WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Monday that President Bush circumvented portions of the congressional resolution authorizing war against Iraq by failing to exhaust all diplomatic options before attacking Baghdad.
The Massachusetts senator has stood by his vote last fall for the Iraq resolution in the face of criticism from anti-war Democrats and rival Howard Dean, a former Vermont governor who opposed the U.S.-led war. Kerry qualified his support Monday, saying it was the correct vote "based on the information that we were given."
"The president promised to build the international coalition, to do this as a matter of last resort, to go through the United Nations (search) process and respect it," he said. "And in the end, it is clear now that he didn't do that sufficiently. And I think in that regard, the American people were let down."
Kerry said he voted for the resolution with the understanding that the administration would build an international coalition before attacking Saddam Hussein's forces.
"It seems quite clear to me that the president circumvented that process, shortchanged it and did not give full meaning to the words 'last resort,"' Kerry said in a 20-minute conference call with reporters.
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan noted that the U.N. Security Council had already approved a resolution threatening Iraq with "serious consequences" if it did not comply with disarmament demands when the United States attacked the country.
"After 12 years of defiance by Saddam Hussein, President Bush launched a six-month diplomatic effort to persuade Saddam Hussein to end this peacefully," Buchan said. "The U.N. passed a unanimous resolution, its 17th resolution, which gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to comply, but he chose defiance."
Kerry repeated his call for an investigation into the intelligence used to justify war with Iraq, but he said his most urgent concern is the safety of troops still stationed there. He said the Bush administration should go to the United Nations and seek an international coalition to share the burden for peacekeeping.
Bush on Monday urged allies to act under U.N. authority to help rebuild Iraq.
"The more people involved in Iraq, the better off we will be," the president told reporters in Texas. "A free Iraq is a crucial part of winning the war on terror."
Kerry said the administration is acting out of "a sort of either ideological or other kind of restraint" that is keeping them from getting U.N. support for U.S troops, who make up roughly 147,000 of the 160,000 force in Iraq.
"Half the Vietnam Wall dates from the time that that kind of pride began to cloud the decisions in Vietnam and I refuse to believe that the morale of the troops or the safety of the troops is helped by inserting hubris into this process now," said Kerry, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War (search).