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Inside Politics

Kerry stands by 'yes' vote on Iraq war

Bush challenges Democrat on stance

Sen. John Kerry enjoys a view of the Grand Canyon in Arizona on Monday.
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George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Arizona (CNN) -- Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said Monday he would not have changed his vote to authorize the war against Iraq, but said he would have handled things "very differently" from President Bush.

Bush's campaign has challenged Kerry to give a yes-or-no answer about whether he stood by the October 2002 vote which gave Bush authority to use military force against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The question of going to war in Iraq has become a major issue on the campaign trail, especially in light of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found there.

Intelligence reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a major rationale for going to war.

The U.S. senator from Massachusetts said the congressional resolution gave Bush "the right authority for the president to have."

But he told reporters on a campaign swing through Arizona, "I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has." He challenged Bush to answer four questions.

"My question to President Bush is why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace?" Kerry asked. "Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth?

"Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve it and relieve a pressure from the American people?

"There are four, not hypothetical questions like the president's, but real questions that matter to Americans," Kerry said. "And I hope you'll get the answers to those questions because the American people deserve them."

Bush's campaign has hammered Kerry over his vote to authorize military action and his vote a year later against $87 billion in funding for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kerry has said he voted against that measure because it would have financed the war with borrowed money. He voted for a defeated alternative that would have rolled back some of Bush's tax cuts to pay for the conflict.

The president told supporters Monday in Virginia that he still would have gone to war based on the evidence at hand at the time, and he challenged Kerry to say whether he would have cast the same vote.

More than 900 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 that deposed Saddam. No WMD arsenal has been found, although a few aging gas shells have been located, and U.S. inspectors have said Iraq tried to conceal some weapons-related research from U.N. weapons inspectors.

Bush said Iraq had the ability to build weapons of mass destruction and had been deceiving weapons inspectors, who reported no sign of banned weapons in Iraq in the weeks before the invasion.

"Everybody thought they would be there. We haven't found them yet," Bush said. "But he did have the capability of making weapons. Knowing what I know today, I would have made the same decision."

Kerry has said that if elected, he would work to recruit more U.S. allies to assist in stabilizing Iraq, where nearly 140,000 U.S. troops are still fighting to provide security for the country's interim government.

Kerry said his goal would be to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq within six months of taking office, but he said he would put more troops into the country "if the commanders ask for it."

"Obviously, we have to see how events unfold," he said. "The measurement has to be, as I've said all along, the stability of Iraq, the ability to have the elections, and the training and transformation of the Iraqi security force itself."

But he said if he could persuade other countries to contribute troops, reducing the U.S. contingent would be an "appropriate" goal.

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