On War's Anniversary, Bush Cites Progress

Five years after launching the U.S. invasion of Iraq, President Bush marked the anniversary with a speech at The Pentagon. Video by AP
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008

President Bush sought yesterday to convince a skeptical public that the United States is on the cusp of winning the war in Iraq, arguing in a speech at the Pentagon that the recent buildup of U.S. forces has stabilized that country and "opened the door to a major strategic victory in the war on terror."

Vice President Cheney said separately that it does not matter whether the public supports a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and he likened Bush's leadership to that of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

After a reporter cited polls showing that two-thirds of Americans oppose the Iraq war, Cheney responded: "So?"

"I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls," he added in an interview in Oman with ABC News. "There has in fact been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better."

The confident remarks came on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, marking a concerted effort by the administration to highlight progress at a time when most Americans remain opposed to the venture.

The anniversary prompted new attacks against Bush by Democrats and sparring among the three senators running to replace him. It also thrust Iraq back into the center of the Washington debate after it was overshadowed for months by the presidential campaign and economic turmoil.

Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) sharply criticized Bush for his handling of the war. Obama, speaking a day after delivering a widely watched speech on race relations, also sharpened his attacks on Clinton and GOP nominee John McCain (Ariz.), casting them as political opportunists who made the wrong call by voting to authorize the war.

"There is a security gap in this country -- a gap between the rhetoric of those who claim to be tough on national security and the reality of growing insecurity caused by their decisions," Obama said in Fayetteville, N.C.

While wrapping up a two-day visit to Israel, McCain echoed Bush's message, saying that "America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism." McCain campaign adviser Mark Salter characterized Obama as a national security neophyte who engages in "foolish supposition" about the dangers of withdrawing from Iraq.

Congressional Democrats have seized on the anniversary to launch a broad assault on the Bush administration. They lined up yesterday to criticize Bush's claims, particularly his assertion that the war has been worth the cost and has decreased the risk of terrorism.

"Even as we begin the sixth year of this war, all the president seems able to offer Americans is more of the same perpetual disregard for the costs and consequences of stubbornly staying the course in Iraq," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

Bush's remarks, delivered to employees at the Pentagon, signaled a revival of the bold and optimistic rhetoric the administration regularly employed during the early years of the war. The president and his aides had largely abandoned such sweeping declarations of success over the past two years, as the carnage on the ground increased and public approval of the war plummeted.

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