Video: Campaign warfare on Iraq

updated 9/22/2004 7:36:16 PM ET 2004-09-22T23:36:16

President Bush on Wednesday accused Sen. John Kerry of sending “mixed signals” on the Iraq war that threaten U.S. troops’ morale and undermine Iraqis’ determination to face down insurgents.

“You cannot lead the war against terror if you wilt or waver when times get tough,” Bush said at a re-election rally.

“My opponent is sending mixed signals,” Bush said. “You cannot expect the Iraqi people to stand up and do the hard work of democracy if you’re pessimistic about their ability to govern themselves. You cannot expect our troops to continue to do the hard work if they hear mixed messages from Washington, D.C.”

Mocking what he called Kerry’s “many different positions on Iraq,” Bush said: “I’ll continue to speak clearly. I’ll continue to lead, and I’m confident we will achieve our objectives.”

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded, “It’s unfortunate that the president is content to launch misleading and false attacks instead of explaining what he’s doing to stabilize the situation on the ground and bring stability to Iraq.”

Bush stepped up his criticism of Kerry as he juggled the demands of diplomacy and re-election politics.

A meeting with Musharraf
In New York City, the president thanked Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf for help in hunting down terrorists along Afghanistan’s border, but he sidestepped thorny issues. Then he flew to the battleground state of Pennsylvania for rallies and a tour of storm-damage areas.

The trip Wednesday was Bush’s 37th visit to the state he lost in 2000 and where four polls show the race a statistical tie. He surveyed flood damage in Allegheny County, where the remnants of Hurricane Ivan left heavy flooding.

“Our government is ready to help,” Bush said. The administration has declared 26 counties in Pennsylvania disaster areas.

The line between politics and diplomacy frequently blurred during Bush’s visit to the United Nations. The U.S. election was a topic in virtually every meeting Bush had with a foreign leader Tuesday and Wednesday, said a senior administration official who attended the meetings and briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.

Bush told Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh “how important continuity in U.S. foreign policy is.”

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Bush also met for just under an hour Wednesday with Pakistan’s Musharraf, a crucial ally in the war against terrorism but one with whom there are strains. The two men held a long handshake at a photo session but said nothing to reporters.

Musharraf, a general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and draws his political strength from the military, has given mixed signals in the past week as to whether he would fulfill a pledge to relinquish his separate role as army chief by year’s end.

Bush tried to nudge Pakistan into “moving forward with democratic institutions,” but did not press Musharraf to keep his promise, the U.S. official said.

Focus on agreements
As always with the delicate U.S.-Pakistan relationship, the administration highlighted areas of agreement. Islamabad’s efforts to combat al-Qaida and Taliban elements along Afghanistan’s border dominated their discussion, the official said.

Some 200 Pakistani forces have been killed in an offensive that started about a year ago and was reinvigorated over the summer. At least one Pakistani paramilitary member was killed by suspected militants in an attack on a convoy Wednesday.

Osama bin Laden is “very possibly” in the region, said the official who attended the Bush-Musharraf meeting.

The two leaders also talked about how to stamp out the remnants of the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the disgraced founder of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program who admitted in February to passing nuclear technology to other countries.

Bush did not press Musharraf to allow U.S. agents to interview Khan, a point of contention.

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