WACO, Texas – President Bush (search) opened several new scathing lines of attack against Democrat John Kerry (search), charges that twisted his rival's words on Iraq and made Kerry seem supportive of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein (search).
It was not unlike the spin that Kerry and his forces sometimes place on Bush's words.
Campaigning by bus through hotly contested Wisconsin on Friday, Bush sought to counter recently sharpened criticism by Kerry about his Iraq policies:
—He stated flatly that Kerry had said earlier in the week "he would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today." The line drew gasps of surprise from Bush's audience in a Racine, Wis., park. "I just strongly disagree," the president said.
But Kerry never said that. In a speech at New York University on Monday, he called Saddam "a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell." He added, "The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."
—Bush attacked Kerry for calling "our alliance 'the alliance of the coerced and the bribed.'"
"You can't build alliances if you criticize the efforts of those who are working side by side with you," the president said in Janesville, Wis.
Kerry did use the phrase to describe the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Iraq, in a March 2003 speech in California. He was referring to the administration's willingness to offer aid to other nations to gain support for its Iraq policies.
But Bush mischaracterized Kerry's criticism, which has not been aimed at the countries that have contributed a relatively small number of troops and resources, but at the administration for not gaining more participation from other nations.
—Bush also suggested Kerry was undercutting an ally in a time of need, and thus unfit to be president, when he "questioned the credibility" of Iraqi interim leader Ayad Allawi.
"This great man came to our country to talk about how he's risking his life for a free Iraq, which helps America," the president said in Janesville. "And Senator Kerry held a press conference and questioned Prime Minister Allawi's credibility. You can't lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility."
Bush repeated the attack later in the day and Vice President Dick Cheney echoed the message in Lafayette, La. "I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage," Cheney said.
Kerry's point was that the optimistic assessments of postwar Iraq from both Bush and Allawi didn't match previous statements by the Iraqi leader, nor the reality on the ground, and were designed to put the "best face" on failed policies.
Bush continued to insist on a mostly upbeat view of Iraq in his weekly radio address Saturday. "The enemies of freedom are using suicide bombings, beheading and other horrific acts to try to block progress. We are sickened by their atrocities, but we will never be intimidated, and freedom is winning," he said. "We're making steady progress."
"Facts can be stubborn things," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. "When there's a gap between the reality and the words coming out of the White House, we are going to point them out."
That's not to say Kerry hasn't been playing fast and loose with Bush's words.
Just Friday, the Kerry campaign sent an e-mail to supporters entitled "He said what?" citing Bush's remark that he had seen "a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America."
The e-mail from campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill accused the president of having "no plan to get us out of Iraq" and thinking "the future of Iraq is brighter than the future of America."
Bush has a plan for Iraq — Kerry just disagrees that it is working. And the president wasn't comparing Iraq's future to that of the United States, only accurately reflecting one recent survey in Iraq and the latest trends in America that asked participants for their assessment of the direction their countries are going.
After campaigning in Wisconsin, Bush settled into his ranch in Crawford, Texas, which will be his base of operations for several days as he crams for the first debate of the presidential campaign, to be held Thursday in Coral Gables, Fla.
The first practice session was expected to take place Saturday night, with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., playing the part of Kerry for a couple of hours and a slew of Bush's most senior White House aides and outside advisers on hand, spokesman Scott McClellan said.