- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

WILMINGTON, N.C. — Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards accused President Bush yesterday of fumbling the war against terrorism by not finishing “what they started” in Afghanistan.

“The Bush administration miscalculated by turning its back on Afghanistan,” Mr. Edwards told an enthusiastic crowd in an auditorium here at the coastal campus of University of North Carolina.

The accusation is part of a speech that the North Carolina senator is delivering this week aimed at laying out concrete “fundamental national-security differences” between the Bush administration and one that would be led by Democrat hopeful Sen. John Kerry, who is vacationing at his beach house on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts during the Republican National Convention.

By stressing the differences this week, the Kerry campaign hopes to counter some of the prime-time rhetoric coming out of the convention in New York.

The campaign also hopes to close a gap among many voters who wonder how Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards — both of whom voted to authorize Mr. Bush to invade Iraq — would differ significantly from the Bush administration on national security issues.

“I know that there are some Americans who question whether there are differences between us and our opponents,” said Mr. Edwards, using the term “differences” about 15 times during his 35-minute speech. “There are big differences, and today, I will tell you what they are.”

He said a Kerry-Edwards administration would work harder to build alliances, act quicker to reform intelligence-gathering and focus more on the efforts to root out terrorism in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is in many ways a forgotten front in the war on terror,” Mr. Edwards said. He added, however, that “it has come a long way since I visited there two years ago.”

Republicans said the only time Afghanistan was a “forgotten front” was when Mr. Edwards and “John Kerry voted against funding our troops in Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan is not forgotten, but perhaps Edwards has forgotten that we liberated that nation,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “We ended the rule of a regime that harbored al Qaeda, drove Osama bin Laden into hiding and sent Afghanistan on the way to free and fair presidential elections, scheduled for next month.”

Mr. Edwards won the most applause when he said that the blame for the “horrific abuses” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq rests “at the top of the administration.”

He peppered his speech with the word “miscalculation,” a reference to Mr. Bush’s acknowledgment last week that current problems in Iraq stem at least partially from his administration’s miscalculating the enemy.

“The president calls this miscalculation,” Mr. Edwards said at one point. “You can call it whatever you want. The truth is: It was a failure of leadership.”

After the speech, Mr. Edwards granted interviews to several local reporters and was asked repeatedly about the ads aired this month by an independent group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which opposes Mr. Kerry because of his conduct during the Vietnam War.

“I think they say more about the president’s character than about anyone else’s that he’s let these ads continue to run,” Mr. Edwards said.

He also wrapped himself in the flag, beginning and ending his speech with stirring imagery of a worker hoisting Old Glory up the flagpole in front of City Hall, stepping back and looking up.

“We all look up to that flag,” Mr. Edwards said. “It is our symbol of freedom and democracy — our hope for mankind.”

Beside him — just off stage — a huge flag hung from a pipe frame set up for the event.

But there was a problem: This particular Stars and Stripes was too long for the frame, so about three feet of red and white stripes bunched together at the bottom, piled on the floor of the auditorium, leaving a narrow walkway to the steps of the stage.


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