"Ambassador Bremer finally said what John Edwards and I have been saying for months: President Bush's decision to send in too few troops, without thinking about what would happen after the initial fighting was over, has left our troops more vulnerable, left the situation on the ground in chaos and made the mission in Iraq much more difficult to accomplish," he said. "That is the truth."
Kerry lambasted national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for suggesting that the president would have sent in more troops if commanders in Iraq had asked, calling that an abdication of "the buck stops here" responsibility of the commander in chief. "For President Bush, it's always someone else's fault -- denial, and blaming someone else," he said.
Saying Bush was in "absolute full-spin mode," Kerry accused the administration of earlier using discredited pieces of evidence, "like aluminum tubes and Niger yellowcake uranium" to inflate the threat from Hussein and shift the focus from what he called the real enemy, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and of changing rationales now. "My fellow Americans, you don't make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact," he said.
Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), ridiculed the administration's arguments during a campaign rally in Bayonne, N.J., accusing Cheney of convoluted logic and asserting: "Here's the truth: The vice president, Dick Cheney, and the president, George W. Bush, need to recognize that the Earth is actually round. That the sun rises in the east. . . . They need to level with the American people."
The sparring continued throughout the day. Campaigning in Wisconsin, Bush fired back at Kerry, quoting the Massachusetts senator as saying earlier that Hussein had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that he might develop a nuclear weapon, reinvade Kuwait, threaten Israel or pass weapons to terrorists.
Kerry made those statements in 2002 in explaining why he supported the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, the president said, adding: "Now today, my opponent tries to say that I made up reasons to go to war. Just who is the one trying to mislead the American people?"
But Kerry advisers said Bush had left out part of what Kerry said in that statement, including the assertion that regime change by itself was not a justification for war, particularly unilaterally, unless there was no other way to disarm Hussein.
Kerry was asked at his news conference how he could accuse Bush of "aggrandizing" the threat Hussein posed when he also had claimed the Iraqi leader was dangerous and needed to be confronted. Kerry said that effective diplomacy could have kept sanctions in place and Hussein contained. "The point is, there are all kinds of options available to a president to deal with threats," he said. "And I consistently laid out to the president how to deal with Saddam Hussein, who was a threat."
Staff writers Ovetta Wiggins, traveling with Cheney; Paul Farhi, traveling with Bush; and Chris L. Jenkins, traveling with Edwards, contributed to this report.