- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy yesterday issued a blistering criticism of President Bush’s effort in Iraq, calling it a “quagmire” that has distracted from the real war on terror and made the nation more susceptible to another attack.

“Iraq has been a constant perilous distraction from the real war on terrorism,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a speech at George Washington University. “Our preoccupation with Iraq has given al Qaeda more than two full years to regroup and plan murderous new attacks on us.”

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Bush has no right to accuse his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, of flip-flopping on his position on the Iraq war, because Mr. Bush made “gigantic flip-flops on the reasons he went to war in Iraq.”

He went on to attack Vice President Dick Cheney for commenting recently that al Qaeda wants Mr. Kerry to win the election, saying that is “a desperate and cynical attempt by the Bush campaign to immunize President Bush in case another terrorist attack takes place in our country on his watch in the remaining days before the election.”

The Bush campaign hit back at Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Kerry both for saying Americans are less secure now than before the Iraq war.

“John Kerry’s latest position again demonstrates that he is willing to say whatever he thinks will benefit him politically,” said Brian Jones, spokesman for the Bush campaign. “Having Ted Kennedy argue that we are now more vulnerable to nuclear attack just shows how far John Kerry is willing to take his political opportunism and scare tactics.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Mr. Kennedy’s speech was critical of a position that Mr. Kerry took in the past but has retreated from: that the nation should go after state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq, as part of the war on terror.

“As my colleague, John Kerry, pointed out before he was running for president, terrorism is a global menace and must be fought as one,” Mr. Cornyn said. “And as he said in 2001, taking the fight to state sponsors of terror — including Iraq — is ‘absolutely vital.’”

Mr. Kennedy’s spokesman, Jim Manley, dismissed Mr. Cornyn’s thinking.

“These are the kinds of ridiculous arguments that the American public has come to expect from an incompetent, inflexible and ideologically driven Republican Party,” he said.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Kennedy come from the same general line of thinking on national security, except that the latter voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, while Mr. Kerry supported it.

Mr. Kerry has said although he would vote for the resolution again, he thinks that Mr. Bush blatantly misused the authority that Congress gave him, rushed to war without thinking through the consequences and has made the nation less safe.

Aside from their difference on authorizing the use of force in Iraq, Mr. Kennedy voted against increasing military spending in 2001 and Mr. Kerry supported it. On most of the rest, they agreed.

The Center for Security Policy, a hawkish conservative group, gave both senators low scores on national security and defense, based on votes they made from 1998 to 2002.

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