August 10, 2004
Kerry Says His Vote on Iraq Would Be the Same Today
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz., Aug. 9 - Senator John Kerry said Monday that he would have voted to give the president the authority to invade Iraq even if he had known all he does now about the apparent dearth of unconventional weapons or a close connection to Al Qaeda.
"I believe it's the right authority for a president to have," said Mr. Kerry, who has faced criticism throughout his presidential campaign for that October 2002 vote.
But Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, extended his attack on President Bush's prosecution of the war, saying he had not used the Congressional authority effectively.
"My question to President Bush is, Why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace?" Mr. Kerry told reporters here after responding to Mr. Bush's request last week for a yes-or-no answer on how he would vote today on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth?" he said. "Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve it and relieve a pressure from the American people?"
Standing at an elevation of 7,200 feet on the edge of the canyon, Mr. Kerry also set a goal of reducing the number of troops in Iraq by next summer, though both he and his advisers rushed to say that deployment would depend on diplomatic progress and democratic elections in Iraq, among other things.
"I believe if you do the kind of alliance-building that is available to us that it is appropriate to have a goal of reducing our troops over that period of time," he said. "Obviously, we have to see how events unfold. The measurement has to be, as I've said all along, the stability of Iraq, the ability to have the elections, and the training and transformation of the Iraqi security force itself."
At the same time, Mr. Kerry said, if commanders on the ground ask for a troop increase, "you'd have to respond to what the commanders asked for."
The comments on troops grew out of a radio interview last week in which Mr. Kerry said, "I believe that within a year from now, we could significantly reduce American forces in Iraq, and that's my plan."
His senior foreign policy adviser, James P. Rubin, told reporters, "Senator Kerry made very clear he was talking about goals," pointing out that Tommy Franks, the recently retired general who led the Iraq invasion, said Sunday that troop reduction might soon be possible.
To back up his contention that he could reduce the number of American troops by persuading other countries to deploy forces to Iraq, Mr. Kerry suggested that two of his Democratic Senate colleagues, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, had received assurances while traveling abroad that a change in administration would change allies' attitudes.
"Right now, this administration is scrambling to try to get Muslim forces on the ground; the Saudis are trying to scramble to help assist to do that," he said. "All of this should have happened in the beginning, all of these things should have been achieved beforehand. American presidents should not send American forces into war without a plan to win the peace."
Mr. Kerry has said that he - along with other members of Congress and the American public - was misled by the Bush administration about its rationale for going to war in Iraq, but Monday's statement was his most definitive yet that he would have voted to authorize the use of force even if provided a fuller picture.
Over the past year, he has been bedeviled by the Iraq war, first attacked by antiwar Democrats in the primaries for his vote in favor of the resolution, more recently pilloried by Mr. Bush and his allies for voting against $87 billion that went largely to finance the war.
Mr. Kerry's 10-minute exchange with a handful of reporters came after he and his wife, and two of their adult children, took a 30-minute hike along the canyon's southern rim. On a postcard-perfect day, the Kerrys flew here to throw an environmental elbow at Mr. Bush over financing for the park system.
"Regrettably, today, the national park system is under stress," Mr. Kerry said, promising to make up what he described as a $600 million shortfall in the parks budget within five years, as part of a $20 billion conservation and energy trust fund.
"The policies of this administration are going backwards," he said. "We believe we ought to go forward in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, in the spirit of all those who for years have fought to preserve America's great treasure."
Mr. Bush's campaign said the park system's current $1.8 billion budget was 20 percent higher than when the president took office and "has more funds per employee, per acre and per visitor" than it has ever had.
"President Bush has provided record funding levels for America's national parks," said a spokesman, Steve Schmidt. "John Kerry's misleading attacks are one more reason why he has a growing credibility problem."
The campaign also released a statement from Gale A. Norton, the interior secretary, saying that Mr. Bush "has taken bold and responsible steps to protect America's forests, parks and natural resources," while Mr. Kerry "has skipped key votes on everything from Healthy Forests to the energy bill."
"John Kerry's inconsistent rhetoric shows just how out of touch he is with the values Westerners hold dear," Ms. Norton said.