Tuesday, October 26, 2004

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry charged yesterday that recent and long-past headlines prove how much of a mess President Bush has made of Iraq, the war on terror and homeland security.

“When a commander in chief makes wrong decisions, America’s security pays the price,” Mr. Kerry said. “The truth is, President Bush has never leveled with the American people about why we went to war, how the war is going or what he is doing to put Iraq on track.”

Mr. Kerry focused for the second day on a claim — first reported in the New York Times on Monday — that U.S. troops failed to secure the Al-Qaqaa munitions dump, causing nearly 380 tons of RDX and HMX, used to make powerful plastic explosives, to go missing.

The Pentagon has said the site already had been looted when U.S. troops took Al-Qaqaa the day after Baghdad fell. NBC News, citing a reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne Division, said Monday that the troops did not find the explosives when they arrived, but reported yesterday that the 101st did not make an exhaustive search.

Mr. Kerry didn’t back down. Instead, he said the Bush administration kept changing its story on the issue, and that Mr. Bush was silent.

“Safer with them? Come on, folks,” Mr. Kerry said at a rally later in the day in Las Vegas.

Those attacks almost overshadowed the homeland security part of Mr. Kerry’s speech. Joined yesterday in Green Bay by Democratic mayors from cities across the nation, Mr. Kerry listed the areas in which the Bush administration has fallen short on funding.

He said Mr. Bush has cut staff from the U.S. Border Patrol, failed to institute inspections for 95 percent of cargo containers coming into U.S. ports, balked at funding local fire and police needs for homeland security, and failed to secure the more than 100 chemical plants near major population centers throughout the nation that government officials acknowledge are vulnerable.

Mr. Kerry pledged to spend $60 billion over 10 years to fund all those needs.

The Kerry campaign also announced yesterday that it will begin running a TV advertisement charging that the disappearance of the explosives means that Mr. Bush failed as commander in chief.

Speaking in Florida, Vice President Dick Cheney shot back that Mr. Kerry’s policy would have left Saddam Hussein in charge in Iraq.

“If our troops had not gone into Iraq, as John Kerry apparently thinks they should not have, that is 400,000 tons of weapons and explosives that would be in the hands of Saddam Hussein, who would still be sitting in his palace instead of jail,” Mr. Cheney said.

The Bush campaign said Mr. Kerry was resorting to using a newspaper story that has “been proven false” because he doesn’t have his own a plan for the war on terror.

“John Kerry demonstrated today that he is not going to let the facts get in the way of his political attacks,” Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said.

Mr. Kerry’s attacks this week have been driven by news reports. In addition to the New York Times story, yesterday he also touted a Washington Post story that said that if Mr. Bush is re-elected, he will ask early next year for another $70 billion to pursue the war in Iraq.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who introduced Mr. Kerry in Green Bay, said Mr. Kerry must continue to hammer the theme of security, particularly homeland security.

“I really do think ‘it’s security, stupid,’” said Mr. O’Malley, who has taken a lead on homeland security issues among mayors. “That’s what the mayors told him backstage.”

Mr. Kerry did not say how he would referee the competition for homeland security funds between apparent terrorist targets like Washington and New York and less-prominent communities.

Mr. O’Malley said the Bush administration has created that problem by offering so little money and directing it to the states rather than to key cities that states and localities now have been pitted against each other.

“There’s not a reason we should be having this debate in a position of scarcity,” Mr. O’Malley said.

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