- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

DALLAS — President Bush yesterday accused John Kerry of wanting to weaken the nation’s security by repeatedly advocating “deeply irresponsible” cuts to the CIA during his 20 years in the Senate.

“One very important part of this war is intelligence-gathering, as Senator Kerry noted,” Mr. Bush told a room full of campaign contributors.

“Yet in 1995, two years after the [1993] attack on the World Trade Center, my opponent introduced a bill to cut the overall intelligence budget by $1 billion. His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn’t have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate,” he said.

Mr. Bush used the national security issue, and many others, to paint Mr. Kerry as a man with ever-changing positions who can’t be trusted with the presidency in dangerous times.

“Once again, Mr. Kerry is trying to have it both ways,” he said. “He’s for good intelligence, yet was willing to gut the intelligence services, and that is no way to lead the nation in a time of war.”

The Kerry campaign says that the bill offered by the junior senator from Massachusetts was about opposing “business as usual in our intelligence community” and that Mr. Kerry has supported $200 billion in intelligence funding over the past seven years — a 50 percent increase since 1996.

“He voted against a proposed billion-dollar bloat in the intelligence budget because it was essentially a slush fund for defense contractors,” Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said. “Unlike George Bush, John Kerry does not and will not support every special spending project supported by Halliburton and other defense contractors.”

Mr. Bush’s remarks reflect a more aggressive campaign to rebut the daily attacks by Mr. Kerry on the president’s record in foreign policy.

Over the weekend, Mr. Kerry said that unlike Mr. Bush, he would have acted sooner to protect Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned last week as rebel forces unhappy with his corrupt and violent rule approached his palace.

Mr. Kerry has also long criticized Mr. Bush for his execution of the war in Iraq, and says that the president has ignored North Korea as it has continued to develop nuclear weapons.

The senator told supporters yesterday at a fund-raiser in Florida that some foreign leaders have told him that they hoped he would defeat Mr. Bush.

“I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, ‘You’ve got to win this, you’ve got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,’ things like that,” he said.

While Mr. Kerry did not name names, he has been winning apparent support from abroad — from North Korea.

“In the past few weeks, speeches by the Massachusetts senator have been broadcast on Radio Pyongyang and reported in glowing terms by the Korea Central News Agency, the official mouthpiece of [Kim Jong-il’s] communist regime,” the Financial Times newspaper of London said last week.

At the same time, the Pyongyang government, which Mr. Bush has labeled part of an “axis of evil,” has continued to hammer at Mr. Bush in unusually personal terms. A Dutch TV crew touring the country found schools were using the “Diary of Anne Frank” to teach students that the United States is a Nazi dictatorship with Mr. Bush its contemporary Adolf Hitler.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, noted Mr. Kerry’s treatment in Pyongyang and said in a statement last night that “If he locks up Paris next, he’s going to be tough to beat.”

For his part, Mr. Kerry, a longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Bush chose to attack Iraq because it was easier than dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“There’s a reason the Bush administration walked that backwards and chose Iraq,” Mr. Kerry told reporters aboard his campaign plane Saturday. “And the reason is in the first eight hours of a conflict with North Korea, you’d have over a million casualties, and they knew that in Iraq you wouldn’t.”

Mr. Bush’s swing through California and Texas in the past five days has been very lucrative. Counting the $3 million raised at fund-raisers in Dallas and Houston yesterday, he has raised a little more than $5 million on this trip, swelling his re-election fund to more than $160 million.

“Nothing like spending the weekend in Texas,” Mr. Bush told his Dallas supporters at the fund-raising luncheon in his home state. “And nothing better than being with a bunch of friends.”

Mr. Kerry, who spent millions to all but lock up the Democratic nomination, has about $4 million on hand and has been frantically trying to catch up to Mr. Bush.

At today’s fund-raisers in Dallas and Houston, Mr. Bush hammered Kerry on what he characterized as an inconsistent record.

“Senator Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, for NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], for the No Child Left Behind Act and for the use of force in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said. “Now he opposes the Patriot Act, NAFTA, the No Child Left Behind Act and the liberation of Iraq. My opponent clearly has strong beliefs — they just don’t last very long.”

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday showed Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry in a statistical dead heat. Of 1,005 adults, including 892 registered voters, 47 percent preferred Mr. Kerry for president over Mr. Bush, who has 45 percent. Independent candidate Ralph Nader gauged 5 percent support.

Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating barely remained on the plus side, with 49 percent giving the president good marks and 48 percent negative.

Mr. Bush is attempting to make the war on terror a key issue in the campaign, but the Gallup poll shows he has an uphill climb. Two-thirds of the poll’s respondents said the state of the economy was more important than terrorism in making their choice for president.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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