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Criticism of Bush rises after UN speech

Brian Knowlton/IHT IHT

UNITED NATIONS, New York Democratic legislators and a handful of presidential candidates, speaking ever more boldly against President George W. Bush's management of postwar Iraq, said Wednesday that unless he did far more to gain broad support of Iraqi reconstruction, the United States would be left paying nearly the entire bill.

While the Democrats and Republican legislators commended Bush for taking his pleas for global aid before the United Nations on Tuesday, some members of both parties said that his speech had failed to address, with any specificity, the persistent international demands for a broader UN role in Iraq.

"We're asking the international community to turn over tens of billions of dollars," said Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware. "There's got to be a sharing of responsibility here," he said, and a promise of a greater role for the United Nations.

Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was glad that Bush had not apologized to the United Nations for leading a war that the Security Council had not explicitly approved. But he added, "This is no prize we won."

The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who supported the war, said that Bush had "lost an opportunity" to make the case for more international troops and resources.

And Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a Democratic presidential candidate and a strong supporter of the Iraq war, derided the very tone of Bush's speech Tuesday to the General Assembly, saying that Bush's "11th-hour, halfhearted appeal to the United Nations, and his continuing I-told-you-so tone, have made it more difficult to secure international assistance."

The Bush address also drew a harsh blast of criticism from Wesley Clark, the retired general and former NATO commander who recently announced his candidacy for the presidency. The Bush administration acted with "tragic arrogance" on Iraq, he said on NBC-TV.

Clark said that Bush had "really hurt us" and had failed, in his UN address, "to bring people together on this policy."

"Now we need help, and now he's asking for help," said the general. "No wonder he's having trouble getting it."

The strong words did not come only from Democrats, however, although their criticism has taken on a dramatically tougher tone in recent weeks, particularly since Bush said he would be asking Congress for an additional $87 billion for military and reconstruction spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he gave Bush "great credit" for taking his request before the United Nations. But Hagel, who has become a frequent critic of the administration's postwar planning, also faulted the president for failing to provide specifics about how other countries could be given greater responsibility in Iraq.

"We're going to need a lot of help," Hagel said on CBS-TV. Otherwise, he added, "we will have limited assistance in a very dangerous part of the world." Alluding, apparently, to Bush's declining ratings in opinion polls, Hagel said "the president is losing a consensus on our very important objective in Iraq and the Middle East."

Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, unloosed some of the harshest language against the administration's handling of Iraq when he said recently that the war was a fraud "made up in Texas," and suggested that some of the U.S. money spent in Iraq was being funneled to foreign leaders, effectively to bribe them for their support.

That brought sharp Republican rebukes.

While most Democrats have joined Republicans in predicting ultimate passage of the $87 billion request, many have said that they will demand more answers from the administration about how it is to be spent.

That process is already under way, as administration officials began meeting this week with congressional committees.

L. Paul Bremer 3rd, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, received a cool reception Tuesday during a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, The Associated Press reported.

When he began comparing the Iraq situation to the German defeat in World War II, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia asked him to discuss Iraq, not world history, according to one senator present.

"It was a maelstrom," said Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who described the session.

Republicans have been fighting back, however. Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House Majority Leader, called Kennedy's comments a "hate speech" which he said had become "mainstream in the Democratic Party."

And Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, said, "Sometimes I think, when I hear people talking, that they have forgotten that America was attacked."


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