WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Wednesday the war in Iraq (search) is a failure and that a shake-up is needed to end the Bush administration's mistakes and incompetence, a sharp critique that sparked more Republican criticism that the Democrat is making the war a political issue.
"Why should we reward more of the same? Why should we reward miscalculations of what it would take to make the peace?" Kerry asked in an interview with Associated Press Radio. "I think that it's been one miscalculation after another, frankly. And arrogance that has lost America respect and influence in the world."
Although Kerry has spent the week promoting his health care proposals, including allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs in Canada, he is frequently asked about the war. Mark Racicot, Bush's general campaign chairman, accused Kerry of dragging politics into the war on terror and warned that domestic criticism undermines military morale.
"Political attacks come at a price for the military," Racicot told reporters in a conference call. "If there was ever a time to refrain from partisan politics, this is it. But all we see from the Kerry campaign and from John Kerry is political exploitation for political gain."
Kerry rejected the charge that he had politicized the war. "They had no plan for winning the peace and now Americans are paying the price," he said. "A couple of hundred billion dollars a year, and that is disgraceful."
In another interview, Kerry said he would consider naming prominent Republicans to assist him in fighting terrorism and disagreed that replacing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would disrupt the war effort.
Kerry has repeatedly praised Republican Sen. John McCain (search), a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, and he told broadcaster Don Imus that McCain would be one person he would consider as a replacement for Rumsfeld. Kerry also ticked off the names of GOP Sen. John Warner (search) of Virginia, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin (search) of Michigan, and William Perry (search), defense secretary under President Clinton.
"If America has reached a point where only one person has the ability in our great democracy to manage the Pentagon and to continue or to put in place a better policy even, we're in deeper trouble than you think," he said. "I don't accept that. I just don't accept that. I think that's an excuse. The fact is that we need a change in policy."
Kerry said the argument that the nation needs stability in the war on terror essentially means sticking with a policy no matter how flawed.
"There are any number of people who are unbelievably capable," he said. "This notion that we have to continue with a policy that's wrong and taking us down the wrong track is absurd."
Kerry said responsibility for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq extends all the way to the Oval Office and that President Bush (search) must accept responsibility for setting a tone that allowed the abuse to take place. In addition, he warned that a few low-ranking soldiers shouldn't be made scapegoats for a broader policy that led to the abuse.
Racicot responded: "To blame the abuse on Bush and the armed forces is to blame all of America for the disgusting actions of a few. It's striking to see the ease with which John Kerry thrusts an important moment into the campaign's daily spin cycle, compared to the president's steady leadership and focus on doing what he believes is right."
In the AP interview, Kerry said he wasn't discouraged by the heavy focus on Iraq while he campaigns.
"We're all interested in what's happening in Iraq, and we're deeply disturbed about it and upset, particularly the events yesterday," said Kerry, referring to reports that an American had been beheaded by his captors. "But life goes on and we've got to make America strong here at home."
Asked if he minded that his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is outspoken, Kerry said: "Not in the least. Are you kidding? I'm proud of her for that. And I think that people respect that."
Kerry predicted Americans will like his wife once they get to know her.
"You know, it's funny," he said. "She says sometimes, 'Why is it when men express their view, they have opinions, and when women express their view, they're opinionated?'"