Leahy lambastes Bush in Brattleboro policy speech

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(Host) The United States has squandered the good will showered on it by the world after nine-eleven, according to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy spoke to students and faculty on Thursday at Brattleboro’s World Learning Incorporated. In what was described as a major policy speech, Leahy faulted the Bush administration for creating what he called a deadly quagmire in Iraq.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Leahy chose a campus dedicated to international understanding to lambaste the Bush administration’s lack of cultural sensitivity. Leahy said a series of “heavy-handed missteps” had turned a campaign against terrorism into what much of the world sees as a war against Islam.

He quoted Vietnam-era secretary of defense Robert Macnamara. Decades after Vietnam, MacNamara blamed the U.S. defeat there on the failure to understand the Vietnamese people.

(Leahy) “It is tragic that years after Vietnam, the same arrogance, the same distortions of the truth, the same simplistic notions of “good versus evil,” the same rudimentary understanding of the people, their culture, their faith and traditions, and the same rosy assertions that things are getting better, has gotten us into what is increasingly looking like a deadly quagmire that may not only bog us down for years, but create more terrorists.”

(Keese) Leahy said the United States needs allies, especially Islamic allies, to bring about a good result in the middle east.

(Leahy) “But our task is immeasurably more difficult because the premise that was used to justify our intervention is no longer credible, if indeed it ever was. And our reputation has been badly damaged, and we are virtually alone. We need a broader, multilateral strategy that has the support of the American people, the Iraqi people, and the international community, including as many Arab and other Muslim nations as possible.”

(Keese) As it is, Leahy said, the country continues to alienate potential allies. He said civilian deaths in Iraq, suppression of opposing viewpoints and the rejection of international law have united even age-old enemies against us.

(Leahy) “President Bush, just Tuesday evening, made clear that he plans to quote, “stay the course.” I would have liked an explanation of why he thinks that course is ever going to succeed. I did not hear that explanation in the president’s speech.”

(Keese) Leahy said changing course won’t be easy with so many mistakes already made. But he said the stakes are too high for any further delay.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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