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.
"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."
Although Kerry had previously made many of the points in Friday's speech, it was the first time he presented an anti-terrorism plan in such a comprehensive way.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who said he is not endorsing either candidate's approach, said Kerry's speech amounted to "a wish list of any measure that anybody has proposed without seeing whether they are cost-effective."
He gave Kerry credit for addressing the growing Muslim resentment of the United States and the need for debt relief in Middle East countries. But he said the Bush administration has already been undertaking many of Kerry's proposals, such as expanding the CIA's clandestine service and the military's Special Forces units.
"I have the impression," Cordesman said, "that somebody assembled all the possibilities that would have a rhetoric impact and crammed them into a speech."
One area in which Kerry worked to set himself apart from Bush was on Saudi Arabia, saying the administration has not held it accountable for financing al Qaeda terrorism.
"As president, I will do what President Bush has not: I will hold the Saudis accountable. Since 9/11, there have been no public prosecutions in Saudi Arabia, and few elsewhere, of terrorist financiers," Kerry said.
Bush and others in the administration say that they have put significant pressure on the Saudis, and that the Saudis have become more aggressive in arresting al Qaeda members living in the country and in closing down religious-based contributions to the organization and its affiliates.
Kerry also said that at U.S. ports, he would increase the budgets for "the most promising cargo inspection programs" by 600 percent. A spokesman said Kerry was referring to two widely applauded programs run by the Department of Homeland Security to increase surveillance of incoming containers in foreign ports such as Hong Kong, and to work with U.S. importers to tighten their security. Both programs have been severely understaffed, experts said.
Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard official and author of a homeland security book called "America the Vulnerable," said Kerry's proposal makes sense because it would result in tighter security without delaying the flow of goods: "I applaud any effort to bolster the resources going to these two important programs."
Staff writers Dana Priest and John Mintz in Washington contributed to this report.