Kerry calls Iraq a Bush `failure of judgment'

Where are the people ... welcoming the American liberators? Democrat asks

April 08, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry intensified his criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy yesterday, calling it a huge failure and belittling the administration's early claims that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.

"Where are the people with the flowers, throwing them in the streets, welcoming the American liberators the way Dick Cheney said they would be?" asked Kerry, amid the latest violent resistance to the U.S. occupation.

The administration's handling of developments in Iraq represents "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life," Kerry said in an interview with American Urban Radio Networks.

Asked later what he would do differently if he were president, the Democratic candidate told CNN: "I'm not the president. I didn't create this mess. The president needs to step up and acknowledge that there are difficulties."

Dismissing Bush's diplomatic efforts as "inept," he repeated his call for greater involvement by other nations in rebuilding Iraq.

But Kerry, who voted in favor of Bush's Iraq war resolution, said it would be wrong to describe U.S. involvement in Iraq as a mistake.

"The mistake is not the effort to have a stable Iraq. The mistake is in the way they are going about it," said the Massachusetts senator.

Kerry has said the United States cannot afford to withdraw from Iraq and has indicated he could support an escalation of American troop strength if needed to secure the country. But for the third day in a row, he raised questions about Bush's proposed June 30 handover of governmental authority to the Iraqis.

"Is he transferring it over to these people in the streets? ... to Muqtada al-Sadr?" Kerry asked in the radio interview, referring to the anti-American cleric who has unleashed his militia on occupation forces. "Is he transferring it over to this group of people who make up the so-called provisional council who have no authority?"

His Iraq comments came on a day when Kerry was attempting to counter the Bush campaign effort to portray him as a big-spending liberal Democrat.

In a Georgetown University speech, Kerry called for a return to Clinton-era fiscal policies as a way of restraining government spending and trimming the federal budget deficit.

Under persistent attack from the Bush campaign for advocating expensive new federal programs, Kerry said he would be willing to back away from some proposals in the name of fiscal prudence.

Blaming the worsening deficit and the growing cost of the Iraq occupation, Kerry said he might have to slow or stretch out the phase-in of campaign promises to provide universal pre-school education and free public college tuition for students who enlist in a national service program.

"We will have to make real choices, and that includes priorities of my own," he said. "I don't like that. But those are the hard calls a president has to make."

Kerry also called for pay-as-you-go spending rules, in which tax cuts and new spending would be offset by spending cuts or higher taxes elsewhere in the budget. He said he would not allow overall spending for programs other than education and security to grow faster than inflation, as part of a plan to halve the deficit over four years.

Attempting to counter what he called the Bush campaign's "politics of deceit and distortion" -- Bush's ads claim that Kerry would raise taxes by at least $900 billion -- Kerry said that 98 percent of individual taxpayers would pay lower taxes under his plan.

Kerry wants a return to Clinton-era tax policies, which would include higher taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year. Gene Sperling, one of several former Clinton economic aides now advising Kerry, told reporters on a conference call that the increase would raise $625 billion, which Kerry would use to pay for health care and education initiatives.

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