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Kerry says Bush handling of war threatens unending fight; he offers four-point plan
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Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry delivers a foreign policy speech at New York University. Kerry delivered Monday his sharpest attack yet on the Iraq war, accusing President George W. Bush of "colossal failures of judgment" that created a "crisis of historic proportions." (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

New York, NY — (AP) Sen. John Kerry said Monday that mistakes by President Bush in invading Iraq could lead to unending war and that no responsible commander in chief would have begun the war knowing Saddam Hussein didn't possess weapons of mass destruction and wasn't an imminent threat to the United States.

"Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious?" the Democratic presidential candidate said at New York University.

Kerry, a fourth-term Massachusetts senator, voted to give Bush authority to wage the war and he said in August he still would have voted that way had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The Democrat makes a distinction between his voting to grant a president war-making authority as a member of the Senate and Bush, as commander in chief, actually taking that fateful step. Republicans have accused Kerry of waffling on the war.

Kerry said Monday, "Is he really saying to Americans that if we had known there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is resoundingly no because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," Kerry said. "But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. 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 campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry's goal of pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq in his first term sends "a clear signal of defeat and retreat to America's enemies that will make the world a far more dangerous place."

Kerry's speech was timed one day ahead of Bush's scheduled address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Bush planned to strike back at Kerry's increasingly aggressive criticism on Iraq, aides said.

Kerry said Monday that Bush's invasion of Iraq has created a crisis that could lead to unending war and has raised questions about whether Bush's judgment is up to presidential standards. He offered his own four-point plan starting with pressing other nations for help.

- Get more help from other nations.

- Provide better training for Iraqi security forces.

- Provide benefits to the Iraqi people.

- Ensure that democratic elections can be held next year as promised.

"If the president would move in this direction ... we could begin to withdraw U.S. forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years," Kerry said.

Bush's mistakes, Kerry said, "were not the equivalent of accounting errors. They were colossal failures of judgment - and judgment is what we look for in a president."

Kerry contended that Bush has not been honest about the war's rationale or costs. He said the president's decision to go to war against Iraq has distracted from a greater threat to the United States - more terrorist attacks.

"In Iraq, this administration has consistently over-promised and underperformed. This policy has been plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence. And the President has held no one accountable, including himself," Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery.

With six weeks remaining until Election Day, the Massachusetts senator was pressing the debate on an issue that has given him trouble in his bid for the White House.

The Republicans have accused him of staking out unclear, even contradictory, positions on Iraq. His speech was aimed at explaining his stance and drawing clear differences with Bush's leadership at a time when troubles in Iraq are mounting.

Kerry tried to turn the criticism back against the president by pointing to varying administration arguments for going to war.

"By one count, the president offered 23 different rationales for this war," Kerry said. "If his purpose was to confuse and mislead the American people, he succeeded."

Kerry said Bush's two main rationales - weapons of mass destruction and a connection between al-Qaida and the Sept. 11 attacks - have been proven false by weapons inspectors and the bipartisan commission investigating the attacks.

"This president was in denial," Kerry said. "He hitched his wagon to the ideologues who surround him, filtering out those who disagreed, including leaders of his own party and the uniformed military. The result is a long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences."

Kerry can now point to other Republicans who are also voicing concern about the president's leadership in Iraq. Among them is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, who said Sunday problems with reconstruction show there is "incompetence in the administration." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would like to see the president be more clear about the dangers in Iraq.

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