WAR POSITION President challenges opponent
John Kerry has not said whether he would have gone to war, Bush says.
STRATHAM, N.H. -- President Bush challenged Democratic rival John Kerry on Friday to give a yes or no answer about whether he would have supported the invasion of Iraq, "knowing what we know now" about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
"I have given my answer," Bush told a cheering crowd. "We did the right thing and the world is better off for it."
Kerry's campaign said he already had answered the question -- and then criticized Bush's handling of the war anew.
Kerry voted to give Bush the authority to send troops to Iraq. "As John Kerry has said previously, it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, and we're glad he's gone," said Susan Rice, the Democrat's senior adviser for national security affairs.
She said that Bush had "rushed into war without our allies, without a plan to win the peace and without properly equipping our troops."
With persistent violence and climbing casualties, Iraq has become a problem for Bush, turning what once was believed to be an asset for his re-election campaign into a vulnerability. Only about four in 10 Americans support the president's handling of Iraq, polls show, and just a third say he has a clear plan to deal with the situation. Nevertheless, Bush tried to put Kerry on the defensive.
Holding his position
"Now, there are some questions that a commander in chief needs to answer with a clear yes or no," Bush said. "My opponent hasn't answered the question of whether, knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq. That's an important question, and the American people deserve a clear yes or no answer."
Bush said America was safer because Saddam Hussein sits in a prison cell. "Even though we did not find the stockpiles that we thought we would find, we did the right thing," the president said. "He had the capability, and he could have passed that capability on to our enemies."
Bush also said Kerry's criticism of his Iraq policies merely shows the Democrat doesn't understand who America is up against.
"My opponent said something the other day I strongly disagree with -- he said that going to war with a terrorist is actually improving their recruiting efforts," Bush said, referring to a remark Kerry made Monday.
"Now, that's upside-down logic," Bush said. "It shows a misunderstanding of the enemy."
Anti-American forces were training in the 1990s, Bush said. "They don't need an excuse for their hatred, and it is wrong to blame America for the anger and evil of the killers."
"We don't create terrorists by fighting back. We defeat the terrorists by fighting back," he said.
Bush spoke to several hundred cheering supporters at a political picnic.
Kerry, whose nominating convention highlighted his war service and focused on national security, has narrowed the gap on Bush's strong suit of protecting the country, according to an Associated Press poll that shows the race remains tight.
Flanked by his Vietnam crewmates, Kerry delivered an acceptance speech last week laden with references to patriotism, his decorated military record and his qualifications for commander in chief -- a theme underscored by speaker after speaker over the four-day gathering.
In the AP survey conducted Tuesday through Thursday, 43 percent said Kerry would do a better job of protecting the country -- a gain of 8 percentage points for the Democratic presidential nominee from a similar survey in March.