Kerry steps up criticisms of war

Senator makes case Iraq mission hindered domestic objectives

September 09, 2004|By Jill Zuckman | Jill Zuckman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CINCINNATI - Trying to reshape the debate over Iraq, Sen. John Kerry yesterday accused President Bush of mishandling the war and saddling the nation with an exorbitant bill that has hampered domestic needs.

At the Museum Center at Union Terminal, the spot where Bush made a case for war two years ago, Kerry took a newly aggressive tone to refashion the back-and-forth dynamics of the campaign and sought to put the president on the defensive about a conflict that has cost America more than 1,000 lives and more than $200 billion.

"George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction in Iraq and they have left America without the resources that we need so desperately here at home," Kerry said.

National security traditionally has been a favorable subject for Republicans, and the White House has focused its message and attention on the war and terrorism, forcing Kerry to respond on a daily basis. Yesterday's speech was Kerry's first step in moving toward the domestic issues.

From education to health care and job creation to homeland security, Kerry said Bush's war policies have left important domestic needs underfunded.

"America has paid nearly 90 percent of the bill in Iraq," Kerry said. "Contrast that with the gulf war, where our allies paid 95 percent of the costs."

Kerry criticized the president repeatedly for what he described as hurting one program after another, including Medicare and Social Security.

"They're raiding the Social Security trust fund in order to pay for their mistakes in Iraq," he said.

Kerry, however, has had a difficult time this year explaining his own position on Iraq. He voted for the authorization to go to war, voted against spending $87 billion to continue funding it and has given numerous conflicting explanations of why he did what he did.

Indeed, the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee attempted to dismiss Kerry's latest pronouncements out of hand, calling them his eighth position on the war.

But Kerry has always had misgivings about Bush's handling of Iraq, and he laid them out in detail on the Senate floor before voting to give the president the authorization needed to activate the military. Since then, he has explained his vote by saying he wanted to give Bush leverage to deal with the hostile nation.

Here in southwestern Ohio, Kerry said Bush broke his promises to give weapons inspectors the time they needed to get their job done, failed to put together a broad coalition of allies and never came up with a plan to win the peace.

He slammed Bush for making "wrong choices" that resulted in less money for after-school programs for children, less money to fund health care for veterans and less money to keep 100,000 police officers on the street. He also criticized Bush for the greatest deficit in history, thus threatening Social Security, and for the record-high Medicare premiums.

"While we're spending that $200 billion in Iraq, 8 million Americans are looking for work - 2 million more than when George W. Bush took office - and we're told that we can't afford to invest in job training and job creation here at home," he said.

The stop in Ohio, a pivotal state in this election, came as a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll of likely voters showed Bush ahead of Kerry 52 percent to 43 percent. The poll, conducted Sept. 4-7, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The poll also gave Bush a lead of 55 percent to 41 percent in Missouri, and a 48 percent to 47 percent lead in Pennsylvania - two states where Ralph Nader is not on the ballot.

Before meeting with members of Congress in the White House Cabinet room yesterday, Bush insisted that the United States has the upper hand in the war against terrorism and in Iraq.

"We're still on the offense here in this country," Bush said. "We're chasing down these killers overseas so we don't have to face them here at home. We're making good progress."

Bush refused to answer questions and he stared at a reporter who asked what he thought of Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the nation would be subject to more terrorist attacks under a Democratic administration.

In Cincinnati, Kerry addressed the substance of Cheney's charge while attacking the Republicans for underfunding first responders and other homeland security programs, such as the inspection of cargo ships.

"We're going to defend this country here at home, and we're going to do all we can possibly do in order to protect it from another terrorist attack," he said. "And we are going to make homeland security the kind of priority that it ought to be, not a political slogan."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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