STRATHAM, N.H. — President Bush yesterday accused Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of wanting to “blame America” for the “anger and the evil” of terrorists, and called on his opponent to stop waffling on Iraq.
“Now, there are some questions that a commander in chief needs to answer with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Mr. Bush said. “My opponent hasn’t answered the question of whether, knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq.”
Asked Thursday if he would have gone to war with Iraq with the hindsight of knowing there were no large caches of weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Kerry was equivocal.
“You bet we might have, after we exhausted [U.N.-led inspections] and found that [Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein] wasn’t complying and so on and so forth,” Mr. Kerry said.
At a Rose Garden press conference this week, Mr. Bush said he would have liberated Iraq from Saddam even “knowing what we know now.”
Mr. Bush, stopping in New Hampshire for a hastily organized campaign event on his way to the family estate in Maine, also picked up on Mr. Kerry’s statement Monday that the president’s execution of the war on terror has helped al Qaeda in its recruiting.
“No, it’s upside-down logic,” Mr. Bush said. “It shows a misunderstanding of the enemy. During the ‘90s, these people were recruiting and training and preparing long before we went to war with them.
“They don’t need an excuse for their hatred, and it is wrong to blame America for the anger and evil of the killers,” he said to cheers from a crowd of 3,000 supporters. “We don’t create terrorists by fighting back. We defeat the terrorists by fighting back.”
Mr. Bush said that the recent terror-threat alerts — thought by some Democrats to have been unnecessary and issued only to benefit the president politically — are “real.”
“You’ve read recently [about] the threats,” Mr. Bush said. “They’re real, because there’s an enemy that still wants to harm us.”
Mr. Kerry has accused Mr. Bush of employing politics of “fear,” and Kerry supporter Howard Dean accused the administration of playing politics with terror alerts.
In response to lower-than-expected jobs numbers released yesterday, Mr. Bush called it further validation of his tax-cutting economic plan, pointing to the unemployment rate, which dropped one-tenth of a point to 5.5 percent.
The Labor Department numbers showed 32,000 jobs were added last month, far fewer than the 200,000 expected.
Mr. Kerry pointed to the jobs report as proof that the president’s policies are causing a growing economy to reverse course.
Mr. Bush stopped in New Hampshire on his way to the family’s compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, for today’s wedding of his nephew, George P. Bush, a Texas lawyer and son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
An American Research Group poll released Thursday showed Mr. Kerry ahead of Mr. Bush in the race for New Hampshire’s four electoral votes 49 percent to 42 percent. Mr. Bush won the state by just one percentage point over Democrat Al Gore in 2000, but handily lost that year’s New Hampshire primary to Sen. John McCain of Arizona.