President Bush said Saturday that under a "Kerry Doctrine," Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry would require permission of foreign powers before launching military action.
The inflammatory charge, leveled here by Bush and in a new campaign commercial, was immediately denied by Kerry's advisers. The accusation is based on a partial reading of Kerry's remark in Thursday's debate that he would have a "global test" to prove the legitimacy of U.S. military action; Kerry also said that he would reserve "the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States."
Kerry "said something revealing when he laid out the Kerry Doctrine," Bush said at a convention of home builders here. "He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. . . . Senator Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions."
Bush said a president should not "take an international poll," and said: "Our national security decisions will be made in the Oval Office, not in foreign capitals."
Within hours, the Kerry campaign responded with its own ad, to run in the same markets as the Bush ad. "George Bush lost the debate," it said. "Now he's lying about it." The ad also includes Kerry's assertion that "the president always has the right for preemptive strike" and charges that Bush "rushed to war."
During the debate, Kerry said: "No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it . . . you've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test, where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."
Asked about Kerry's statement that he would reserve the right to strike preemptively, Bush campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish said the Democrat contradicted himself in answering the question. "I don't know how you square those two statements," she said.
Richard Holbrooke, a foreign policy adviser to Kerry, said Kerry was stating long-standing United States policy, which is that "you don't give up the right to be preemptive, but you make sure the decisions you've made can be backed up by the facts and have support domestically and internationally."
The statements by Bush and the new ad are themselves a sort of preemption, in which Bush is trying to define an overall foreign policy for Kerry. Asked what the Kerry Doctrine actually is, Holbrooke, in a conference call with reporters, replied: "There is no Kerry Doctrine."
Opinion surveys and focus groups indicate Kerry outperformed Bush in the debate Thursday, in part because of Bush's facial expressions of irritation. Bush campaign officials are eager to reverse that by drawing renewed attention to remarks Kerry made that could be used against him. On Friday, Bush heavily criticized Kerry's vow to hold a "summit" on Iraq; on Saturday, the emphasis turned to the "global test" remark.
Vice President Cheney has long accused Kerry of proposing to seek a "permission slip" from foreign countries before taking military action. Bush had generally been less pointed, but he took a campaign-season swipe at the French on Friday, asserting at a rally that "the use of troops to defend America must never be subject to a veto by countries like France."
The back and forth over Kerry's views on preemptive military action came as Bush took a bus tour through central and eastern Ohio on a rainy day. In Columbus, he drew cheers from the National Association of Homebuilders when he condemned regulations and extolled taxes. "Not once in his speech did he mention expanding ownership," the president said of his challenger. Kerry's "agenda focuses on expanding the scope and power of the government," said Bush, who has himself presided over a major expansion of the federal government. Citing recent flooding, he also boasted about recent federal assistance to 20 Ohio counties.
Later, at a forum in Mansfield, promoting private ownership, Bush elicited a standing ovation when he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage. His entourage continued past cornfields and shopping centers to a rally in Cuyahoga Falls late in the day. Polls indicate Bush has a small lead in the state, which is critical in the Nov. 2 election.