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Daschle stands by criticism of Bush

Senate Minority Leader Daschle slams Bush Iraq diplomacy on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Daschle slams Bush Iraq diplomacy on Monday.

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U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, refuses to back down on his criticism of President Bush's diplomatic efforts over Iraq (March 18)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Tuesday he would not retract his criticism of President Bush's diplomatic efforts on Iraq, despite criticism from the White House and top Republicans.

"I don't know that anyone in this country could view what we've seen so far as a diplomatic success," said Daschle, D-South Dakota.

Daschle told unionized public employees Monday that he was "saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, called Daschle's remarks "deeply disappointing" and "counterproductive."

"Our men and women literally are in a countdown before fighting is initiated and any remarks that their lives in some way have been compromised is irresponsible," Frist said.

Frist was one of several Republicans who responded Tuesday to Daschle's comments.

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said the remarks were "unfortunate, it was disappointing. It was uncalled for. I hope he thinks better of it and retracts his statement."

Even the usually reserved House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, was compelled to react, saying the senator's words "may not undermine the president as he leads us into war, and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close."

And House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, issued a statement urging Daschle to "Fermez la bouche" -- French for "Shut your mouth."

The White House called Daschle's comments "inconsistent" with his earlier complaints that issues of war and peace were being politicized.

The United States, Britain and Spain dropped efforts Monday to seek U.N. backing for a military confrontation with Iraq, saying consensus was impossible among Security Council members.

They blamed French threats to veto any U.N. resolution that would authorize force for scuttling a compromise.

Bush delivered an ultimatum Monday night to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to go into exile by 8 p.m. ET Wednesday or face war.

Daschle said Bush's diplomatic efforts were weak compared to the support his father built for the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when allies paid most of the bills and provided a larger portion of the troops involved.

"As a veteran, there is no question that I stand strongly with the troops," Daschle said.

But he added, "We have to be honest and open in a democracy. I think to do anything less is unpatriotic and I'm going to continue to speak out where I think I have a responsibility to do so."

Daschle was among many leading Democrats, including presidential hopefuls John Edwards, John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman, who voted to give Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq in October.

Kerry, D-Massachusetts, issued a statement saying Bush "has clumsily and arrogantly squandered the post-9/11 support and goodwill of the entire civilized world."

Lieberman said congressional leaders would pull together to support Bush once the fighting begins, and predicted the spat over Daschle's comments "is going to be the last of this."

"The blame for the war is Saddam Hussein's," Lieberman, D-Connecticut, told CNN's "Inside Politics."

"We gave him 12 years to do what he promised to do at the end of the Gulf War, which was to disclose the weapons of mass destruction."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Bush failed to take into account the United States' dependency on other countries in his push to disarm Iraq by military force.

"Our military is the best-trained and best-equipped military in the world," Pelosi, D-California, told a gathering of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees.

"Never have we been stronger. And yet, at the same time, never have we been more dependent on other countries and other people for the safety and security of our people," said Pelosi, who opposed the Iraq resolution in October.

"I think the president has failed to face that in how he has proceeded. So, wherever you are on the war, one way or another, you have to know that America deserves better leadership in how we disarm Iraq."


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