John F. Kerry accused President Bush on Wednesday of misleading Americans about a spiraling crisis in Iraq, saying the president has not been honest about the strength of the anti-American insurgency and the diminishing chances of free and fair elections in January.
"The president has misled America about those weapons, about the intelligence, about the war," the Democratic presidential nominee said on the Don Imus show on MSNBC. "He's misled America about what we're achieving today and what is happening on the ground in Iraq."
As part of twin strikes on Bush's credibility on the war and the economy, Kerry said the president's failures in Iraq have complicated efforts to bring U.S. troops home sooner and have created large swaths of Iraq "where there are terrorists where they were not before."
Later, in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Kerry also took aim at Bush's domestic policy. This is "the excuse presidency," in which Bush "has blamed just about everyone but himself and his administration for America's economic problems," Kerry said.
"For four years, the Bush administration hasn't honored the truth, and it certainly has not lived up to it," he told the business executives.
Imus sought to engage Kerry on his position on the Iraq war, a subject Kerry has had trouble explaining. He asked Kerry whether "there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq, any?" Kerry said: "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see."
In the past, the Kerry campaign suggested he might have, had he been president, but said Kerry did not want to answer a hypothetical question. Asked whether Kerry's response to Imus represented a shift, spokesman David Wade said Kerry meant he would not have gone to war the way Bush did, not that he would not have gone at all.
Explaining his vote in 2002 to authorize Bush to go to war, Kerry told Imus, "I voted based on weapons of mass destruction." He added: "I mean, look, I can't be clearer. But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable. I've said a hundred times: There was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The president chose the wrong way. Can't be more direct than that."
Kerry said Bush's policy in Iraq has made it more difficult for the Democratic nominee to detail how he would pull all U.S. troops out of that country in four years, including some during the first six months of his administration. "Now it's obviously, with the situation on the ground, much more complicated; I have to acknowledge that," Kerry said. "But I would immediately call a summit meeting of the European community. They haven't lived up to the obligations of their own resolution that they passed at the U.N."
Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman, pounced on Kerry's comments, saying the Democrat "has descended into complete incoherence" on Iraq. "Indecision and vacillation are not a strategy to fight and win the war on terror," he said.
Kerry said the onus is on Bush to present a plan for winning in Iraq. "What you ought to be doing, and what everybody in America ought to be doing today, is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president: What's your plan?" Kerry told Imus. "What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed?"
Wading back into the dispute over his antiwar protests after serving in Vietnam, Kerry showed no signs of offering the apology his critics are seeking for comments he made about war crimes and atrocities more than three decades ago. "Look, I went, I did my duty, I came back, I saw what I saw, and I told the truth," he said. "If some people have trouble with that still, I am sorry about it."
Here in Detroit, Kerry offered a blistering critique of Bush's economic policies in a speech aides called the most important economic address of the final two months of the campaign. "This president has created more excuses than jobs," Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club. "His is the excuse presidency -- never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops -- it's where the blame begins."
In defense of his economic record, which includes more than 1 million jobs lost under his watch, Bush frequently blames a recession he says he inherited, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and wave of corporate scandals outside of his control. And Bush has focused on large tax cuts for individuals and businesses, which he credits with producing new jobs in recent months and an improving economy. However, large deficits have returned under his watch, and projections show that they will continue.
Kerry did not offer any new proposals, but he reiterated an economic agenda that includes tax cuts for the middle class and corporations; new government spending to cut health care costs for employers and employees; a huge increase in education spending to train the next generation of workers; and a commitment to reduce the deficit that experts say will be virtually impossible to meet if he follows through on all his proposed programs.
Speaking to a crowd that included many Republicans, Kerry said he is a different kind of Democrat, one who is sensitive to and supportive of businesses. "I am an entrepreneurial Democrat," he said.
Kerry was introduced by Robert E. Rubin, Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and arguably the most respected big-name Democrat among Wall Street types. "We are on the wrong track on all fronts," Rubin said.
Kerry and Rubin cited a number of economic indicators to buttress their point: 1.6 million jobs lost (the actual number is 1.1 million); 45 million Americans without health coverage, 5 million more than when Bush took office; 4.3 million Americans who have fallen into poverty in the past four years; and falling family incomes.
"President Bush talked about his ownership society," Kerry said. "Well, Mr. President, when it comes to your record, you own it."
Staying on the same message, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Kerry's running mate, began a two-day bus tour of economically depressed areas of West Virginia and southeast Ohio, criticizing Bush for being out of touch with unemployed workers.
Speaking to a crowd of 500 at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Edwards said Bush's policies are hurting the well-being of the poor and of those struggling to stay in or break into the middle class. "They want to make sure they take care of their multimillionaire investment friends," he said. "This is not the way it's supposed to be in this country."
Edwards drew his biggest applause from the audience, which was heavy on union members and laid-off workers, when he responded to a question from a woman who said that her 23-year-old son recently graduated from college, and that she is worried about a draft being instituted for the war in Iraq.
"There will be no draft when John Kerry is president," Edwards said, to applause and a standing ovation.
Staff writer David Snyder in West Virginia contributed to this report.