In Address to Guard, Kerry Says Bush Isn't Telling
Truth on Iraq
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: September 17, 2004
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LAS VEGAS, Sept. 16 - Senator John Kerry said at a National Guard
conference on Thursday that President Bush was living in "a fantasy
world of spin" and that the president had deceived them when he
presented an optimistic picture of the war in Iraq at the same
conference two days before.
"He failed to tell you the truth," Mr. Kerry, the Democratic
presidential nominee, said to a crowd that greeted him with restrained
applause. "You deserve better. The commander in chief has to level with
the troops and the nation."
Citing an intelligence estimate prepared for Mr. Bush in late July that
presents a bleak picture of prospects in Iraq, Mr. Kerry said the
president was turning his back on his own intelligence and ignoring the
reality that Iraq was increasingly in the hands of terrorists.
"He didn't tell you this," Mr. Kerry said, even though "his own
intelligence officials have warned him for weeks that the mission in
Iraq is in serious trouble.''
"That is the hard truth, as hard as it is to bear," he said, adding,
"I believe you deserve a president who isn't going to gild that truth,
or gild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore
his own intelligence, who isn't going to live in a different world of
spin, who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world
Mr. Kerry's comments were in sharp contrast to the optimistic outlook on
Iraq that Mr. Bush has been presenting on the campaign trail.
"This country is headed toward democracy," Mr. Bush said at a Thursday
morning campaign rally in St. Cloud, Minn., about five hours before Mr.
Kerry made his remarks at the Guard conference. "There's a strong prime
minister in place. They have a national council, and national elections
are scheduled for January. It wasn't all that long ago that Saddam
Hussein was in power with his torture chambers and mass graves."
The task of responding to Mr. Kerry fell to Vice President Dick Cheney,
who struck back quickly, saying at a campaign rally in Reno, Nev., that
while Mr. Kerry said "leadership starts with telling the truth,"
Americans "also know that true leadership requires the ability to make a
Mr. Cheney added that "Senator Kerry today said he would always be
straight with the American people on the good days and on the bad
"In Senator Kerry's case," he said, "that means when the headlines are
good he's for the war, and when his poll numbers are bad he's against
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, sought to play down
the difference between the president's public statements and the
classified assessment prepared under George J. Tenet, who stepped down
as director of central intelligence in July. "The role of the C.I.A. is
to look at different scenarios," Mr. McClellan told reporters on Air
Force One, adding that the intelligence estimate "really states the
obvious in what the president has said many times."
The assessments in the intelligence estimate outlined three
possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, ranging from a worst
case of civil war to a best case of tenuous stability. Mr. Kerry noted
in his speech that the information had appeared in The New York Times,
which first reported the assessments on Thursday. Aides to the senator
said his last intelligence briefing from the Bush administration, given
by tradition to the opposing party's presidential nominee, was more than
three weeks ago.
Mr. Kerry used the contrast between the gloomy intelligence estimate and
Mr. Bush's speech to the National Guard conference on Tuesday to charge
the president with deception. In those remarks, Mr. Bush said, "Despite
ongoing violence in Iraq, that country now has a strong prime minister,
a national council, and national elections are scheduled in January. The
world is changing for the better.''
Mr. Kerry's broadside against the president is part of a stepped-up
response from the senator's campaign to assaults from Mr. Bush and Mr.
Cheney in a tightening race. On Thursday, polls released by the Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press and Harris Interactive,
based on nationwide telephone surveys conducted since late last week,
showed the race nearly even among likely voters.
Mr. Kerry said nothing to the conference about Mr. Bush's service in the
National Guard three decades ago, when he failed to report for some of
his duty. The president's military record has become an explosive issue
in the campaign, but Mr. Kerry has largely left the attacks to
surrogates like former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia and Terry
McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
"It's just not something that gets you anywhere," said Michael D.
McCurry, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton and now a
Kerry spokesman, who began traveling with the campaign on Thursday. "We
sense that people are frustrated about the president's lack of clarity
about what we're going to do in Iraq, not about service in Vietnam."
Guard officers attending the convention echoed that assessment. "What
we've all talked about among ourselves is that what happened 30 years
ago is not important," said Major Monica M. Cory of Des Moines.
The convention of more than 4,000 Guard officers responded far more
coolly to Mr. Kerry than it had to Mr. Bush. The hall, which had been
full on Tuesday, had scattered empty chairs on Thursday as Mr. Kerry
arrived, and the group, which repeatedly interrupted the president's
speech with standing ovations and hoots of approval, offered Mr. Kerry a
polite but quieter reception.
At the point that Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush had not told the convention
the truth, a man shouted out "No!" As Mr. Kerry finished speaking, a few
officers sat in their chairs, arms crossed. Col. Joanne F. Sheridan, of
the Louisiana National Guard, got up and walked out before he was done.
"Mine was a silent protest to what he was saying," Colonel Sheridan said
later. "What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on
Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so
I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying. Here, he came before a
military audience, but he said what he said for the media, for the
television cameras - not for us, that's for sure."
Other officers praised Mr. Kerry for saying he supported lowering the
Guard retirement age to 55 and allowing guardsmen to have access to
military medical coverage even when they are not deployed.
Monica Davey contributed reporting for this article.