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Kerry Blasts Iraq 'Diversion'

Challenger Says War Has Hurt the Fight Against Al Qaeda

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2004; Page A01

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 24 -- John F. Kerry detailed his plan for combating terrorism Friday and insisted that the nation is no safer after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because President Bush took his "eye off the ball."

In a harsh assessment of his rival's policies, Kerry told an audience at Temple University that Iraq has become a haven for terrorists, and he drew a sharp distinction between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq to differentiate his policies from those of the president.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) acknowledges the audience as he arrives to speak at Temple University in Philadelphia. (Gerald Herbert -- AP)

_____Kerry on Terror_____
MSNBC Video: John F. Kerry spoke in Philadelphia on his strategy to fight terrorism.

"The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy -- al Qaeda," Kerry said. "The president's misjudgment, miscalculation and mismanagement . . . all make the war on terror harder to win. George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority."

Kerry's comments at Temple, reinforced later at a rally of 20,000 at the University of Pennsylvania, included a six-point plan that campaign officials said is designed to contrast his proposals with those of the president's and to demonstrate that foreign policy is a strength of Kerry's.

The Democratic nominee promised to destroy terrorist networks by going after their arms and financing; to revamp and enhance the intelligence apparatus to ferret them out; to build up an overstretched military by 40,000 troops; to support Middle Eastern democracies; and to increase funding for homeland security and for more intense cargo inspections at ports and other points of entry.

"The Bush administration is spending more in Iraq in four days than they've spent protecting our ports for all of the last three years," Kerry charged.

Kerry assailed Bush for alienating longtime U.S. allies, pledging as he has before to rebuild global relationships. "I have news for President Bush: Just because you can't do something doesn't mean it can't be done," Kerry said. "It can be. My friends, it's not George Bush's style that keeps our allies from helping. It's his judgment."

Before Kerry even finished his speech Friday morning, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent out e-mails accusing him of both copying Bush's policies and of distorting his record.

"John Kerry's repackaged proposals embrace initiatives that the President is already implementing, even as he cynically attacks the President," campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said in a statement. "John Kerry called Saddam Hussein a 'terrorist' before, but now he is taking the opposite position and claiming that the removal of Saddam Hussein has left the world 'less secure.' "

Vice President Cheney weighed in from Lafayette, La., telling supporters: "John Kerry is trying to tear down and trash all the good that has been accomplished."

Kerry's comments came at the end of a week when his campaign switched its strategy of focusing heavily on domestic issues and aggressively attacked Bush's Iraq policies, portraying them as arrogant, misplaced and extremist.

"Drawing these sharp contrasts with Bush on Iraq is very important, because this is a fundamentally important issue," senior adviser Mike McCurry said. "It is the heart of the question about George Bush: Is he capable of seeing mistakes and fixing them so we can get them right?" Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who accompanied Kerry on Friday, told reporters that Kerry felt "liberated" to make the case against Bush on foreign policy.

Kerry's campaign Friday unveiled a second ad on Iraq in two days, this one turning Bush's words on him. The 30-second spot, to air during Sunday talk shows, shows Bush during a Rose Garden news conference saying, "I saw a poll that said the 'right-track, wrong-track' in Iraq was better than here in America."

"The right track?" the narrator asks. "Americans are being kidnapped, held hostage, even beheaded. Over a thousand American soldiers have died. And George Bush has no plan to get us out of Iraq."

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