President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry exchanged angry charges again today over missing Iraqi munitions as their campaigns headed toward a final showdown before the voters next Tuesday.
In a speech in Saginaw, Mich., Bush accused his Democratic challenger of "attacking the actions of our military in Iraq," a charge that the Kerry campaign called "hypocrisy."
Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry wears a Boston Red Sox baseball cap as he takes the stage at a campaign rally at the University of Toledo in Ohio on Thursday.
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For the Kerry campaign, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency to the U.N. Security Council Monday on the missing explosives has buttressed Kerry's arguments that the Bush administration has mismanaged the war in Iraq, in part by failing to dispatch enough troops to secure sensitive sites and stop looting.
For the fourth straight day, the Massachusetts senator today flayed Bush over the nearly 380 tons of missing high explosives, saying in Toledo, Ohio, that it was time for Bush to take responsibility for his mistakes.
"Our troops in Iraq are doing a heroic job," Kerry said. "The problem is our commander in chief isn't doing his."
That distinction did not stop Bush today from trying to cast Kerry's criticism as an attack on the U.S. military.
Delivering a broad indictment of Kerry's fitness to be president, Bush told supporters in Saginaw, "Senator Kerry changes positions because he's willing to say anything he thinks will help him politically at the time." He said Kerry "has been on the wrong side of the defining national security and domestic policy debates for the last two decades."
Although Kerry was "supportive" when former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces last December, Bush said, "When the going got tough and when we faced determined opposition and things weren't quite so popular, the senator suddenly wasn't quite so supportive. In fact, he changed his mind entirely, deciding it was the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Referring to the missing explosives, Bush said, "This week Senator Kerry is again attacking the actions of our military in Iraq, with complete disregard for the facts. Senator Kerry will say anything to get elected. The senator's willingness to trade principle for political convenience makes it clear that John Kerry is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time."
Kerry noted that U.S. forces were not ordered to secure the Qaqaa storage site where the high explosives were stored and quoted the administration's former chief weapons inspector as saying it was likely that these explosives were now being used against U.S. troops.
"The president's shifting explanations and excuses demonstrate, once again, that this president believes the buck stops anywhere but his desk," Kerry said in a statement. He said Bush should act more like former president John F. Kennedy, whose name Bush has invoked lately in seeking crossover votes from Democrats, and "take responsibility for his actions."
Kerry also seized on Bush's statement yesterday that "a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief."
"I agree," Kerry said. "George Bush jumped to a conclusions about 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. He jumped to conclusions about weapons of mass destruction and rushed to war. He jumped to conclusions about how the Iraqi people would receive us. He not only jumped to conclusions -- he ignored the facts."
"According to George Bush's own words, he shouldn't be our commander in chief," Kerry said.