- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

The voting record of Sen. John Kerry has weakened U.S. military defenses and would make true Howard Dean’s prediction that “America’s military will not always be the world’s strongest,” Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said yesterday.

“Howard Dean early in the campaign said that America will not always have the world’s strongest military,” Mr. Mehlman said yesterday. “And Senator Kerry at the time criticized it. But if you look at Senator Kerry’s voting record, what you find is that his votes would make Governor Dean’s vision a reality.”

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, who on Thursday charged that President Bush is exaggerating terrorism threats for political gain, has voted against efforts to expand and improve intelligence operations and strengthen the U.S. military, said Mr. Mehlman.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Bush said he wanted to “know the facts” about any intelligence failures concerning Saddam Hussein’s suspected cache of forbidden weapons but he declined to endorse calls for an independent investigation.

Democrats and Republicans have raised the question of an independent commission since former chief weapons inspector David Kay said Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

Top Republicans inside and outside the White House yesterday defended the president and attacked Mr. Kerry, who has unseated Mr. Dean as the Democratic front-runner after winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

“What has he ever done? Nobody knows,” said one senior Republican source, who, like the others, spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “The guy didn’t leave much of a footprint in all his years in the Senate.”

Said another top Republican: “He not only has never tried to help our intelligence community or our armed forces, he has vehemently fought us every step of the way when we try to protect the American people from threats. He is the last one who should ever criticize this president.”

In the South Carolina debate of Democratic candidates on Thursday, Mr. Kerry sounded a new theme among hopefuls that Mr. Bush exaggerated the threat posed by now-ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in order to persuade Americans to go along with what he says was an unnecessary and premature war.

Asked by moderator Tom Brokaw how the president has been misleading, Mr. Kerry said: “Well, deployment of weapons of mass destruction, number one; aerial vehicles to be able to deliver materials of mass destruction, number two. I mean, I — nuclear weapons, number three. I could run a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggeration. The linkage to al Qaeda, number four.”

In a speech at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Mehlman laid out how Mr. Kerry’s own voting record has compromised U.S. security.

“Even after the first World Trade Center bombing, Senator Kerry voted to gut intelligence spending by $1.5 billion for the five years prior to 2001. In 1996, he voted to slash defense spending by $6.5 billion. Both bills were so reckless that neither had any co-sponsors willing to endorse his plans.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee that analysts told him that they had limited information on the arms programs, lacked human agents and relied too much on information from foreign intelligence services. None told him they were pressured.

This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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