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Democrats broaden criticism of administration on Iraq

Kennedy: 'We may lose the peace'

Sen. Edward Kennedy criticized the administration's approach to Iraq as
Sen. Edward Kennedy criticized the administration's approach to Iraq as "adrift."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States went to war against Iraq "under false pretenses," a leading Democratic senator charged Tuesday, as members of his party sharpened their critiques of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

In a scathing speech, Sen. Edward Kennedy faulted both the administration's justification for its war and its handling of Iraq's reconstruction in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall from power.

"They have undermined America's prestige and credibility in the world," Kennedy said in a speech delivered at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Democrats broadened their criticism, moving beyond a singular focus on a disputed line about Iraq's nuclear ambitions in the president's January State of the Union address.

"The misleading statement about African uranium is not an isolated issue," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin said Bush's statement -- in which he cited British intelligence -- that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa was "but one of several questionable statement and exaggerations" in the buildup to war.

"It is therefore essential that we have a thorough, open and bipartisan inquiry into the objectivity, credibility and use of U.S. intelligence before the Iraq war," Levin said in a Senate floor speech. The Senate Intelligence Committee is already reviewing the matter, but it is doing so behind closed doors and Democrats are pressing for an open investigation.

Some Republicans say the administration needs to better explain how an assertion about Iraq based on questionable intelligence made its way into a major presidential speech at a time when Bush was trying to rally support for military action against Iraq.

Bush cites 'larger point'

Monday, Bush told reporters he had "darn good intelligence" on Iraq despite the since-discredited line in his State of the Union address that Baghdad sought to purchase uranium from Africa.

"The larger point is and the fundamental question is, 'Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program?' And the answer is, 'Absolutely,' " Bush said.

Bush also said that Saddam "wouldn't let" U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq, but, in fact, the inspectors were in the country in the months before the war.

start quoteThey have undermined America's prestige and credibility in the world.end quote
-- Sen. Ted Kennedy

Tuesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president meant to emphasize that Saddam was "trying to thwart the inspectors every step of the way and keep them from doing their job."

The White House has tried to put the uranium issue behind it, arguing that the allegation was just a small part of the U.S. justification for war.

"Let's put this in perspective," McClellan said. "I mean, this issue here relates to the threat that Saddam Hussein and his regime posed to the region, to his people and to the world. And the statement in the State of the Union was one piece of one part of a much larger body of evidence."

But Democrats did not relent in their criticism.

start quoteThe larger point is and the fundamental question is, 'Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program?' And the answer is, 'Absolutely.'end quote
-- President Bush

Kennedy called the Bush administration's policy in Iraq "adrift" and said the U.S. soldiers facing daily attacks in Iraq "are paying the price."

He said the administration must reach out to the international community and develop a comprehensive plan to rebuild Iraq.

"America won the war in Iraq, as we knew we would, but if our present policy continues, we may lose the peace," Kennedy said. "We must rise to the challenge of international cooperation."

Tenet before committee

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, dismissed the escalating attacks from Democrats as partisan politics.

"They think if they just get a little bit angrier, and a little bit meaner, and a little bit louder, the American people will start hating the president as much as they do," DeLay said in a statement.

But criticism of the administration is not strictly partisan. While Republicans generally have been more supportive of the administration, a few have said it needs to further address the question of pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

President Bush says the 'larger point' is that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had a weapons program.
President Bush says the 'larger point' is that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had a weapons program.

CIA Director George Tenet, who last week took responsibility for mistakenly allowing the disputed line in Bush's speech, is scheduled to appear before a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, and a Republican committee member said it was in the administration's interest to resolve the issue.

"Listen, it wasn't just the CIA involved here," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska. "We had the vice president and his office involved, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, [national security adviser] Condi Rice, [Secretary of State Colin] Powell's people. This wasn't just a one-man show."

Hagel voted to give Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq, but he told reporters last week the Bush administration's case for war was looking "weaker and weaker." Monday, he told CNN, "There's a cloud hanging over this administration."

"Anybody who knows anything about this understands that we didn't go to war because of 16 words in a speech," he said. "But this is a part of a bigger mosaic here, a bigger framing of an issue that we need to know more about."

--CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash and National Security Producer Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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