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President George W. Bush, trying to assure Americans he has made
them safer since the Sept. 11 attacks and help his party in the
congressional elections, addresses a nation tonight that has grown
sceptical of the Iraq war and its link to the fight against
Bush's prime-time speech caps two days of remembrance ceremonies in
New York, at the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania field where one
of the four airliners hijacked by a group of al-Qaeda terrorists
While Bush and his aides insist tonight's address isn't political,
the politics of national security -- including the conflict in Iraq
and the battle against terrorism - are inescapable as the
president's party fights to hold its congressional majority in the
November elections by emphasizing the issue to voters.
Vice President Dick Cheney voiced that theme yesterday. He argued
that the Bush administration had made significant progress in
pacifying Iraq and confronting terrorists and placed blame for
faulty pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons capabilities
squarely on then-CIA Director George Tenet.
“Just think of what's at stake in this election in terms of
national security and the global war on terror,” Cheney said
in an hour-long interview on NBC's “Meet the Press”
He cited the debate over keeping US troops in Iraq, saying it
raises doubts among allies whether “the United States, in
fact, is going to be there to complete the mission”.
The suggestion that the US should withdraw “validates the
strategy of the terrorists” of trying to break America's will
to continue a long fight.
As part of the commemoration of Sept. 11, Bush laid a wreath at
Ground Zero in New York yesterday. It was the first of 10
appearances at sites connected to the attacks that killed almost 3
000 people when terrorists hijacked passenger jets and aimed them
at New York's World Trade Center and targets in the nation's
This morning, the president and First Lady Laura Bush had breakfast
with about 100 New York City firefighters and police at a firehouse
in lower Manhattan that was among the first to respond to the
disaster. The station lost one person, Chief Matthew Ryan, and one
of its fire trucks was crushed.
The couple then participated in a ceremony and moments of silence
outside the firehouse to mark the times planes struck the Twin
Towers of the World Trade Center. While listening to renditions of
“Amazing Grace”, “America the Beautiful”
and “God Bless America”, the Bushes stood near a door
from Ladder 18, a fire truck destroyed in the collapse of the
The president and his wife fly next to Shanksville, Pennsylvania,
to participate in a ceremony where United Air Lines flight 93
crashed after passengers overpowered terrorists steering the plane
toward Washington. They then return to Washington for a ceremony at
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, most polls showed Bush
had the almost unanimous backing of Americans for his handling of
the crisis and the steps the US was taking in the war on terrorism.
Now the administration is struggling to regain public support in
the face of an unpopular conflict in Iraq, the government's failure
to chase down Osama bin Laden and questions from members of
Congress about some of the tactics used to prosecute the war.
While tonight's speech won't be an attempt to argue the case for
Iraq, the president won't shy away from linking that conflict with
the war on terrorism, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said as
the president prepared to depart for New York.
“There will be some of that, but there will be much more on
what lessons we've learned from Sept. 11, and where we are as a
nation,” Snow said.
Cheney dismissed polls that show most Americans think the war in
Iraq has created more terrorists, that the invasion was a mistake
and Iraq isn't the central front on terrorism, as the Bush
The vice president defended the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying
there was widespread acceptance of the intelligence supporting the
original rationale for the war: that Iraq had weapons of mass
destruction and might share them with terrorists.
“It was the intelligence all of us believed,” Cheney
said. He cited assurances from Tenet and the fact that President
Bill Clinton during his administration also thought Iraq had
weapons of mass destruction.
That information turned out to be wrong. Two reports released
Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee said that Bush
administration claims justifying the war were based on intelligence
that was fragmented, conflicting, and at times unreliable.
In other years, Bush's observances of the national tragedy have
been more muted. On Sept. 11, 2003, he delivered brief remarks at a
church service, and during his 2004 re-election campaign he used
the anniversary to highlight gains in the war against terror. Last
year, he observed a moment of silence at the White House.
Bush will speak for 15 to 20 minutes at 9 p.m. Washington time, the
prime television viewing time for U.S. audiences. Snow said
administration officials decided the president would have to
address the Sept. 11 anniversary as part of a series of speeches,
given over the last week, on the threat of terrorism and the war in
“From the early planning meetings, we saw, in general, an
understanding that it was important to talk about both the war in
Iraq and the war on terror,” Snow said in an interview.
“We didn't think all the facts were getting out, and so we
made a decision to start talking about them.”
Republican political consultant Rich Galen said Bush can't escape
the political implications of tonight's speech, even if none are
intended. If the anniversary fell May or June, “no one would
raise an eyebrow”, he said.
“He's kind of damned if he does, damned if he doesn't,”
Galen said. “The fact that this is happening in September of
a very close election year obviously gives this a different
Democrats directly accuse the administration of trying to
politicize national security and the war on terrorism, even as they
try to use the issue, and the war in Iraq, against
“We have not pursued the war on terror with the vigour that
we should have because we've gotten bogged down in this civil war
in Iraq,'' said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean
yesterday on “Fox News Sunday”.
“Osama bin Laden has not been captured five years later.
That's a big problem.”
Dean said the president's recent speeches show that Republicans
think they can't win the elections unless they talk about terrorism
all the time”.
Said Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who lost to
Bush in the 2004 election, in an interview on CNN: “There's a
simple test here: Are there more terrorists in the world today than
before 9/11 who want to kill Americans? The answer is,
Karl Rove, Bush's top political aide, said in a January speech that
Republicans would try to run on combating terrorism.
That is the issue on which Bush got his highest approval rating
from voters -- 53 percent -- in a Sept. 5-7 ABC News poll even as
his overall approval rating was 42 percent. The poll found 46
percent say they have a great deal or a good amount of confidence
in the government to prevent another terrorist attack and 53
percent said that had only a fair amount or none.
“Bush may find out that this is not a winning issue come
November,'' said Stephen Hess a government professor at George
Washington University and presidential scholar at the Brookings
Institution in Washington. “But at this point, it's about all
he has left.”