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Inside Politics

Kerry: Bush's Iraq policy has endangered U.S.

Democrat offers plan to bring home troops within 4 years

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Speaking at NYU, John Kerry takes President Bush to task.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve on CBS and the '60 Minutes' documents

CNN's Bob Franken on John Kerry and Bush's Iraq policy.
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

NEW YORK (CNN) -- In his most aggressive and detailed speech on Iraq to date, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry on Monday accused President Bush of creating "a crisis of historic proportions" and warned of the possibility of "a war with no end in sight."

Positioning himself as the candidate offering a "smarter direction," Kerry also laid out a series of steps that he said could allow U.S. troops to be brought home within four years.

"Let me put it plainly: The president's policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security, it has weakened it," Kerry told a receptive crowd at New York University. (Special report: America Votes 2004)

"The president claims it is the centerpiece of his war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight."

Kerry said Saddam Hussein "was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. ... We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Referring to Bush's remark that the war was a "catastrophic success," Kerry said the president "has made a series of catastrophic decisions. ... At every fork in the road, he has taken the wrong turn, and he has led us in the wrong direction."

Kerry's comments came as his campaign seeks a resurgence and a day after two key Republicans, Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona, sharply criticized Bush over Iraq.

Kerry spoke hours before Bush was scheduled to speak in New York. (Bush defends Iraq policy amid bipartisan criticism)

After the speech, Danielle Pletka, an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, complained that Kerry "can't decide how he feels about Iraq."

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Vice President Dick Cheney also accused Kerry of altering his position on Iraq -- part of the "flip-flopper" argument Republicans frequently level against the Democrat.

"[It] depends on what day of the week it is when you catch John Kerry ... whether he's supportive of what we are trying to do or wants to change it or retreat. It's difficult to tell," Cheney said.

He added that a president who does not make a decision and stick to it could show "confusion and weakness, uncertainty."

But Kerry, in what his campaign billed as a "major" address, argued he has held steady on his stance over Iraq -- and he accused the Bush administration of misleading people. He said Bush failed to tell the truth from the beginning in describing the threat from Iraq and the burden the war would impose on the United States.

Bush's two main rationales for war -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that there were operational links between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda -- "have been proved false by the president's own weapons inspectors and by the 9/11 commission," Kerry said.

Americans "are less likely to trust this administration if it needs to summon their support to meet real and pressing threats to our security," he said. "Other countries will be reluctant to follow America when we seek to rally them against a common menace."

He said Bush squandered an opportunity after the September 11 attacks, when countries around the world were standing alongside the United States in the battle against terrorism. Rather than isolating the terrorists, Bush "left America isolated from the world," he said.

Kerry accused Bush of "colossal failures of judgment -- and judgment is what we look for in a president." The administration's policy "has been plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence," he added. "And the president has held no one accountable, including himself."

He also said Bush's actions "precipitated the very problem he said he was trying to prevent" because Iraq became a magnet for international terrorists following the war.

Kerry argued the war has pulled attention and resources away from grave threats. "Nuclear dangers have mounted across the globe. The international terrorist club has expanded. Radicalism in the Middle East is on the rise. We have divided our friends and united our enemies. And our standing in the world is at an all-time low."

He added, "Today, because of George Bush's policy in Iraq, the world is a more dangerous place for America and Americans."

Kerry voted in favor of a 2002 resolution to authorize military action as an option in dealing with Iraq. Although the Bush campaign often says that vote contradicts his current stance, Kerry insisted it was the right call.

"Any president would have needed that threat of force to act effectively. This president misused that authority," he said.

He complained Bush "rushed to war" without letting weapons inspectors finish their work, without a "broad and deep coalition of allies" and without "understanding or preparing for the consequences of the postwar. None of which I would have done.

"Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying to America that if we know there was no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer: resoundingly no, because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."

Kerry said he would have "concentrated all our power and resources on defeating global terrorism" and capturing or killing bin Laden, and he would have "tightened the noose" on Saddam so he would pose "no threat to the region or to the United States."

"The president's insistence that he would do the same thing all over again in Iraq is a clear warning for the future," he said.

Kerry warned that if re-elected, Bush "will cling to the same failed policies in Iraq -- and he will repeat, somewhere else, the same reckless mistakes that have made America less secure than we can or should be."

Insisting that he has long "set out specific recommendations," Kerry laid out a four-point plan:

First, Bush should convene the world's major powers and Iraq's neighbors to insist they make good on a U.N. resolution calling for international troop contributions and financial assistance, he said.

"He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles. ... He should give other countries a stake in Iraq's future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq's oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process," he said.

Second, Kerry said, Bush "must get serious about training Iraqi security forces."

He pointed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent statement that Iraq has 95,000 trained security forces -- down from more than 200,000 the administration was previously touting. Kerry said that far fewer are fully trained.

Third, he said, Bush "must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people."

And finally, Kerry said, the president "must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee that the promised elections can be held next year."

If he would move in this direction and take all the necessary steps, "we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring our troops home within the next four years. That can be achieved."

He added, "The president often says that in a post-9/11 world, we can't hesitate to act. I agree. But we should not act just for the sake of acting. I believe we have to act wisely and responsibly. George Bush has no strategy for Iraq. I do, and I have all along."

The Bush campaign is expected to issue a detailed response to the speech.

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