The Democratic senator argued in a speech at New York University that Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 had taken pressure off of the alleged masterminds of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the Untied States: "The president claims [Iraq] is the centerpiece of his war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy [Osama bin Laden and the terrorists]."
Kerry also said the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq has weakened U.S. national security by alienating Washington's traditional allies and unifying America's enemies: "The president misled, miscalculated, and mismanaged every aspect of this undertaking, and he has made the achievement of our objective -- a stable Iraq, secure within its borders with a representative government -- far harder to achieve than it ever should have been."
Amid the rising casualties, fears of a possible Iraqi civil war and questions about whether Iraqi elections can be held in January as scheduled, Kerry's campaign is now trying to make Iraq a key barometer of Bush's record in office.
"Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and if we do not change course, there is a prospect of war with no end in sight," Kerry said.
The Bush campaign has labeled as Kerry a "flip-flopper" -- that is, a candidate who keeps changing his positions on key issues rather than maintaining consistent views.
Bush echoed that during a campaign rally yesterday in the state of New Hampshire when he shot back at Kerry's attack.
"Today, my opponent continued his pattern of twisting in the wind with new contradictions of his old positions on Iraq. He apparently woke up this morning and has now decided, 'No, we should not have invaded Iraq,' after just last month saying he still would have voted for force -- even knowing everything we know today," Bush said.
Bush also questioned how Kerry could think the United States is less secure now than when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in power: "Incredibly, he now believes our national security would be stronger with Saddam Hussein in power and not in prison. Today, he said, and I quote, 'We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.' He is saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy. I couldn't disagree more. And not so long ago, so did my opponent."
Yesterday's exchange came as three nationally televised debates were scheduled to take place between Bush and Kerry during the next month.
The campaign teams yesterday announced that the debates would take place on 30 September and on 8 and 13 October.
A further debate, on 5 October, has also been scheduled between Vice President Dick Cheney and Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards (Democrat, North Carolina).