Sen. John F. Kerry today accused the Bush administration of pursuing a "catastrophic" course in Iraq that has not only cost the country a thousand lives but has starved a broad array of domestic programs of money and attention.
The speech, designed in part to move Kerry from defense to offense, was his strongest effort to date to formulate a comprehensive argument linking Bush's Iraq policy with what he described as the president's record of domestic failure.
Kerry cited health care, education, homeland security and job creation as areas that have suffered because of the squeeze created by the war in Iraq.
Bush, meanwhile, Bush defended the war and marked the thousandth American death in Iraq -- which came Tuesday -- by declaring that "we mourn every loss of life" and "will honor their memories by completing the mission."
"We're still at war," Bush said during a meeting with congressional leaders and "we're still on the offense here in this country. We're chasing down these killers overseas so we don't have to face them here at home. We're making good progress," the president said.
Kerry chose the Cincinnati Museum Center for his attack, the same place where, in 2002, Bush made a case for removing Saddam Hussein from power that led ultimately to a congressional vote authorizing the president to use force against Iraq.
The war, Kerry said, has cost the country "$200 billion and counting" in part because of Bush's failure to enlist the support of a broad array of allies.
And, he said, "a glance at the front pages or a look at the nightly news shows brings home the hard reality," of the war, "rising instability, spreading violence, growing extremism, havens now created that weren't there for terrorists who weren't even in the country before we went there.
"And today even the Pentagon has admitted this very reality," Kerry said, "that entire regions of Iraq are controlled by insurgents and terrorists. I call this course a catastrophic course that has cost us $200 billion because we went it alone, and we've paid an even more unbearable price in young American lives and the risks our soldiers take."
That's "$200 billion that we're not investing in education and health care, job creation here at home; $200 billion for going it alone in Iraq."
"That's the wrong choice. That's the wrong direction. And that's the wrong leadership for America," he said, repeating what has become his stump slogan.
"And while we're spending that $200 billion in Iraq . . . 8 million Americans are looking for work here in America: 2 million more than when George W. Bush took office. And we're told that we can't afford to invest in job creation and job training here at home. . . . and . . . can't afford to do everything that we should be doing for homeland security. I believe it's wrong to be opening fire houses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America," Kerry said.
Kerry made no mention in his speech of Vice President Cheney's remark Tuesday that the country would be more vulnerable to attack by terrorists if Kerry is elected. But his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, urged Bush to renounce Cheney's statement. Edwards, campaigning in West Virginia, said Cheney's comment was "calculated to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people. It's wrong and it's un-American," the Associated Press reported.
Bush had nothing to say about Cheney's comment, remaining silent when questioned about it by reporters at a photo opportunity in Washington today.