Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said Monday that President Bush has responded too slowly to the terrorist threat three years after the Sept. 11 attacks and has adopted policies that have encouraged terrorism.
“I regret that the president has no sense of urgency,” Kerry said during a hastily called news conference following President Bush’s Rose Garden appearance in which he announced his support for creating a national intelligence czar and counterterrorism center.
The Democratic challenger welcomed Bush’s decision to embrace some of the Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations but argued that with the nation at war, the Republican incumbent and self-described “war president” should move more quickly.
“We can’t afford reluctance in the protection of our country,” Kerry said.
Bush rejects Kerry assertion
Earlier in the day, in an interview on CNN’s “American Morning,” Kerry said the administration’s policies are “actually encouraging the recruitment of terrorists.” The administration hasn’t reached out to other countries and the Muslim community, he said, and hasn’t done enough to protect U.S. ports, chemical plants and nuclear facilities.
Bush rejected that criticism during his Rose Garden appearance, telling reporters, “It is a ridiculous notion to assert because the more the United States in on the offense more people want to hurt us.”
At his news conference, Kerry reiterated that Bush’s policies “have resulted in an increase of animosity focused on” the United States.
While Kerry reiterated his belief that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and a war of choice, Bush defended the removal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
“Knowing what I know today we still would have gone on into Iraq,” Bush said. “He had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. He had terrorists ties ... the decision I made is the right decision. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”
Kerry vote questioned
“I find it interesting in the political process that some (say), ’Well, I voted for the intelligence,’ and now they won’t say whether or not it was the right decision to take Saddam Hussein out,” Bush said. “It’s the right decision and the world is better off for it.”
In October 2002, Kerry voted to give Bush the military authority to oust Saddam but since then has been highly critical of the president’s handling of the war.
Kerry’s spokesman said the Massachusetts senator’s objection was to how Bush executed the war — “making sure weapons inspectors were able to do their job as well as put together a strong and comprehensive international coalition to ensure this was done in the most strategic and effective way possible.”
On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security, citing credible information that financial institutions in New York City, Washington and New Jersey were possible targets, raised the threat level for those areas.
“You take any threat seriously,” Kerry, who was briefed on Sunday about the latest threats, told CNN. “What’s important, however, is not to sort of bounce along from threat to threat. It’s to win the war, and I believe that I can fight a more effective war on terror than George Bush is.”
Kerry dismissed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s comment that raising the terror level might be politically motivated.
“I don’t care what he said. I haven’t suggested that and I won’t suggest that,” Kerry said. “I do not hold that opinion. I don’t believe that.”
Campaigning in Grand Rapids on Monday, Kerry was releasing a book-length blueprint for his White House campaign with running mate John Edwards, including plans to fight terrorism and improve homeland security. The book is on his campaign Web site and is being distributed to supporters.
Edwards planned his own event in Orlando, Fla., as the candidates went their separate ways on a two-week, coast-to-coast tour through battleground states.
The federal government raised the threat alert level for the New York Stock Exchange, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Citigroup Center and Prudential Financial headquarters after specific and detailed intelligence revealed plans for bombings.
Kerry got his briefing over a secure phone line provided by the Secret Service while in the campaign bus, which stayed parked for about 40 minutes next to a ballpark in Taylor, Mich. The Massachusetts senator had just finished playing softball, where he hit two runs for the United Auto Workers team.