- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Sen. John Kerry called the threat of terrorism “the most urgent national security challenge we face” in a speech at Temple University here yesterday.

“As president, I will fight a tougher, smarter, more effective war on terror,” he vowed. “My priority will be to find and capture or kill the terrorists before they get us and I will never take my eye off the ball.”

His nearly hour-long speech to students and professors gathered in a gymnasium here is part of a strategy by his campaign to more clearly spell out Mr. Kerry’s position on terrorism and the war in Iraq before next week’s foreign-policy debate with President Bush.

“My fellow Americans, I know what needs to be done, and I know what has been done wrong,” he said. “I begin with this belief: The war on terror is the monumental struggle of our time. It is as monumental a struggle as the Cold War.”

Reading from an electronic cueing device, Mr. Kerry laid out a seven-point “comprehensive strategy for victory over terrorism.”

He said he would beef up military and intelligence services, deny terrorists the weapons they seek, make homeland security a “real priority,” promote democracy in Arab nations, and “rebuild and lead strong alliances” in the world.

The Bush campaign, which has relentlessly portrayed Mr. Kerry as a flip-flopper on national security and other issues, said yesterday’s speech was full of “repackaged proposals” that the Bush administration “is already implementing.”

“He cynically attacks the president with defeatist rhetoric and talk of retreat,” campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. “John Kerry will say anything he thinks benefits him politically, regardless of its effect on our troops in the field and our allies fighting alongside them.”

Left unanswered yesterday was Mr. Kerry’s claim during a debate earlier this year among fellow Democrats that the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat of terrorism.

“I think there’s been an exaggeration,” Mr. Kerry said in January when asked whether he agreed with most Europeans that President Bush “has exaggerated the threat of terrorism.”

“There needs to be a refocusing,” Mr. Kerry said at the time.

During that debate in Greenville, S.C., moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News pressed Mr. Kerry to explain his assertion by asking, “Where has the exaggeration been in the threat on terrorism?” Mr. Kerry responded with a list of areas, including nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, Mr. Kerry said the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists or rogue nations was such a serious and imminent threat that he would round them up within four years. Mr. Bush, he said, would take 13 years to do so.

At the South Carolina debate, Mr. Kerry’s view went largely unchallenged by the field of Democrats vying for the nomination from the party’s voters who were deeply unhappy about the war in Iraq. The one exception was Sen. John Edwards, who offered Mr. Kerry the stiffest primary challenge and has since become his running mate.

After answering an unrelated question, Mr. Edwards asked to return to the earlier exchange and said to Mr. Kerry: “It’s hard for me to see how you can say there’s an exaggeration when thousands of people lost their lives on September 11.”

During his speech yesterday, Mr. Kerry harshly criticized Mr. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. He said the invasion of Iraq wasn’t part of the war on terror until insurgents began fighting back.

“Iraq is now what it was not before the war: a haven for terrorists. George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority, I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority,” he said. “As president, I pledge to you, America, I will finish the job in Iraq and refocus our energies on the real war on terror.”

In particular, Mr. Kerry harshly criticized Mr. Bush for not building a broader coalition to disarm and depose Saddam Hussein.

“Instead of bringing the world together against the terrorists, the president alienated the countries whose help we need to defeat them,” he said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden, the Delaware Democrat who introduced Mr. Kerry, noted the world unity after September 11 attacks.

“The largest paper in Europe, the French newspaper Le Monde, ran a headline that said, ‘We are all American,’” he said. “Imagine if this president had spoken to the nation and the world and summoned a sense of solidarity.”

He then told a story about President Kennedy seeking assistance during the Cuban missile crisis from French President Charles de Gaulle. The U.S. ambassador tried showing Mr. De Gaulle evidence of the missile buildup in Cuba.

“De Gaulle put up his hand and said, ‘No. I know John Kennedy. I know he would never mislead us,’” Mr. Biden recounted. “Is there a single leader in the world today that would say that with George Bush?”

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