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Kerry: Bush lives in 'world of spin' on Iraq

Bush points out that Kerry, Edwards voted to support war

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry launched one of his sharpest attacks yet on President Bush's Iraq policy, accusing the president Thursday of living in "a different world of spin."

"The hard truth is that our president has made serious mistakes in taking us to war with Iraq," Kerry told members of the National Guard Association of the United States meeting in Las Vegas.

"He was wrong to rush to war without giving the inspectors the time to do their job and bring allies to our side. He was wrong to rush to war without understanding and planning for the postwar in Iraq."

Kerry also made a direct connection between the war in Iraq and America's homeland security.

He accused Bush of weakening homeland security by overextending the National Guard and Reserve.

"Many of you are our first responders here at home -- firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians," Kerry told the group.

"To take you out of your communities is also to take down some of our critical ability of defense and response. I don't believe that's the best way to protect America."

Kerry said that if elected he would create a standing joint task force, headed by a general from the National Guard, to prepare and execute "a coordinated strategy for homeland security, working with the states and the federal government to react in times of crisis."

Kerry voted for a congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq but said that if he had been commander in chief, he would have made vastly different decisions with that authority.

"When it comes to Iraq, it's not that I would have done just one thing differently. I would have done almost everything differently," Kerry said.

The Democratic presidential nominee also pointed to weaknesses in the coalition that Bush built for the war.

Because of Bush's "wrong choices," Kerry said, the United States "has borne 90 percent of the casualties and paid nearly 90 percent of the bill in Iraq."

"The president stood right here where I'm standing and didn't acknowledge that more than 1,000 men and women have lost their lives in Iraq," Kerry said. "He didn't tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, indiscriminate killings."

Kerry said Bush's "own intelligence officials have warned him for weeks that the mission in Iraq is in serious trouble," referring to a National Intelligence Estimate that paints a bleak picture of Iraq's future, including the possibility of civil war. (Iraq intelligence report)

Kerry said "that is the truth, as hard as it is to bear."

"I believe you deserve a president who isn't going to gild that truth or gild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore his own intelligence, who isn't going to live in a different world of spin, who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin ... ," Kerry said.

Bush spoke to the group Tuesday and noted, as he does in almost every campaign stop, that Kerry and running mate John Edwards joined most members of the Senate to give him authority in 2002 to wage war.

He said Kerry and Edwards later voted against money for the war, but did not mention that he threatened to veto a version of the defense bill that Kerry supported because it proposed to finance the expenditures by eliminating tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

Bush also touted his efforts to improve living and work condition for today's Guard.

But Kerry chastised the administration for overextending active duty troops and filling the gap with National Guard and Reserve troops, which he termed a "backdoor draft."

"Far too many of you have been on the ground for far too long -- much longer than was expected or promised," Kerry said.

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, said he still believes "it's not too late to turn things around" in Iraq.

Kerry said he would bring in more allies to help train Iraqi forces so that U.S. troops could come home.

He also said Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq has set the country back in fighting the war on terror, especially in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden remains a fugitive.

"The simple fact is that when it comes to the war on terror, this administration has taken its eye off the ball," Kerry said.

"This administration has said to you bluntly ... it's not a matter of if al Qaeda attacks here at home -- it is a question of when," Kerry said. "I believe deeply, in every respect, that America can do better than we are doing today."

Responding to Kerry's broadside against Bush's leadership, Vice President Dick Cheney told a rally in Reno, Nevada, that "the American people also know that true leadership requires the ability to make a decision," saying Kerry has taken at least eight positions on the Iraq war.

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