NEW YORK, Sept. 20 -- Sen. John F. Kerry on Monday accused President Bush of deception in taking the country to war in Iraq and historic miscalculations since the invasion ended, arguing that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat and that his removal has turned Iraq into a terrorist breeding ground that has left the United States even less secure.
In his most comprehensive and stinging indictment of the administration, Kerry charged that by nearly every measure, from attacks on U.S. forces to the pace of reconstruction to the training of an Iraqi security force, conditions in Iraq are far worse than the president has acknowledged. Kerry called the November election a choice between staying the course with failed policies and a change in direction that he said is urgently needed to prevent disaster in Iraq.
_____Kerry Iraq Speech_____
Video: Sen. John Kerry said that mistakes by the president in invading Iraq could lead to unending war.
_____Bush Speaks in N.H._____
Transcript: President Bush spoke at a campaign rally in Derry, New Hampshire.
"The president misled, miscalculated and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking and he has made the achievement of our objective -- a stable Iraq, secure within its borders, with a representative government -- far harder to achieve than it ever should have been," Kerry said in a speech at New York University.
Bush and Vice President Cheney immediately attacked Kerry for repeatedly changing his position. "He's saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy," Bush said in New Hampshire. "I couldn't disagree more and not so long ago, so did my opponent."
Kerry's speech came one day before the president is scheduled to address the United Nations. Bush aides said he would use his U.N. speech to say that Iraq is making progress toward stability and democracy, despite signs that the insurgency there has gained strength. On Thursday, Bush will host Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at the White House. Officials predicted Allawi would offer an assessment that will rebut what they called Kerry's grim description of conditions in Iraq.
Kerry told his audience that, if elected, his goal would be to withdraw all U.S. forces within four years, beginning sometime next summer. But he warned that unless Bush begins to act this week at the United Nations, the prospects of being able to meet that timetable could be compromised.
Bush, he said, should lobby other nations this week to make good on their pledges for more military and financial support contained in a U.N. resolution approved last spring. "Not a single country has answered that call, and the president acts as if it doesn't matter," he said, noting that of $13 billion pledged, just $1.2 billion has been delivered.
Kerry said that the administration has inflated its estimates of how quickly Iraqi security forces are being trained and that Bush should immediately expand training programs, both inside and outside Iraq. On reconstruction, the Democratic nominee said that the administration has spent just $1 billion of $18 billion authorized by Congress and that Bush should revamp the reconstruction process by inviting in more Iraqi firms rather than large U.S. corporations such as Halliburton.
Kerry also said the administration must act quickly to assure that elections scheduled for next year can be held, beginning with the recruitment of an international security force to help protect any U.N. team that is sent there to facilitate those elections.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Kerry's prescription echoes what Bush already is trying to do in Iraq.
Kerry used his 45-minute address, which was interrupted frequently by applause, to challenge the president's veracity and credibility -- and to counter criticism that he not only has shifted positions repeatedly on Iraq but also has failed to stake out clear differences with Bush on the road ahead.
Advisers said Monday's speech would form the backbone of the case Kerry will make against the president as the two candidates prepare for their first debate Sept. 30 in Miami. Kerry's goal is to get off the defensive on Iraq and persuade voters that, if Iraq is the frontline in the war on terrorism, as Bush says, then the president's overall foreign policy leadership should be judged a failure.
In condemning the administration, Kerry went further than he has in the past to dispute Bush's principal rationale for going to war -- that Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction required a preemptive strike. He also sought to make clear that he would not have gone to war, even as he again defended his October 2002 vote for the congressional resolution authorizing Bush to do so. Kerry said that three dozen nations had greater capacity to develop nuclear weapons than Iraq.
"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," Kerry said. "But that was not -- that was not -- in itself a reason to go to war. The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."