(1st Add: Includes comments from RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie)
Washington (CNSNews.com) - Billionaire philanthropist and financier George Soros, a major donor to liberal political causes, says the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners was a turning point in the war on terror that will lead to the downfall of President Bush.
Speaking to thousands of liberal activists at the Take Back America conference in Washington on Thursday, Soros spent more than 35 minutes expressing his disdain for the Bush administration. His address focused mostly on foreign policy and criticism of neoconservatives, whom he referred to as "American supremacists."
"I think the picture of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam's prison, was the moment of truth for us," Soros said, "because this is not what this nation stands for. I think that those pictures hit us the same way as the terrorist attack itself. Not quite with the same force, because with the terrorist attacks, we were the victims. In the pictures, we were the perpetrators, the others were the victims."
Soros added, "There is, I'm afraid, a direct connection between those two events - because the way President Bush conducted the war on terror converted us from victims to perpetrators. This is a very tough thing to say, but the fact is that the war on terror, as conducted by this administration, has claimed more innocent victims than the original attack itself."
Soros predicted that photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse would be a turning point in the presidential election. He spoke confidently of his desire to see Bush defeated.
"I personally am convinced that there will be a change of regime in this country," Soros said. "I think the general public now recognizes they've been misled. We will reject the Bush doctrine, but we need an alternative vision to reestablish our position in the world."
Soros, however, offered little in the way of solutions, other than to stress that the United States must work together with allies when confronting terrorism.
After months of remaining in the shadows, Soros recently has emerged as an outspoken player in liberal politics. Earlier this week, he was the subject of lengthy, and largely flattering, profiles in the New York Times and USA Today.
As one of the wealthiest Americans, the Hungarian-born, naturalized U.S. citizen has given away more than $15 million to liberal interest groups. The most notable contributions have gone to America Coming Together ($10 million), MoveOn.org ($2.5 million) and a liberal think tank called the Center for American Progress ($3 million).
Soros' stated goal is to defeat President Bush. In the process, he has faced a number of attacks from Republicans. The Republican National Committee notes that Soros' Open Society Institute supports a range of issues from gun control to drug law reform. Soros, however, has denied that he is seeking influence in a potential Democratic administration.
"Abu Ghraib was bad and the soldiers involved are rightly being punished, but for Democrats to say that the abuse of Iraqi fighters is the moral equivalent of the slaughter of 3,000 innocent Americans is outrageous," said RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie in response to Soros' remarks.
"Their hatred of the president is fueling a blame America first mentality that is troubling," Gillespie concluded.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who introduced Soros to a rousing ovation, hailed the billionaire as the left's answer to wealthy Republican contributors.
"George Soros is using his considerable success in our free market, in our democracy, to make sure that his opinions are heard in the marketplace of ideas. That is within the American tradition," Clinton said. "You will hear a steady drumbeat about 'what right does this very successful man have to use his resources to try to create political movement and action.' Well, I'll tell you, he has the same right as all the people on the right have had."
Clinton then referred to her famous line about the "vast right-wing conspiracy," which has been mentioned frequently throughout the first two days of the conference.
"That didn't happen by accident," Clinton said of the conservative movement. "It happened because people with a very particular point of view ... came together, literally starting 50 years ago. They created think tanks, they created endowed professorships, they set up other media outlets, on and on and on."
She added: "They very slowly but surely started to change American politics. And you've got to give them credit; they've done a good job. They got themselves a president and a vice president and lots of other people who march to their drumbeat."
Clinton's last-minute appearance at the conference came after Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), citing a scheduling conflict, backed out of a scheduled Thursday appearance. But liberal activists did hear from ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who, like Edwards, also sought the Democrat Party's presidential nomination.
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