WASHINGTON -- Ratcheting up his criticism of the war in Iraq, Senator Edward M. Kennedy accuses the Bush administration of telling "lie after lie after lie" to defend its policy in a fiery speech prepared for delivery today on the Senate floor.
"The trumped up reasons for going to war have collapsed," Kennedy says in a speech that underscores his opposition to President Bush's request for $87 billion to fund military operations and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. An advance copy of the speech was obtained by the Globe.
"The administration still refuses to face the truth or tell the truth," Kennedy says, accusing the White House of misleading the public about every aspect of the war, from the financial costs to the motivation and the aftermath. "Instead the White House responds by covering up its failures and trying to sell its rosy version of events by repeating it with maximum frequency and volume, and minimum regard for realities on the ground."
Asked about the senator's planned remarks, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, "The United States and the world are safer today because of the actions that were taken in Iraq, because Sept. 11 taught us that we need to confront new threats before they reach our shores."
Kennedy's last broadside about the war -- he described it in September as a fraud "made up in Texas" as part of political strategy -- drew a scolding phone call from White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card. Advisers in both parties say the speech planned for today is further evidence that the personal relationship between the Massachusetts Democrat and the president has greatly deteriorated.
"Our men and women in uniform fought bravely and brilliantly, but the president's war has been revealed as mindless, needless, senseless, and reckless," Kennedy says, according to the text of his speech. "We should never have gone to war in Iraq when we did, in the way we did, for the false reasons we were given."
After the similar, but relatively mild, remarks from Kennedy in September, Bush blasted the senator for being "uncivil," and Card privately complained to the senator for what he considered a personal attack on the president's credibility, according to officials in both parties. Republicans on Capitol Hill were incensed, and House majority leader Tom DeLay called the remarks a "new low."
At the same time, Kennedy's criticism -- coming after a July 15 speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, in which the senator said "ideological pride" prevented the administration from seeking international help -- seemed to energize Democratic critics of the administration's Iraq policy. Public opinion polls indicated the president's approval ratings slipped as the criticism grew sharper.
The address prepared for delivery today shows that the reaction from the White House and Card, a Massachusetts native who has known Kennedy for many years, had little effect on Kennedy -- further evidence, advisers said, that Kennedy and Bush have abandoned the kinship they shared at the start of the administration.
"They blew it," one Democratic official said of the White House's handling of its relationship with Kennedy. "They came into office and they started to work together on a number of issues, and then they completely dissed him."
Another Democratic official said that while Kennedy has aided the president's attempts to pass a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, the relationship is no longer warm, largely as a result of the war and the heated rhetoric since. Kennedy voted against the resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the phone call between Card and Kennedy, and neither side would discuss the personal relationship between the two publicly. "Senator Kennedy is willing to work with the administration when he can and oppose them when he has to," spokesman Jim Manley said.
Privately, Republicans argue that Kennedy is simply playing to his liberal base -- a repayment of sorts to compensate for his cooperation with Bush on other issues. "Senator Kennedy has worked well with us on things like education and prescription drugs, but knowing politics, I suspect he'd have to go even further, and be more dramatic [than his true views], to play with members of his own party" in areas where he disagrees with the president, one White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
When Bush first came into office, he and Kennedy spoke several times, and Bush even invited some members of the Kennedy family to the White House to watch a movie. They discussed the longstanding ties between their families, and seemed to relate to each other as members of two leading political dynasties. In the year that followed, the two men toured the country together touting their work together on the No Child Left Behind education bill, and in November 2001, Bush renamed the Department of Justice after Kennedy's brother Robert, the former attorney general who was assassinated during the presidential primaries in 1968.
But the relationship began to slide, especially as the administration declined to fund the education bill as much as Kennedy wanted, and interpreted the bill differently than he had expected. When Bush said that John F. Kennedy would have supported his tax cut, the senator and other Kennedy relatives pushed back, angrily declaring that unlike the Bush tax cut, the tax cut in President Kennedy's administration went mostly to the poor and working class.
Kennedy's address today seems likely to put even more distance between the senator and the White House.
"Nearly six months have elapsed since President Bush flew out to the aircraft carrier and declared `Mission Accomplished' in Iraq," Kennedy says. "Today, we all know all too well that the war is not over; the war goes on; the mission is not accomplished. An unnecessary war, based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence, has not brought an end to danger. Instead, it has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week. We all agree that Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant, and his brutal regime was an affront to basic human decency. But Iraq was not a breeding ground for terrorism. Our invasion has made it one."
He continues: "All the administration's rationalizations as we prepared to go to war now stand revealed as double-talk. The American people were told Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. He was not. We were told he had stockpiles of other weapons of mass destruction. He did not. We were told he was involved in 9/11. He was not. We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from Al Qaeda. It was not. We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They are not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told the war would make America safer. It has not."