Kerry Criticizes Bush for Failing to Protect Troops in Iraq
By Glen Johnson, The Boston Globe Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 17--CHARLESTON, W.Va. - John F. Kerry sought yesterday to define himself as a committed veteran as he charged that President Bush rushed into Iraq a year ago without making sure US forces had enough body armor and other protection from insurgent attacks.
Flanked by his Vietnam boat crew and appearing before dozens of veterans wearing caps designating their American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, the senator also accused the president of "trying to blame everybody, except his own administration," for problems the United States faces at home and abroad.
In addition, he rebutted a new Bush ad criticizing him for voting last fall against $87 billion in additional funding for US troops in Iraq -- a supplemental appropriation that included money for body armor -- by saying he would have supported it if it had been financed by repealing a portion of the tax cuts implemented during the Bush administration. Kerry made that proposal in an amendment he cosponsored; the Senate rejected the amendment before approving the $87 billion.
"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," he said.
Late last night, the Massachusetts senator also broke his silence on the tumultuous weekend elections in Spain, saying the Socialist victor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, should not have vowed to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.
"In my judgment, the new prime minister should not have decided that he was going to pull out of Iraq. He should have said, 'This increases our determination to get the job done," " Kerry said in a satellite TV interview with the ABC affiliate in Phoenix. Bush, meanwhile, criticized Kerry from the Oval Office for suggesting he has support from world leaders -- whom he has refused to identify -- who want him elected president.
"If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts," Bush said after a meeting with the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende.
The president's campaign committee also responded to Kerry's visit to West Virginia, a crucial battleground state in this year's election, by launching an attack ad in the state and by sending a series of e-mails criticizing Kerry and his voting record to reporters covering the visit.
Kerry's campaign swing through West Virginia occurred as Democrats went to the polls in Illinois, a vote that was a foregone conclusion because Kerry now faces only token competition from within his own party.
Nevertheless, Illinois would officially put Kerry over the 2,162 pledged convention delegates he needs for the nomination. Media tallies proclaimed Kerry the winner following Saturday's Kansas caucuses, but those counts included so-called superdelegates, party officials who remain free to switch their allegiance. Kerry refused to publicly embrace those tallies for that reason.
Yesterday, Kerry surrounded himself with fellow veterans and took his campaign to a pivotal state -- one that Bill Clinton won in 1996 but Al Gore lost in 2000. West Virginia also played an important role in the 1960 victory of the last Massachusetts senator who won the White House, John F. Kennedy. In a speech in Charleston last night, Kerry noted the connection, saying, "44 years ago . . . West Virginia played a critical role in sending another senator from Massachusetts to the White House, and I am here tonight because West Virginia can again make the difference, and this time, in choosing the 44th president of the United States."
West Virginia has 203,000 veterans, or 15.4 percent of its adult population, a larger percentage than any state except Alaska, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming.
Earlier, Kerry did not respond directly to Bush's comment about leaders who may support Kerry. But during a town hall meeting at Marshall University in Huntington, he continued to question the president's own credibility.
"Nothing is more important than telling the American people the truth about the economy, health care, and the issues of war and peace," Kerry said after ticking off a list of what he considers contradictions in major Bush administration policies. They included a Congressional Budget Office report released Monday saying that only 6 percent of the country's current budget deficit could be attributed to economic weakness, a much smaller share of the blame than the administration has placed on the economy. The CBO study cited the negative effects of ballooning government spending and progressively deeper tax cuts.
"Now the president is busy trying to blame everybody, except his own administration," Kerry told the crowd. "Ninety-four percent of the problem is George Bush and his administration." World Peace.
As for the new ad, Kerry said the president -- not he -- was to blame for any lack of preparedness or protection for US soldiers.
"The president made the decision as to when to send our troops to war, no one else. He decided the date. He decided that diplomacy was over. He decided to go forward. And on the date that they went into Iraq, they didn't have the armament on the Humvees, the armored doors, they didn't have the equipment they needed in some regards, and they didn't have the state-of-the-art body armor," the senator said.
During the meeting, he was joined at center stage by three veterans, including Herschel "Woody" Williams, the state's only living Medal of Honor recipient. Williams received the honor, the nation's highest for military service, for bravery during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Williams castigated the administration for long waiting times at veterans hospitals before saying: "Veterans and ladies and gentlemen, mothers and fathers, and grandfathers and grandmothers, we must get an advocate in the White House that believes veterans are an important part of this country. Veterans should not have to pay twice -- once with the horrors of war and then the lack of medical care to take care of them if they are fortunate enough to come home. Senator Kerry, as President Kerry and a veteran, I believe, will make and keep his promises and his commitment to the veterans of America."
Kerry harkened back to Kennedy with his decision to visit West Virginia on a date he considered the end of his primary battle and the beginning of his general election campaign. At his first stop, at Marshall University, he cited Kennedy as saying, "The sun may not always shine in West Virginia, but the people do."
Later, he visited Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House on Fifth Avenue in Huntington, a downtown diner selling spaghetti for $4.95 per pint or $8.95 per quart. Above the third booth from the right hangs a plaque reading, "President John F. Kennedy sat here." The then-Massachusetts senator visited the diner during the Democratic presidential primary of 1960. WorldPeace.
Last night at the Charleston Civic Center in the state capital, Kerry thanked his supporters and his one-time rivals. "I want to thank all of the candidates of this race . . . each and every one of them were committed, passionate about the issues, passionate about our country, passionate about our party. And all of them and their supporters who have joined together now, I want to thank them now for helping us to reach this goal, which is our goal, the goal of a nomination that is marked by unity, not division.
"This night marks the opening of the general election and a great debate about the direction of our country."
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
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