CINCINNATI – John Kerry (search) blasted President Bush (search) Wednesday for what he described as a trail of broken promises on the path to war, also accusing the commander in chief of squandering money in Iraq that could be put to better use at home.
"George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction on Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home," Kerry said at the Cincinnati Museum Center (search).
"I would not have made the wrong choices that are forcing us to pay nearly the entire cost of this war — more than $200 billion that we're not investing in education, health care and job creation here at home."
While Bush met with congressional leaders in Washington before traveling to Florida, where he toured damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes, Kerry made his speech from the same site where Bush in 2002 made his case for removing Saddam Hussein (search) from power.
During that speech, Bush called the Iraqi leader a "murderous tyrant" who may be plotting to attack the United States with biological and chemical weapons.
The U.S.-led war against Iraq succeeded in ending Saddam's regime and ultimately led to his capture. A new U.S.-backed government is now in control of Iraq, although militant forces continue to stage violent attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces.
"His miscalculation was going to war without taking every precaution and without giving the inspectors time," the Massachusetts senator said. "His miscalculation was going to war without planning carefully and without the allies we should have had."
In conjunction with the speech, Kerry unveiled an ad that accuses Bush of squandering $200 billion on Iraq while the United States suffers "lost jobs" and "rising health care costs." The commercial claims that "George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home."
Kerry said that a wiser course would have been to pursue a more multilateral strategy so America would not have to shoulder the lion's share of Iraq's financial burden. He said the decision to pay for the war almost alone has left too few resources for veterans' hospitals, health care, police and other programs.
Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, noted that Kerry voted to authorize the use of force, and said the speech is "consistent with his position that he is proud of voting against $87 billion in funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."
A major aspect of Kerry's critique is that the administration failed to make a plan to win the peace.
"If there's one thing I learned from my own experience in war, it is that I never would have gone to war without a plan to win the peace."
Military Records Questioned
Kerry's offensive comes a day after Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that a "wrong choice" in November would increase "the danger that we'll get hit again" by terrorists.
Democrats denounced the comment. Vice presidential candidate John Edwards, campaigning in West Virginia, said, "It's wrong and it's un-American."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters: "There are differences in how the two candidates approach the War on Terrorism. That's what the vice president was talking about."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., defended Cheney as having expressed "a very strong feeling" that Bush is tougher when it comes to terrorism than Kerry "and I would agree."
Republicans criticized Kerry for being long on rhetoric and short on detail.
"There aren’t many specifics in this speech that I can see," said Bobby Burchfield, counsel to the 1992 George H. W. Bush campaign.
Burchfield said he heard a more "strident" and "harsh" tone from Kerry than he had before the Democratic candidate hired a number of Clinton aides to boost his campaign. Last week, the campaign added former White House aide Joel Johnson and former spokesman Joe Lockhart.
On Tuesday, America passed the milestone of having lost more than 1,000 soldiers in Iraq, all but 138 after Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, 2003.
In another turn of events, Democrats also pointed to new disclosures on Bush's military service on Wednesday.
Defense Department records, obtained under pressure of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press despite earlier assertions by Bush and the Pentagon that all records had been released, show Bush ranked in the middle of his 1969 Texas Air National Guard class and flew 336 hours in a fighter jet before letting his pilot status lapse and missing a key readiness drill.
The documents do not address the issue of Bush's later transfer to the Alabama Air National Guard.
A group called Texans for Truth also planned to begin running an ad this week in which a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard questions Bush's absence from his National Guard service in Montgomery, Ala.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, told reporters in a conference call that new records have "made the issue of the president's service, or lack thereof, completely fair game."
Before leaving for Florida, Bush met with James A. Baker III, his point man on upcoming presidential debates. McClellan, the White House spokesman, refused to comment on news reports suggesting that the president may insist on two debates, rather than the three recommended by an independent commission.
Bush: 'We're Still at War'
Bush also commented on the casualties in Iraq, saying Wednesday, "we mourn every loss of life." He declared that the United States was making progress in the war against terrorism.
"We're still at war," Bush said while meeting with congressional leaders. "We've got to do everything we can to protect the homeland."
Bush's comments came on the same day that Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), making the rounds of the morning network news shows, defended the war and urged patience as war-torn Iraq struggles with a transition to democracy.
Bush met with congressional lawmakers Wednesday to discuss legislation to strengthen the nation's intelligence services in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush said the administration would submit legislation and said he believes that a proposed national intelligence director should have full budgetary authority.
Kerry has endorsed all the bipartisan panel's recommendations.
"It's important we get our intelligence gathering correct. After all, we're still at war," Bush told congressional leaders at the White House before flying to Florida to inspect hurricane damage. "We're still on the offense here in this country. We're chasing down these killers overseas so we don't have to face them here at home ... We're making good progress."
The meeting gave Bush an opportunity to accentuate the two most prominent themes of his campaign: Iraq and the War on Terror.
"Ultimately we will prevail because liberty changes countries, liberty changes the habits of people, liberty promotes peace. And that's why we appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women who wear the uniform," Bush said. "They're serving a great cause.
He said, "We will honor their memories by completing the mission."
Bush refused to answer questions from reporters. He simply stared at a reporter who asked if he agreed with Cheney's assertion that if Kerry is elected, "the danger is that we'll get hit again" by terrorists.
Powell told one television network that people must "remember what the stakes are" in Iraq.
"The stakes are whether or not freedom and democracy triumph or whether or not we fall from the rule of law, whether people can simply kill others, innocent people, in order to impose their will, in order to take us back to the past, take us back to the days of a Saddam Hussein-like regime," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.