WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats tore into each other over war policy yesterday, set off by a presidential speech that the White House insisted was nonpolitical. A GOP leader said Democrats seemed ``more interested in protecting the terrorists" than shielding fellow Americans.
The Democrats contended the president had used a prime-time address commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to make partisan arguments bolstering support for the Iraq war.
``I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people," said House majority leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio. ``They certainly do not want to take the terrorists on and defeat them."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who had criticized the president's speech as inappropriately political, called Boehner's criticism ``cynical tactics."
``Rather than try to defend their own failed record, Republicans have resorted to the desperation politics of fear," said Pelosi of California. ``It is long past time for Republicans to be honest with American people and stop questioning the patriotism of those who recognize that the president's Iraq policy has not worked, is making us less safe, and must be changed."
Bush spokesman Tony Snow said it was unfortunate but perhaps inevitable that ``there will be some name calling" in the months before this fall's election as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of Congress.
At the same time, the White House vigorously defended Bush against Democratic allegations that he inappropriately used Monday's televised speech, marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks, to try to bolster support for the divisive war in Iraq.
Snow said that very little of the president's 17-minute address contained controversial statements and that ``this was not an attempt to stir the hornet's nest."
Democratic leaders called the speech a political argument trying to justify the war by linking it to the Sept. 11 attacks. The Democrats contend mismanagement of the war calls for a change in congressional leadership.
``The president spoke for his administration, not for the nation," said Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. ``This was a political move, designed to tap the overwhelming public sentiment to destroy Al Qaeda as a way to bolster sagging public support for the war in Iraq."
Bush's address paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and described the enemy as a global network of extremists who hate freedom and tolerance. ``The war . . . is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," Bush said.
Much of the speech described the administration's foreign policy after the attacks and the decision to go after enemies.
``I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks," Bush said. ``The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat."
Bush said disaster could result if the United States pulled out of the war, emboldening terrorists.