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Kerry broadens attack on Bush's leadership

Democrat says president even misled his own Cabinet

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John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Bob Woodward
Marc Racicot

(CNN) -- Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, who has made the notion that President Bush "misleads Americans" a central campaign theme, said Sunday that Bush extends that pattern of behavior to his own Cabinet.

"This president not only misleads America about my record, he misleads his own administration. He misleads his security adviser. He misleads his secretary of state about his own planning for a war," Kerry told NBC's "Meet the Press" in a hour-long live interview.

Kerry was referring to "Plan of Attack," a new book by journalist Bob Woodward that says Secretary of State Colin Powell did not learn of Bush's plans to go to war in Iraq until after Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been shown them.

The book says Bush did not ask for Powell's advice on the decision, only for his support, and though Powell was wary, he said he would back the decision.

Kerry told NBC that as president he would draw international support to the war in Iraq.

"If I'm president, I will not only personally go to the U.N., I will go to other capitals," Kerry said.

"And I will have my secretary of state legitimately empowered to be able to be a full secretary of state, speaking for the administration, which we now know from Bob Woodward's book is not the case.

"The war within this administration over who's in charge of what and whose voice is being listened to is unlike anything I've seen in modern days."

Bush said last week that more U.N. involvement in Iraq would be "helpful" and that he would like another U.N. Security Council resolution "that will help other nations to decide to participate."

"Finally, George Bush is doing what I and others have recommended for some period of time," Kerry said.

But Kerry said Bush has transferred to the United Nations only the responsibility to determine the nature of the interim government that will take over sovereignty June 30.

"He won't transfer to the U.N. the real authority for determining how the government emerges, how we will do the reconstruction of Iraq," Kerry said.

"It's important to understand why so many countries are unwilling to come to the table now," Kerry said.

"It may well be that we need a new president, a breath of fresh air, to re-establish credibility with the rest of the world, so that we can have a believable administration as to how we proceed."

He said the "bottom line" was that "you cannot have America run the occupation, make all the reconstruction decisions, make the decisions of the kind of government that will emerge and pretend to bring other nations to the table."

Kerry also said he does not consider the war on terrorism primarily a military effort.

"I will use our military when necessary, but it is not primarily a military operation," he said. "It's an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort."

Kerry said to learn who the terrorists are, where they are and what they're planning, "and be able to go get them before they get us, you need the best intelligence, best law enforcement cooperation in the world."

"Once you know where they are, will you use the Delta Force or SEALs or Rangers or Special Forces of some kind? Absolutely. And I will not hesitate to use those forces effectively," Kerry said.

Bush campaign chairman criticizes Kerry

Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said Kerry's comments displayed "his refusal to recognize the threat that faces our nation."

"Serving terrorists with legal papers will not win this war," Racicot told reporters in a telephone conference. "This is a pre-9/11 attitude that turns a blind eye to the threats against our country.

"John Kerry, we believe today, displayed a remarkably flawed understanding of the war on terror."

The Bush campaign also took issue with Kerry's comments on his October vote against an $87 billion supplemental bill for military efforts. Racicot said Kerry's comments on "Meet the Press" failed to explain his vote.

Contrary to a Bush campaign ad, Kerry said, his vote did not prevent body armor and other equipment from getting to troops in Iraq. "That's just an outright lie," he said.

Bush "threatened to veto that very bill if we put health care for reservists in the bill," he said.

"I voted to have that bill paid for by reducing the tax cut to the wealthiest Americans so we would be responsible fiscally. And that was a way to do it," Kerry told NBC.

"Now, when they weren't willing to do that, and they weren't willing to change their policy to bring other nations to the table, to reduce the cost to Americans, you're darn right I voted against it, because one of the lessons I learned in Vietnam is, when the policy is wrong, fix it."

Kerry lashed out at the Bush campaign's tactics. "What the Republicans are doing is one of their craven, misleading, distorting ads, spending millions of dollars trying to suggest I'm not strong on defense."

Racicot told reporters that Kerry's position represented "conditional support for the troops" and "demonstrates a disturbing lack of judgment."

"Someone aspiring to the presidency has an obligation to fully support our troops in the field, and John Kerry refusing to do so raises serious questions that should be of vital concern to the American people," he said.

Kerry was asked on NBC whether he would vote for another bill to provide money to the troops.

"It depends entirely on what the situation is. ... Even the generals in Iraq said the money in that bill had no impact on their ability to continue to fight," he said.

Racicot described Kerry's interview as "little more than contradictions, a great deal of confusion, inaccurate attacks and a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that we face with terror."

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