Vice President Dick Cheney launched a wide-ranging attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Wednesday by calling him weak on defense and dismissive of US allies on Iraq.
Cheney, speaking as the US this week marks the one-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, offered a harsher critique of Kerry than any other senior Bush administration official has done to date.
Cheney rejected Kerry's criticism that the US-led 34-nation coalition on Iraq -- which lacked some major traditional allies who refused to go along with the war -- was merely "window-dressing" and a "coalition of the coerced and the bribed."
"If such dismissive terms are the vernacular of the golden age of diplomacy Senator Kerry promises, we're left to wonder which nations would care to join any future coalition," Cheney said.
He said Kerry speaks "as if only those who openly oppose America's objectives have a chance of earning his respect."
The vice president, on a western US campaign swing, spoke to supporters at the library of former Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Cheney said some of Kerry's Senate votes were rife with "inconsistencies and changing rationales." He said Kerry voted against weapons used in Iraq such as the Tomahawk cruise missile, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Apache helicopter.
"Whatever the explanation, whatever the nuances he might fault us for neglecting, it is not an impressive record for someone who aspires to be commander in chief in this time of testing for our country," Cheney said.
Rand Beers, who left the Bush administration a year ago and now advises Kerry, said Cheney was trying to change the topic because the administration was "uncomfortable with having to face questions about their own stewardship."
The Kerry campaign also issued an e-mail response entitled: "Cheney comes out of the bunker: But ... he's the wrong man to challenge John Kerry on defense."
It quoted Cheney as saying after the 1991 Gulf War that he had no regrets about leaving Saddam Hussein in power, because if coalition forces had gone on to Baghdad after driving Iraqi forces from Kuwait, "the US would have been all alone."
The Bush and Kerry camps, running basically neck and neck in the polls, are lobbing attack after attack at each other to try to gain an edge.
Cheney devoted about half his speech to foreign policy. He said last week's Madrid bombings that killed 201 people in Spain, which had supported US policy in Iraq, may well be evidence "of how fearful the terrorists are of a free and democratic Iraq."
"Our determination is unshakable," he said.
Although the Bush campaign views the president's handling of the war on terror as a key selling point for his re-election, the Kerry campaign enlisted former Democratic candidate Wesley Clark to criticize Bush on security.
Clark told reporters Bush erred in launching the war on Iraq, when he should have stayed focused on al-Qaeda.
"What we did is give al-Qaeda a breathing spell," he said.
Clark accused Bush of not following through effectively to root out terrorism after the 2001 war in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and close down al-Qaeda camps there.
He likened the fight against terror to administering an antibiotic and said the US "killed the easy germs" in Afghanistan operations. But similar to an antibiotic, he said, the "germs" grow stronger if you don't follow the full course of treatment.
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