A TOP Democrat has accused President Bush of exploiting the September 11 terrorist
attacks for political advantage — an accusation that would have been unthinkable
even a month ago.
In a clear signal of growing Democratic confidence before the congressional
elections in November, Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National
Committee, said that the President had “cynically made 9/11 the cornerstone of
the Republican 2002 election strategy”.
He said that the President had “used September’s tragedy to explain away” the
growing federal budget deficit and America’s economic problems.
Mr McAuliffe’s verbal assault on Mr Bush was the most aggressive by any Democrat
since the attacks. It broke an unofficial accord between the Democrats and the
Republicans over the Administration’s handling of the September 11 tragedy and
heralded what is quickly becoming a bitterly contested campaign. The Democrats
are defending a one-seat majority in the Senate and are hoping to overturn the
Republicans’ slim majority in the House of Representatives.
Speaking at the closing session of the Democrats’ summer gathering in Las Vegas,
Mr McAuliffe made clear that his speech had been sanctioned by Tom Daschle, the
Senate Majority Leader, and Richard Gephardt, the House Minority Leader, both
of whom are potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2004.
Accusing Mr Bush of mismanaging the economy and skewing White House policies
to help corporate interests, Mr McAuliffe said that the President had squandered
“an extraordinary opportunity” to take the nation through difficult times.
His belligerent tone reflected the Democrats’ belief that the President is
now vulnerable on domestic issues and no longer rendered invincible by his strongest
electoral suit, the War on Terror.
“This is a White House that even Republicans call the most political ever,”
Mr McAuliffe said. “With polling numbers as their only compass and high approval
rating their only destination, George Bush has squandered our trust.”
Mr McAuliffe’s Republican counterpart, Marc Racicot, said that his speech was
“a disservice to our political system”.
Mr McAuliffe raised no cautions about possible war with Iraq, however, and
members of the Iraqi opposition emerged yesterday after talks with Dick Cheney,
the Vice-President, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, to say they “have
no doubts” that the Bush Administration will overthrow President Saddam Hussein.
Sharif Ali bin Hussein, leader of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and
part of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group for Iraqi opposition parties,
said that Mr Cheney, speaking via a video link from Wyoming, had assured him that
the Administration was determined to oust Saddam from power.
“The main message was that the US is totally committed and serious about instituting
a policy of regime change in Iraq,” Mr Hussein said.
“There is no decision on how and when, but the US did stress . . . the establishment
of the democratic rule of law. They would not support replacing one dictator with
The President, who was on a “working vacation” at his Texan ranch in Crawford,
was more circumspect in his comments on an Iraqi invasion over the weekend.
He described Iraq as “an enemy until proven otherwise” because of its programs
to develop weapons of mass destruction. However, he added that he had “no imminent
war plan” or timetable for confronting Iraq.
Meanwhile, the House of Saud launched a significant charm offensive in the
United States after a leaked briefing paper to a Pentagon adviser board described
Saudi Arabia last week as the “kernel of evil” — a country that funds and directs
international terrorism at all levels.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday
and then in television appearances, dismissed the assertion as ridiculous. “It
would be the ultimate of contradictions that we finance those who are trying to
do harm to our country,” he said.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.