John Kerry, at a site where President Bush made his case that Iraq was a threat to the United States, argued Wednesday that the president left a trail of broken promises on the path to war and has squandered money that could be put to better use for health care, education and jobs.
“George W. Bush’s wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction on Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home,” the Democratic presidential candidate said. “The cost of the president’s go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting.”
Kerry said the “hard reality” is that Bush’s choices have led to “spreading violence, growing extremism, havens for terrorists that weren’t there before.”
“I call this course a catastrophic choice that has cost us $200 billion because we went it alone, and we’ve paid an even more unbearable price in young American lives.”
The speech showed Kerry shifting from a defensive stance fending off charges of inconsistencies on the war to an aggressive challenge of Bush’s decisions in the run-up and aftermath of the U.S. invasion.
Linking the choice to go to war with budgetary consequences, Kerry sought to tie Iraq to health care, education, jobs and other areas where he says the administration followed a misguided path.
“$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can’t afford after-school programs for our children; $200 billion in Iraq, but they tell us we can’t afford health care for our veterans; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can’t afford to keep the 100,000 police officers we put on the street,” Kerry said.
“He doesn’t believe that America can be strong in the world while we also make progress here at home. He believes we have to choose one or he other. That’s a false choice, and I reject it.”
In a speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center in 2002, Bush made a case for removing Saddam Hussein from power. He called the Iraqi leader a “murderous tyrant” who may be plotting to attack the United States with biological and chemical weapons.
The address opened debate in Congress that eventually led to a vote authorizing the president to use force against Iraq, a resolution that Kerry supported.
U.S. military deaths in the Iraq fighting passed 1,000 on Tuesday.
A protester stood at the beginning of Kerry’s speech on Wednesday and started to yell, but a man sitting next to him wearing a T-shirt from the Sheet Metal Workers union grabbed him and put him in a headlock. Two other men sitting nearby joined the fray and pushed him to the ground.
Secret Service agents escorted the man outside the building. Reporters who tried to talk to the man were ordered to return inside. Officials said he was complaining that he was assaulted and they were investigating.
The Kerry campaign said Bush’s argument for war was laced with assertions later ignored or proved untrue.
Bush said he would pursue diplomatic solutions in Iraq; Kerry says he rushed to war. Bush said he would build a coalition of allies; Kerry says the United States bears virtually all the war’s cost, in lives lost and dollars spent.
Bush said Iraq was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but U.S. forces have not found stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Bush said Iraq supported al-Qaida’s designs against the United States, but the Sept. 11 commission found no active collaboration.
On the other hand, the Bush-Cheney campaign said Kerry has taken multiple, inconsistent positions on the war.
“John Kerry voted for the war but voted against funding for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said spokesman Steve Schmidt. “This is another example of John Kerry’s indecision, vacillation and political gamesmanship.”
In conjunction with the speech, Kerry was unveiling an ad that accuses Bush of squandering $200 billion on Iraq while the United States suffers “lost jobs” and “rising health care costs.” The commercial claims, “George Bush’s wrong choices have weakened us here at home.”