WASHINGTON – President Bush is striking back at John Kerry's (search) increasingly aggressive criticism on Iraq, asking Americans to stick with him on the war in the face of surging violence there.
But Bush is facing a fresh wave of attacks from members of his own party, including an influential senator who said Sunday the administration's "incompetence" was to blame for the country's slow recovery from war.
Kerry has been lambasting Bush in recent days on the cost of the Iraq war in lives and dollars, and the Democratic senator planned a new assault Monday. The Democrat "will lay out his plan for cleaning up the mess George Bush has made in Iraq," said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.
In a speech in New Hampshire on Monday afternoon, Bush was countering by saying the nation needs "consistency" in its leadership — not a change in the middle of the war, and not a series of contradictions, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.
"Our troops deserve better than to hear Kerry's campaign pushing pessimism and lack of faith in the mission," Stanzel said.
As evidence of the pessimism, Stanzel pointed to remarks last week by Retired Adm. William Crowe (search), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an adviser to Kerry. Crowe said Friday the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and the United States must reconsider its military efforts.
"That is the No. 1 lesson of Vietnam. We must decide if we're paying a larger price at home than justifies the gains made in Iraq," Crowe said.
Separately, it was reported last week that the National Intelligence Council presented Bush this summer with three pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.
Six weeks before the election, Bush was also the subject of unusually harsh criticism from members of his own party, some of whom also invoked Vietnam.
"The fact is, a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies is required. We didn't do that in Vietnam, and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who is co-chairman of Bush's re-election committee in Nebraska. He spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (search), noted that Congress appropriated $18.4 billion a year ago this week for reconstruction. No more than $1 billion has been spent.
"This is the incompetence in the administration," Lugar, R-Ind., said on ABC's "This Week."
Lugar added that the United States needs to train more Iraqi police officers and better coordinate military bombings with Iraqi forces "so that we do not alienate further the Iraqi people by intrusions that are very difficult and are costly in terms of lives."
Sen. John McCain (search), another Vietnam War veteran, was asked on "FOXews Sunday" about Bush's often rosy pronouncements about progress in Iraq.
McCain, R-Ariz., said Bush was not being "as straight as we would want him to be" about the situation.
An adviser to McCain, John Weaver, sought to soften McCain's remark, saying it should not be considered a broad critique of the war. Weaver said McCain simply "has some concerns about the day-to-day tactics."
New England was hostile territory to Bush in 2000, with every state voting against him except New Hampshire, and as president, he's never visited Vermont or Rhode Island. But he moves Monday to build momentum in New Hampshire, where a new poll shows him with a solid lead over Kerry, a New Englander.
Bush was wedging in a day of re-election campaigning in New Hampshire and New York on Monday before sitting down for two days of heavy diplomacy at the annual U.N. meeting in Manhattan.
In his ninth trip to New Hampshire, Bush will employ a forum he also used in his eighth trip to the state, on Aug. 30: "Ask President Bush." It's a rally where he gives a speech, hears testimonials on his policies from supporters, and then takes a few questions from them.
Bush almost never fields questions challenging his policies. Last month in New Hampshire, one woman used her opportunity to question the president to declare, "New Hampshire chicks love you."
Kerry calls neighboring Massachusetts home, but a new poll puts Bush ahead of Kerry in New Hampshire. The Mason-Dixon poll for MSNBC and Knight-Ridder had Bush at 49 percent and Kerry at 40 percent. The poll of 625 likely voters was conducted Monday through Wednesday. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A poll in August and two in late July showed Bush and Kerry about even or Kerry slightly ahead in New Hampshire.
Bush attends a fund raiser for the Republican National Committee in New York City on Monday night.