WASHINGTON – President Bush, undertaking a heavy campaign schedule in key states in the run-up to the Republican National Convention (search), acknowledges a "miscalculation" about what the United States would encounter in post-war Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
In a six-day tour of battleground states starting Friday in Miami, Bush wants to demonstrate his ambition to reach beyond his conservative base and appeal to undecided voters. In doing so charge because he makes the tough decisions and sticks with them.
In an interview with The New York Times, Bush said for the first time that he made a "miscalculation of what the conditions would be" after U.S. troops went to Iraq and toppled Saddam's regime in May 2003. The insurgency, he maintained, was the unintended result of a "swift victory" that led to Iraqi troops disappearing into the cities and mounting a rebellion.
Bush also told the Times that he did not believe his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry (search), had had lied about his service in Vietnam. The group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) has aired advertisements challenging Kerry's account of his service and claiming Kerry lied about circumstances surrounding his war medals. Kerry has accused Bush of using the group as a front to run a smear campaign.
"I think Senator Kerry should be proud of his record," Bush said. "No, I don't think he lied."
Elaborating on Bush's comments about Iraq, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said there were "things we expected to happen that did not happen" such as a flood of refugees, starvation and widespread destruction of oil fields.
McClellan said the United States had expected Iraq's Republican Guard forces to stand and fight rather than disappear into the population. "That created a different set of circumstances on the ground that we had to adjust to and deal with, and we are," he said.
The president carries his message about the war in Iraq and the other big issue in the campaign, the economy, to seven states before the convention. Ohio, with its spotty economic recovery, is such an important part of his re-election strategy that he is visiting it twice before his arrival in New York City.
Most of the states Bush is visiting look like a recipe for deadlock: Bush and Kerry are running close in Florida and West Virginia, and recent polls in Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan and Iowa show the two candidates tied.
On Saturday, Bush will make the third bus tour of his campaign in Ohio, visiting Troy, Lima and the Toledo-Maumee area. On Wednesday, Bush will rally supporters in Columbus, Ohio, before heading east for New York.
The president goes to a rally Sunday in Wheeling, W.Va.; on Monday is in Nashua, N.H., and then flies to Michigan for an event in Detroit; and Tuesday addresses the American Legion in Nashville, Tenn., before heading for Alleman, Iowa, where Sen. John McCain will join him, after a convention address by the Arizona Republican the night before.
Following his convention speech Thursday night in New York, Bush is bolting for the campaign trail. Bush will travel late Thursday to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. On Friday, Bush will be in Scranton, Pa., Milwaukee and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and will spend the night in Cleveland.
On Saturday, Sept. 4, Bush will make another bus tour in Ohio, stopping in Cleveland and Lake County, and then go to Erie, Pa., for a rally before returning to the White House. On Sunday, Sept. 5, Bush will attend a rally in Parkersburg, W.Va.
Bush worked on his convention speech at his ranch in Texas this week. McClellan said the president would have a practice session Friday, reading the remarks from a TelePrompter.