Sen. John F. Kerry today called on President Bush and Vice President Cheney to "tell the truth" about the war in Iraq, seizing on new admissions by former Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator L. Paul Bremer and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that undercut one of the administration's rationales for invading the country and its handling of the war's aftermath.
Speaking to reporters outside a middle school in rural eastern Iowa, the Democratic presidential candidate noted that Bremer said in a speech Monday that the U.S. had too few troops to secure the country, and that Rumsfeld separately admitted that there is no "strong, hard evidence" linking Iraq with Al Qaeda.
"It's time for the vice president to be accountable and to answer the questions that have arisen," Kerry said in Tipton, speaking hours before Cheney was scheduled to debate Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards.
"Folks, for weeks, I've been asking the president of the United States to level with the American people and to be candid about the situation in Iraq and about what we face," Kerry said. "Maybe he's simply unwilling to face the truth and to share it with the American people. But the president's stubbornness has prevented him from seeing each step of the way the difficulties and the ways in which we best protect our troops and best accomplish this mission."
The Massachusetts senator came to rural Cedar County — which Al Gore won by two votes in 2000 — to tout his plan for helping middle class Americans. But he spent much of the morning denouncing the president's handling of Iraq with criticism that drew raucous hollers of support and whistles from more than 1,000 supporters packed in the gym of Tipton Middle School.
During a lively town hall meeting, Kerry called on Cheney to use the debate to address Bremer's statement that the U.S. failed to prevent a surge in violence that has swept through Iraq.
"Now, I hope tonight Mr. Cheney can acknowledge those mistakes," Kerry said. "I hope Mr. Cheney can take responsibility."
The Bush campaign said Bremer's assessment contradicted that of U.S. military commanders, and reiterated its critique that Kerry has vacillated on the war.
"Ambassador Bremer differed with the commanders in the field," said campaign spokesman Brian Jones. "That is his right, but the president has always said that he will listen to his commanders on the ground and give them the support they need for victory.... This consistency stands in stark contrast to the shifting positions of John Kerry who voted for the war, voted against the troops for political gain, said the war was the 'right decision,' and said it was the 'wrong war.'"
But Kerry said the administration failed to secure Iraq after Saddam Hussein was removed from power, adding: "Our kids are being shot at today from the ammo of weapons from the ammo dump that they didn't guard.
"There are a long list of mistakes and I'm glad that Paul Bremer has finally admitted at least two of them — and the president of the United States needs to tell the truth to the American people," Kerry added. "I don't know if the president is constitutionally incapable of acknowledging the truth. I don't know if he's just so stubborn."
The senator said that Bush's statement that he still would have gone to war even if he had known the U.S. would find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq amounted to an admission that he had deceived the country into war.
"The Congress of the United States voted to disarm Saddam Hussein because we believed that he had the weapons of mass destruction," he said. "If the president is now arguing to America that was worthwhile to just go in and remove him anyway, regardless of the weapons, the president is effectively saying that he misled you, he would have gone anyway, that it didn't matter what happened at the U.N., it didn't matter about the inspections, it didn't matter about the weapons — he just wanted to removed Saddam Hussein."
Kerry drew the audience to its feet in a sustained standing ovation as he concluded: "Ladies and gentlemen, as I reminded him in the debate, it was not Saddam Hussein who attacked America, it was Al Qaeda and it was Osama bin Laden."
The Democrat is scheduled to head to Colorado this afternoon, where he will spend the next two days in a Denver suburb preparing for his next debate with Bush on Friday night.