Democrats have accused President George W. Bush of "recklessly" leading America into war in Iraq and called for a withdrawal of US forces, in a blunt rebuttal to the president's annual State of the Union speech.
"This country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years," said Senator James Webb, who was designated to deliver the opposition party's rebuttal to the president's key annual address before Congress.
|US Senator John Warner (2L), R-VA, announces a resolution critical of US President George W. Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq.|
"Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world," Webb said in prepared remarks made available ahead of the speech.
Bush said in his address that he and US military commanders looked at "every possible approach" before deciding to send 21,500 more US soldiers into battle.
"In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success," said the president in advance excerpts released by the White House.
"Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq -- because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching," he said.
Webb, newly-elected as senator from Virginia, came to Congress with a impressive resume on military matters, including a stint as Secretary of the Navy and several years' service as a US marine in Vietnam.
His searing criticism of US Iraq policy -- the centerpiece of the Bush presidency -- came with the Democratically-controlled Congress poised to take up several damning bills amounting to resolutions of no-confidence in the president's handling of Iraq.
Lawmakers have heaped condemnation on the president's unpopular plan to send more troops to quell violence in Iraq, which is to be the subject of Senate hearings Wednesday.
"The president took us into this war recklessly," Webb declared, saying that Bush ignored the counsel even of many of his top advisers in pushing ahead with the invasion.
"We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable -- and predicted -- disarray that has followed," the Democratic lawmaker said.
"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought -- nor does the majority of our military," he said. "We need a new direction."
Still, Webb cautioned against "a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos" and urged the president to make an "immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy -- a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities and a formula that will, in short order, allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."
If the president's remarks did little to sway Democrats, political pundit Larry Sabato said they were also unlikely to convince a cynical public whose patience is spent by continual setbacks in Iraq.
"A lot of people are so turned off, they're not even going to watch it," Sabato said ahead of Bush's speech, other than "for the atmospherics."
The president's wide-ranging speech also touched upon a number of domestic initiatives, including a sweeping new energy conservation plan and a new proposal on jumpstarting a long-stalled immigration reform plan.
He called for energy conservation measures and stepped up efforts in the area of reducing emissions deemed responsible for global warming.
Sabato told AFP however that most of those proposals are likely to be dead on arrival in a Democratically controlled Congress.
"Remember one thing: Republicans will be watching this thing disproportionately," said Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, saying the few minds were like to be changed by the speech.
As far as the president's domestic proposals go, they "won't pass in a Democratic Congress," Sabato said.
"He can veto their plans, but they're not about to pass his. His domestic presidency is basically over."