- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

Arguing that President Bush and his allies “don’t own the flag; they don’t own patriotism,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry yesterday pledged to keep America strong on defense, and criticized the administration’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“For 30 years since Vietnam, the other party has tried to frighten voters into thinking that only Republicans care about national security,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a speech before the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) at its national conference in Arizona yesterday.

“The other side was wrong about us then and they are wrong now. As long as I am its leader, this party will put the strength of America first.”

Mr. Kerry promised the centrist DLC he will follow the lead of “tough-minded statesmen in our party,” like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.

“A strong America depends on a strong American role in the world and an unsurpassed defense,” Mr. Kerry said, adding, however, that America’s job isn’t to “dominate” the world, but to lead it.

The Bush administration has failed to lead, Mr. Kerry said.

Al Qaeda remains an ever-changing threat; Taliban remnants are launching bolder attacks; Osama bin Laden is still on the loose; Mr. Bush’s economic policies have weakened America’s economic leadership in the world; and a go-it-alone strategy has “bred global mistrust of our motives and unloosed a torrent of anti-Americanism abroad,” Mr. Kerry said.

The four-term Massachusetts senator also said the administration made a “huge mistake” in relying on local Afghan forces to capture Osama bin Laden, instead of committing enough U.S. troops to do the job.

As president, Mr. Kerry said he would add more troops to the armed forces, provide armor and other needed support to the troops, and plug holes in homeland security in intelligence, information sharing and bioterrorism. He also referenced the ongoing prisoner abuse scandal, saying, “the chain of command goes all the way to the Oval Office,” and the country needs a new president as well as a new defense secretary.

Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, yesterday said Mr. Kerry, “is at odds with the DLC in so many ways,” including defense issues.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Kerry wants to “outsource” American foreign policy to the United Nations, has voted against things like body armor for the troops in the past, and offered no real alternatives in his speech yesterday, beyond what Mr. Bush is already doing to win the war against terrorism.

“For Senator Kerry to try now, all of a sudden, hocus-pocus, to become a centrist is like a chicken trying to swim. It’s impossible,” Mr. Miller said.

Vice President Dick Cheney recently pointed out that in 1984, Mr. Kerry called for canceling weapons systems used in fighting the Cold War, the Persian Gulf war and the war on terror, including the MX and Patriot missiles, B-1 bomber, Strategic Defense Initiative, F-14 fighter and Apache helicopter.

In Prairie Du Chien, Wis., President Bush touted his tax cuts yesterday as he campaigned in the Mississippi River farmlands of Iowa and Wisconsin, a region that eluded him in the 2000 election.

“I’m not really here to politick you too much,” Mr. Bush told hundreds of enthusiastic backers in the town square. With the nation’s capital absorbed in the Iraqi prison-abuse scandal, Mr. Bush said, “Thank you for the excuse of getting out of Washington.”

Throughout his tour, Mr. Bush emphasized the good news that yesterday brought: Unemployment dropped from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent, with nearly 300,000 jobs created.

“Our economy is strong and it is getting stronger,” said Mr. Bush, his voice hoarse from a two-day bus tour through Michigan and Ohio on Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Bush and Kerry campaigns traded barbs over patriotism, after Mr. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, called Mr. Cheney “unpatriotic” during a Telemundo interview while defending her husband’s service in Vietnam.

Bush-Cheney campaign Chairman Marc Racicot yesterday called the comment “offensive,” adding that “every time the discussion focuses on John Kerry’s Senate record of voting against weapons systems … his campaign falsely claims that his patriotism is being attacked.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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