WASHINGTON – President Bush and his 2004 presidential opponent seemed united for a moment Thursday at the White House. But the event was not about the war in Iraq and the appearance of unity was short-lived.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Carl Cameron.
A day after his latest speech detailing progress in Iraq, Bush stood next to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who wants U.S. troop withdrawals to begin before the end of this year.
"You don't need 160,000 people to be doing what we are doing in Iraq today. This is not World War II, this is not Korea, this is not Vietnam," Kerry said after the White House ceremony commemorating the late civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Kerry is using his Web site and billboards in New Hampshire and Indiana to push his proposal to bring 20,000 troops home before Christmas and "bring home most of our combat troops in 2006." He seemed to contradict himself, however, when speaking with reporters Thursday at the White House.
"The truth is, yes, it is going to take a lot longer and many of us believe that, in fact, that goal is not the most realistic one in the short term, that you're going to have a longer-term struggle in that regard. Now, what we need to do is provide a sufficient level of security and stability so that American forces can begin to come home," Kerry said.
That is in essence what the president argued Wednesday and for the last two years. Reinforcing that the White House already had that in mind, spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday that some troop withdrawals could come after the Dec. 15 election in Iraq.
"We fully expect, as the Pentagon has indicated, that we're going to be able to reduce some of the troop levels that we increased heading into the elections after the elections take place," McClellan said. "I think some have talked about how next year could be a period of significant transition."
While that might seem to be what Kerry wants, the Massachusetts senator said he and his fellow Democrats are largely united in their opposition to Bush strategy.
"There is much greater agreement between all of the Democrats, then there is a difference between all of us," Kerry said.
But Kerry's assertion doesn't follow the recent call for troop withdrawal in six months by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said two weeks ago that Murtha did not speak on behalf of the party, but on Wednesday, she reversed that comment, saying most House Democrats agree with his proposal. She also offered her support for his remarks.
Pelosi's deputy, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., disagrees. He has suggested that a precipitous withdrawal would be dangerous. Other Democrats, like Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., share that view.