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Kerry: Missing explosives show Bush's 'incompetence'

Democrat has 'fundamental misunderstanding,' president says

Sen. John Kerry, at a campaign event in Dover, New Hampshire, criticizes President Bush for "arrogance" after reports of missing explosives in Iraq.
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George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

DOVER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry railed against "the unbelievable blindness, stubbornness, [and] arrogance" of the Bush administration Monday following reports that 380 tons of explosives are missing in Iraq.

President Bush, during a stop in Greeley, Colorado, did not discuss the missing explosives. But he committed much of his speech to slamming Kerry over the war on terrorism and the fighting in Iraq. Kerry has a "fundamental misunderstanding of the enemy," Bush said.

Kerry, speaking in Dover, New Hampshire, mentioned reports about the missing explosives, including word from the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had warned the White House about the depot where the weapons were kept. (Tons of Iraq explosives missing)

"George W. Bush, who talks tough -- talks tough -- and brags about making America safer, has once again failed to deliver," he said at the beginning of a campaign rally in the swing state. "This is one of the great blunders of Iraq and one of the great blunders of this administration."

He said the "incredible incompetence of this president and this administration has put our troops at risk and put this country at greater risk than we ought to be. ... The unbelievable blindness, stubbornness, arrogance of this administration to do the basics has now allowed this president to once again fail the test of being the commander in chief."

The senator from Massachusetts argued that Bush has "miscalculated" each step of the way in Iraq, and reiterated his long-standing argument that the administration failed to secure the country and win the peace, effectively allowing widespread looting and lawlessness after the end of major combat.

The military has been doing its job "courageously and honorably," Kerry said. "The problem is, the commander in chief has not been doing his."

He added, "If President Bush can't recognize his failures in Iraq -- which he doesn't admit, won't acknowledge -- you can't fix them. And then he's doomed to repeat the same mistakes elsewhere, whether it's North Korea or Iran or in any other of the risks that we face ahead of us. My fellow Americans, we can't afford to risk four more years of George Bush's miscalculations."

Bush: Election about direction of war

Bush, in Colorado -- which has emerged as a swing state -- said Americans are choosing "the leader of the free world in the middle of a global war. The choice is not only between two candidates, it is between two directions in the conduct of the war on terror. Will America return to the defensive, reactive mindset that sought to manage the dangers to our country? Or will we fight a real war with the goal of victory?"

Noting Kerry's complaint that Bush's actions in Iraq have "created terrorists where they did not exist," Bush said Kerry's belief is "that terrorists are somehow less dangerous or fewer in number if America avoids provoking them. But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the enemy."

He also noted that Kerry has complained of mistakes in the administration's handling of the Iraq war. "You cannot win a war you do not believe in fighting," he said.

"On Iraq, my opponent has a strategy of pessimism and retreat. ... He has sent the signal that America's overriding goal in Iraq would be to leave, even if the job is not done."

But Kerry, at his rally, recalled his experience as a Vietnam veteran and vowed he could do a better job leading the United States through its international challenges.

"I know that I can fight a more effective, smarter war on terror that makes the United States of America safer than George W. Bush has," he said.

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