Vice President Dick Cheney joined the White House attack on critics of the Iraq war on Wednesday night when he told a conservative group that senators who had suggested that the Bush administration manipulated prewar intelligence were making "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
Cheney, who was the administration's toughest, most persistent advocate for the war in Iraq, depicted the senators as hypocrites swayed by anti-war sentiment and their own political ambitions.
"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein," Cheney told the group, Frontiers of Freedom. "What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war."
Simultaneously, the Republican National Committee posted on its Web site comments from Democrats who in the past had warned of the threat of Saddam. Among them was Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, quoted as saying on CNN in 2002 that "Saddam Hussein, in effect, has thumbed his nose at the world community, and I think that the president is approaching this in the right fashion."
In Kyongju, South Korea, where he will attend the Asian economic summit, Bush said yesterday that he backed Cheney's comments.
Bush said it was "patriotic as heck to disagree with the president." "It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America."
Bush's communications chief, Dan Bartlett, said that the White House intended to make a "sustained" response to the Democrats and would stop when the Democrats ceased making the claims. Bartlett said Bush now recognized that the intelligence about Iraq was flawed, but that he accurately portrayed it before the invasion of Iraq.
In his speech, Cheney echoed the argument of Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the past week that Democrats had access to the same prewar intelligence that the White House did, and that they came to the same conclusion that Saddam was a threat.
The administration, however, had access to far more extensive intelligence than Congress did. It also left unaddressed the question of how it had used that intelligence, which was full of caveats, subtleties and contradictions. Many Democrats now say they believe they had been misled by the administration in the way it presented the prewar intelligence.