Kerry attacks president on postwar `miscalculation'

Advisers urge Democrat to show combative side

September 02, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NASHVILLE - Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, aiming to quiet questions about his mettle to be commander in chief, attacked President Bush yesterday for the first time over his admission that he miscalculated postwar planning in Iraq, and asserted, `'I would've done almost everything differently."

With advisers urging Kerry to show a more combative side against Bush, the Massachusetts senator offered his most pointed critique to date of the administration's war planning against both Iraq and al-Qaida in hopes of turning attention away from weeks of assaults on his Vietnam service record. But his campaign fanned the Vietnam dispute yesterday by lining up four veterans - including former senators Bob Kerrey and Max Cleland - to call for the resignation of Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, for a new attack he made against Kerry and his Vietnam service.

Addressing several thousand members of the American Legion in his only speech during the days of the Republican convention, Kerry adopted a tactic of the Bush campaign by turning his challenger's words against him at several points. Kerry also tried to undo damage from a widely perceived misstep of his own, when he said he would authorize war in Iraq today even if no evidence of threats to the United States had been found - a comment Bush has repeated at rallies to paint Kerry as a flip-flopper on Iraq.

"The president himself admitted that he miscalculated in Iraq," Kerry said, pointing to Bush's remarks in a newspaper interview last weekend. "In truth, his miscalculation was ignoring the advice that was given to him, including the best advice of America's own military.

"So when the president says we have the same position on Iraq, I have to respectfully disagree. Our differences could not be plainer, and I have set them out consistently. When it comes to Iraq, it's not that I would have done one thing differently - I would've done almost everything differently.

"I would have relied on American troops in Tora Bora, the best troops in the world, when we had Osama bin Laden in our sights," Kerry said of the 2001-2002 battle in eastern Afghanistan, where the al-Qaida leader was thought to be hiding in caves. `'I would not have sent Afghans up into those mountains, who a week earlier had been fighting on the other side. I would have sent the best-trained forces in the world to get the Number 1 criminal and terrorist in the world," a line that drew strong applause.

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