"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," Bush said, three days after agreeing with Vice President Dick Cheney that the critics were "reprehensible."
The president also praised Rep. John Murtha D-Pa., as "a fine man" and a strong supporter of the military despite the congressman's call for troop withdrawal as soon as possible.
What's reprehensible is when these critics openly accuse him of dishonesty, or greed, or cowardice, rather than debate the decision to go to war or the conduct of the war. Mr. Bush gets to the heart of this later in the article.
Thousands of miles from home, Bush and other White House officials have not let a day go by without a tough counterattack against Democratic critics of the president's Iraq policies. But the president replaced the no-holds-barred approach with a softer tone Sunday.
"I heard somebody say, `Well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position.' I totally reject that thought," Bush said.
"This is not an issue of who's patriotic and who's not patriotic," he said. "It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."
That is a debate worth having. The critics lose their way when they start yelling "war for oil," "lied to the American people", "war to benefit cronies," and other head-shakingly moronic constructs, because they start with a dishonest premise.
If you want to debate whether it was wise to move on to Iraq after Afghanistan, and you have well-thought out reasons why you disagree, well, let's talk. If you want to question the tactics in Iraq, and you have suggestions as to how they might be improved, let's also talk. But if you're going to suggest that the Iraq war is only about oil, or that it's to benefit Halliburton, or it's only because Saddam tried to kill his father, then I don't think we have much to talk about.