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Tim Kaine says Trump’s claim that he opposed the Iraq war was ‘made up’

Tim Kaine
Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine speaks Tuesday during a campaign rally in Wilmington, N.C.
(Chuck Burton / Associated Press)

Vice presidential hopeful Tim Kaine warned that Donald Trump was too unpredictable and dangerous to entrust with the powers of commander in chief, accusing the Republican of misleading the public on his past foreign policy views and of expressing a fondness for dictators at the expense of traditional U.S. allies.

Speaking in North Carolina on Tuesday in what Hillary Clinton’s campaign billed as a major national security address, the Virginia senator performed the customary role of a running mate, seeking to dismantle Trump’s qualifications to lead the nation on the world stage while praising Clinton’s.

Kaine said the issue of national security is personal to him, with a son deployed overseas with the Marines. While he trusted Clinton with decisions that directly involved his family, the prospect of Trump as commander in chief “scares me to death,” he said.

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“Under his leadership, we would be unrecognizable to the rest of the world.  And we’d be far less safe,” Kaine said.

Kaine focused his criticisms on three key areas: the Middle East, Russia and Latin America.

He noted that Trump often claims to have opposed the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq from the start — as he did again at his own campaign event Tuesday. But Kaine cataloged contemporaneous statements by Trump – including one he made to radio host Howard Stern in 2002 supporting the impending invasion. 

“It’s one of the main rationales for his candidacy.  And it’s completely made up,” he said. “He says whatever he feels like at any given time because that’s what you do when you’re a TV star.  But you can’t do that when you’re president of the United States.”

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Kaine also accused Trump of a “bizarre fascination with strongmen and authoritarian leaders,” noting he once rented space at one of his New York estates for then-Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi to pitch a tent.

But Kaine focused on Trump’s seeming courtship of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kaine said that while it seems obvious why Russia is seeking to influence the U.S. election for its own interests, “the bigger question is why Trump seems to support Russian interests against American ones.”

Kaine argued that a Clinton administration would continue the Obama administration’s foreign policy focus on its own hemisphere, working with what he said were the flourishing democracies in Latin America rather than “wall ourselves off.”

He accused Trump of “choking” when it came to his trademark pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, referring to his recent trip to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at which he claimed not to have discussed the touchy topic of who would pay for it. At his rallies, Trump frequently insists that Mexico will fund the project.

“Turns out, Donald isn’t such a great negotiator after all,” he said.

And when Peña Nieto wrote on social media that he had raised the issue directly, Kaine said, Trump retaliated by toughening up his own planned immigration speech and launching a “Twitter war” with the U.S. ally.

“I guess we should be glad it was only a Twitter war,” Kaine added, noting that soon Trump could have the U.S. armed forces at his disposal.

Kaine’s focus was not entirely on Trump, though, as he sought to offer his own credentials for a position that could put him in line for the presidency.

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As a mayor and governor, Kaine noted, he was responsible for the safety of his city’s and state’s citizens, and also oversaw a National Guard unit that deployed in conflict. He noted his service the last four years on the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and his travels to foreign capitals.

“These weren’t quick drop-bys or photo ops,” he said.

He said Clinton shared his commitment to seek a vote from Congress to authorize U.S. military action against Islamic State, something that has been a priority for him in the last two years. The Obama administration has said its campaign against the terrorist group is already sanctioned under a post-Sept. 11 congressional resolution, though it also welcomes an authorization specifically targeting Islamic State.

Kaine’s speech Tuesday came amid a broader effort by the campaign to refocus on national security issues and Trump’s qualifications, as polls show a tightening contest after the traditional Labor Day campaign milestone.

While Kaine was courting voters in Wilmington, a military-minded community in North Carolina, Trump was near a military community in Kaine’s state fielding questions from retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. 

“Look how bad her decisions have been,” Trump said of Clinton. “Virtually every decision she’s made has been a loser.”

michael.memoli@latimes.com

For more 2016 campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter

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