say, 'How come you don't have the tools necessary to defend the people?' "
Voters expect politicians to cooperate in Washington, something he hasn't seen in his time in the Oval Office, Bush said.
"People expect us to come here to solve problems. And thus far, the attitude has been: Let's just kind of ignore what the president has said and just hope somebody else comes and solves it for us," he said.
The president said if he were running now, he would focus on the economy and national security issues.
"I'd be telling people that the Democrats will raise your taxes. That's what they said. I'd be reminding people that tax cuts have worked in terms of stimulating the economy," Bush said.
Reid: 'America less safe'
Bush said the Iraq war has helped improve national security by showing the U.S. is committed to fighting the lack of hope and the resentment that breed terrorism.
And the best way to give people hope is by establishing democracy, he said.
"You don't succeed by leaving before the mission is complete, like some in this political process are suggesting," he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called Bush's strategy in Iraq "a failure."
"Far from spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East, the Bush administration has watched while extremists grow stronger, Iran goes nuclear, Iraq falls into civil war and oil and gas prices skyrocket," the Nevada Democrat fired back.
"Simply staying the course is unacceptable. We need a new direction in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, where the president's failed policies have made America less safe."
A U.S.-led army invaded Iraq in March 2003 after Bush and other top officials accused Iraq of concealing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs in violation of U.N. resolutions requiring Baghdad's disarmament.
No weapons programs or stockpiles were found after the invasion, though a U.S. review found Iraq had hidden some weapons-related research from U.N. inspectors.
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