Published: October 21 2004
John Kerry on Wednesday put what he called President George W. Bush's “disdain” for the international community at the heart of his campaign for the White House, arguing that the president's treatment of allies “gave them an excuse to stay on the sidelines” in Iraq.
Mr Kerry's speech laid bare a fundamental difference between Mr Bush and his Democratic challenger about America's place in the world.
Mr Kerry is promising to rebuild alliances, calculating that voters will punish Mr Bush for the fall in America's standing overseas. The president, judging that Americans prize independence over popularity, is warning that Mr Kerry will sell out to the international community.
“At every turn, before the war, in its immediate aftermath and today, this administration has treated potential allies with disdain,” Mr Kerry said in a sweeping indictment of Mr Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism. “As president, I will treat our allies with respect.”
As Mr Kerry was leaving Iowa, Mr Bush was arriving in the state to speak about domestic issues and keep up his warnings on the danger of electing Mr Kerry.
Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, said: “Senator Kerry has a pre-9/11 mindset that shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terrorism. It's an approach based on responding to attacks.”
The Bush campaign has highlighted Mr Kerry's internationalism to portray him as a man who would pander to foreign capitals.
Mr Kerry said he would ensure that countries were not blacklisted from contracts in Iraq. If elected, he said, he would create an international advisory group to give a voice to key allies, the major powers and Iraq's neighbours.
Attacking Mr Bush's record on homeland security, the growing nuclear threat from North Korea and the failure to catch or kill Osama bin Laden, Mr Kerry concluded: “On George Bush's watch, America is more threatened than [it was] before.”
Mr Kerry's speech came as outside voices added to the clamour of Mr Bush and Mr Kerry's furious campaigning.
Pat Robertson, founder of the US Christian Coalition and generally an ardent supporter of Mr Bush, said that he had warned Mr Bush before the war about the need to prepare Americans for the prospect of casualties in Iraq. But Mr Bush had told him: “We're not going to have any casualties.”
“I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, ‘Mr President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties’,” Mr Robertson said.
Those comments were seized on by the Kerry campaign, which called on Mr Bush to confirm Mr Robertson account.
Bill Clinton, the former president who is recovering from heart surgery, will campaign with Mr Kerry in Philadelphia on Monday.