Senators rap administration's PR effort on Iraq
Bush needs to get everyone on the same page, they say
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration's progress-in-Iraq public relations campaign needs more work before its next installment hits the road next week, the leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.
Richard Lugar, the committee's chairman, said the administration's stars at times don't appear to be in the same game, much less on the same page of the playbook.
The Indiana Republican said he heard four "distinctly different" speeches from top administration officials last week.
"The president has to be the president, over the vice president and over these secretaries," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice delivered speeches on Iraq in an effort to build support for the U.S.-led occupation and reconstruction effort.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, said there has been "no clear articulation" from the Bush administration of its goals in Iraq and how to accomplish them.
Biden voted last year to authorize the president to go to war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
At a time when Democratic presidential challengers are sharply critical of the administration over Iraq, Biden said he still believes his vote was correct.
"I just did not count on the fact that it would be handled with such a degree of incompetence subsequent to the, quote, military victory," he said.
He said the administration faces a "significant division" between hawkish elements -- such as Cheney and Rumsfeld -- and more moderate officials like Powell.
"It just seems to continually communicate contradictory messages. And that breeds lack of confidence on the ground in Iraq, in the Congress, and among the American people," Biden said.
Biden and Lugar both singled out Cheney's speech at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation last week in which he said the United States had the right to defend itself against any perceived threat -- with or without unanimous international support.
Biden called the speech "disingenuous" -- "No one ever said we cannot act unless there's absolute unanimity. No serious person has ever said that."
Biden accused Cheney and Rumsfeld of wanting to go further than the removal of Saddam from power.
"They want to establish this new doctrine, and in my view ... they want to undermine international institutions because they feel they're a drag on our capability," Biden said
Furthermore, Biden said, the administration's policy is hurting Powell's attempts to bring other countries on board to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq.
"And what does the vice president do in the midst of that? Articulates an unarticulable doctrine called 'pre-emption,' implying that, any time we think there's a problem, we should act pre-emptively, undercutting everything that's going on at the United Nations," Biden said.
Lugar said even though Cheney's speech was "very, very tough and strident," history may ultimately prove he is correct. But the point is, he said, apparent differences among officials do not help matters.
"The tone in all of those [speeches] was distinctly different," Lugar said. "These are different views, even if they were presented all as an attempt at one campaign."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said Bush officials were "kind of chipping away at each other" last week.
Lautenberg reserved his strongest criticism for Cheney.
"Cheney coming out very strident ... challenging those who would disagree, almost calling them disloyal," Lautenberg said on CNN's "Late Edition." "That's outrageous."
Meanwhile, Lautenberg said, "we're walking around with a tin cup" in search of international help for the Iraq reconstruction effort. "Colin Powell is knocking on the doors, pleading with people for help."
But two Republican senators, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, backed Bush's policies in Iraq with the same enthusiasm that administration officials brought to the task last week.
Kyl said Bush, Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld were the best men to handle the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq.
"Can you think of any four better people to be in charge of this policy?" Kyl said on CNN's "Late Edition." "That is a four-star lineup."
McConnell, who just returned from Iraq, said on "Fox News Sunday" that "a very large percentage of what's happening there is good."