Sen. John F. Kerry today accused President Bush of prosecuting the war in Iraq at the expense of the war on terror, of neglecting homeland security in pursuit of Saddam Hussein when he should have concentrated on Osama bin Laden.
The resulting uncertainties, Kerry suggested, leave mothers "awake at night worrying" about the safety of their children and citizens afraid to visit "our greatest cities."
"The invasion of Iraq was a profound diversion from the battle against our greatest enemy -- al Qaeda," Kerry said. ". . . . George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority."
Kerry laid out his own program to "crush" terrorism, including stepped up spending on protecting seaports and airports, moving to control the spread of nuclear technology, strengthening the armed forces and the intelligence system for the battle against terrorism and cracking down on the financiers of terrorism, including, he suggested, Saudi Arabia.
No country financing terrorism, he said, should have a "sweetheart relationship" with the U.S. or be given a "free pass. . . . I will do what President Bush has not done," he said. "I will hold the Saudis accountable."
Kerry's speech was billed by his campaign as a comprehensive plan to combat terrorism, though it restated in many areas pledges the candidate has already made.
But in one of Kerry's most pointed critiques of Bush's Iraq policies, the Massachusetts senator sought to rebut the administration's continuing contention that the war in Iraq is indeed the war on terror.
Iraq, he said, was a "diversion" from the real battle, which the administration has neglected. It has "outsourced" the pursuit of Osama bin Laden to "warlords" in Afghanistan, he said. It spends more "in four days" in Iraq than it has in three years improving security at America's ports. And it has neglected relationships with other nations -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- that could be helpful in stopping terrorism.
"Every week, too many American families grieve for loved ones killed in Iraq by terrorist forces that weren't even there before the invasion" of Iraq, Kerry said. "The jihadist movement that hates us is gaining adherents around the world. An estimated 18,000 al Qaeda-trained militants are operating in 60 countries around the world in a dangerous and more elusive network of extremist groups. Al Qaeda shouldn't be hitting us anywhere. They should be losing, everywhere. We should be winning, everywhere."
The United States will win the war on terrorism, Kerry said, "when we stop isolating ourselves and begin isolating the terrorists."
The administration was quick to respond, with campaign manager Ken Mehlman saying that Kerry was merely "repackaging" Bush's ideas. "The Kerry plan is what the Bush plan is doing," he said.
Separately, Vice President Cheney, speaking in Lafayette, La., repeated his charge that Kerry would be a weak opponent for terrorists or other enemies. The Democratic presidential nominee "has given every indication of a lack of resolve and conviction to prevail" in Iraq, Cheney said.
"America faces a choice between a strong and a steadfast president and his opponent who seems to adopt a new position every day," Cheney said.
Specifically, Kerry said he would strengthen the "overstretched" Army by adding 40,000 active troops, who would be deployed to "find terrorists in the places they are."
He said he would "move decisively" to deny terrorists the weapons they need, accusing Bush of having failed to continue the Clinton administration's program of securing so-called "loose nukes" in the former Soviet Union and of allowing Iran and North Korea to become greater and potentially nuclear threats.
"Yesterday," Kerry said, "there were reports that North Korea is preparing to fire intermediate range missiles that may be able to carry a nuclear warhead. When President Clinton left office, that wasn't possible."
"George Bush refused to talk to them [the North Koreans]," he said. "And they figured out their own way to get our attention."
"No American mother should have to lie awake at night worrying whether her children will be safe at school the next day," Kerry said. "No one should fear visiting our nation's capitol or our greatest cities because they might be attacked.
"Our home -- our determination -- is nothing less than this: to live our lives confident that we are safe ant home and secure in our world," Kerry said.