Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said Monday that Iraq faces huge challenges as its new government takes power, beginning with the lack of security, and he called on President Bush to work harder to win more financial and military support to relieve the burden on U.S. forces and taxpayers.
"I believe it is critical that the president get real support -- not resolutions, not words -- but real support of sufficient personnel, troops and money, to assist in the training of security forces in order to be able to guarantee a rapid, real transition, and most importantly to be able to provide adequate security on the ground," Kerry said at a campaign stop here.
The Democratic presidential candidate spoke hours after the United States returned power to Iraq, two days ahead of schedule. Although he praised U.S. military forces for the work they have done there, he expressed concern about the prospects for an early return of those forces.
Kerry called security the "top-line issue" in Iraq and said until more is done to restore order, Iraq will not be in a position to rebuild its economy or create a viable government. He called it "absolutely stunning" that just $400 million of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction last year had been spent.
Kerry urged NATO nations to provide more support than they have pledged so far, saying NATO "needs to recognize its responsibility here." But he said Bush bears much of the responsibility for NATO's reluctance to do more and added that a change in U.S. leadership might be needed to win international support.
"Today's papers are filled with stories about how angry these countries are at the way they've been treated by this administration," he said. "It may well be that it takes a new president to be able to reestablish the relationships that we've had in the past."
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, criticized Kerry's remarks. "The Iraqi people made history today and so did John Kerry with his unprecedented pessimism about today's progress," he said. "Kerry revealed his cynicism when he said not enough of the money he voted against is being spent and that the contributions of NATO and our allies are not real."
Kerry voted against an $87 billion appropriation for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan after recommending a reduction in Bush's tax cuts to pay for it.
Kerry took a broad swipe at the administration's foreign policy, accusing Bush of shifting or reversing policies around the globe in the face of resistance or failure. He singled out administration policy on North Korea.
Last week the administration proposed giving North Korea energy aid from South Korea, security assistance and other benefits during a three-month trial period if North Korea revealed and ended its nuclear program.
"He flip-flopped, he changed his position, only because he finally came to the position that others of us have laid out over 21/2, three years ago," Kerry said of the president. "I think we need a president who gets it right in the beginning. The safety of our country will be advanced by a more effective foreign policy, and I will provide it."
Kerry had to tear up part of his schedule Monday because of a labor dispute involving the city of Boston and its police and firefighters unions. He was scheduled to speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Monday morning, but canceled the event because of a picket line set up outside to protest Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
In Baltimore, Kerry visited a YouthBuild site and later raised $1 million -- split between his campaign and the Democratic National Committee -- at a fundraiser at the Baltimore Ravens' football stadium.