- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that President Bush actually has built up the ranks of terrorists, and that he can do a better job of fighting the war on terror.

Speaking at a press conference called to rebut the president’s embrace of some of the recommendations of the September 11 commission, including creating a national intelligence director, the Democratic presidential nominee said Mr. Bush was right, but late.

“The president seems to have no sense of urgency to make America as safe as it needs to be,” Mr. Kerry said while campaigning in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The release of the commission’s report two weeks ago and the new terrorism alert over the weekend have vaulted terrorism back into the forefront of political issues.

But although the policy debate so far has been mostly a two-way conversation between the Bush administration and the commission, Mr. Kerry has been trying to inject himself into that discussion, and yesterday gave him his best chance.

In the morning, Mr. Kerry said the Bush administration “is actually encouraging the recruitment of terrorists” by increasing anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world.

“I believe that I can fight a more effective war on terror than George Bush is. I know I can fight a more effective war,” he told CNN’s “American Morning” program.

His acceptance speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention was dominated by his credentials as a Vietnam veteran and his firm statement that he will defeat al Qaeda, and yesterday, he said he has been out front on anti-terrorism issues for some time, while Mr. Bush has been dragging his feet.

“I regret that it’s taken us almost three years to get to the point where these recommendations are now being adopted. Many of them I called for, and others have called for, over the course of the last years, some of them very obvious,” he said.

His campaign sent out a document comparing stances that Mr. Kerry already had taken to the commission’s report, released July 22, and said Mr. Kerry was ahead of the curve by calling for the United States to confront chemical, biological and nuclear weapons proliferation and to broaden the FBI’s counterterrorism abilities.

And Mr. Kerry faulted Mr. Bush for apparently switching his position.

“I think the fact that it’s taken us three years to get here makes its own statement about urgency — the fact that a few days ago, that the administration was even resisting doing this,” he said. “They resisted the commission itself. They didn’t want the commission.”

Mr. Kerry and running mate Sen. John Edwards received a briefing yesterday about the threats that have led to a heightened terror alert for financial institutions in and around New York and Washington.

Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1993 to 2000, and Mr. Edwards of North Carolina currently serves on the committee, which also came under criticism from the commission for lax oversight leading up to the attacks.

Both men, though, think that their service burnishes their credentials for being able to run the war on terror.

“I was actually talking about terrorism before September 11 and helped investigate September 11, why it happened. Helped write laws to protect the American people after September,” Mr. Edwards said in a television interview in Miami yesterday.

Republicans yesterday said Mr. Kerry has flip-flopped on terror, and Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie pointed to Mr. Kerry’s statement during a Democratic primary debate in South Carolina that there has been an “exaggeration” by the administration of the threat.

“John Kerry can’t articulate a consistent or credible message to the American people on the threat of terror,” Mr. Gillespie said. “One week, it’s exaggerated; one week, it’s the president’s ‘trump card’; and one week, it’s John Kerry’s campaign message of the week. John Kerry does not offer strong, consistent leadership to a nation at war against global terror.”

In one sign that Mr. Kerry has succeeded in making himself part of the national conversation, September 11 commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton released a statement responding to both men’s remarks.

“We welcome renewed evidence of a common purpose uniting our nation’s leaders,” Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton said. “They agreed that we need new institutions for a new era. They agree the executive branch and the Congress need vital reforms. They agree on some of the basic goals for those reforms.”

Though Mr. Kerry was cool in his reaction to Mr. Bush, other Democrats were split.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, called Mr. Bush’s endorsement “an important step,” although Mr. Daschle said it was just the start of congressional work.

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, while praising Mr. Bush, wondered, “Why has it taken three years?”

She and Mr. Kerry both called for the president to call Congress, which is on its traditional monthlong summer recess, back into session to work on the recommendations.

Republican leaders already have scheduled committee hearings throughout the month, which they said must be completed in order for the full Congress to consider legislation when it returns after Labor Day.

Meanwhile yesterday, Mr. Kerry backed away from comments made over the weekend by his surrogate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who accused the administration of announcing terror threats for Mr. Bush’s political gain.

“I am concerned that every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. His whole campaign is based on the notion … and then out comes Tom Ridge,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition” about the homeland-security secretary. “It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both in it.”

Mr. Kerry, though, said he took the government warnings seriously.

“I disagree with his comment yesterday. It’s very simple,” Mr. Kerry said.

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