Bush derides Kerry's `new nuance' in Iraq war

Democrat says he voted for authority, not tactics

Election 2004

August 11, 2004|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Having called on Sen. John F. Kerry to explain his position on the Iraq war, President Bush derided Kerry's answer yesterday as disingenuous, accusing him of finding "a new nuance." The Kerry campaign responded by accusing Bush of distorting Kerry's words and resorting to desperate tactics.

The exchange was the latest round in the candidates' sparring match over Iraq, an issue that repeatedly returns to center stage in the campaign.

Appearing with Navy veteran and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona at a rowdy dockside rally, Bush said the Democratic nominee portrays himself as an opponent of the war but is trying to stay on both sides of the issue.

Kerry said Monday that he would have voted for it even if he had known there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but that he would have used the president's authority to go to war differently.

"After months of questioning my motives, and even my credibility, Sen. Kerry now agrees with me that even though we've not found the stockpiles of weapons we believed were there, knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power," Bush said to cheers and jeers from the crowd. "I want to thank Sen. Kerry for clearing that up."

Then he added: "Be careful, there's still 84 days left in this campaign for him to change his mind."

Kerry advisers said Bush was twisting the senator's words to avoid Kerry's questions about the president's handling of the war.

"The Bush line of questioning ... Kerry's vote on Iraq and distorting his answer reflects a line of desperation," said former Gen. Wesley Clark, who spoke on behalf of the Kerry campaign.

Each campaign had planned to discuss other issues yesterday -- job training for Bush, nuclear waste for Kerry. But as has happened before, they came back to Iraq: Bush uses the war to support his recurrent claim that Kerry vacillates. Kerry uses the war to buttress his claim that Bush lacks credibility.

The latest round began last week when Bush challenged Kerry to answer the question of whether -- knowing what is known now -- he would still have voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

Kerry answered yesterday.

"Yes I would have voted for the authority. I believe it's the right authority for a president to have. But I would have used that authority ... effectively," he said during a visit to the Grand Canyon.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that Kerry's answer meant the senator is now claiming to support the war.

But Kerry, appearing last night at a rally at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, denied inconsistency.

"I thought the United States needed to stand up to Saddam Hussein and I voted to stand up to Saddam Hussein," the Democrat told a crowd of more than 10,000. "But I thought we ought to do it right. I thought we ought to reach out to other countries and that we ought to build an international coalition."

Delivering a forceful attack on Bush's policy toward Iraq, Kerry said the solution was to start fresh with an administration that can bring other nations into the rebuilding process.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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