NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In one of his most pointed critiques of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq, Sen. John F. Kerry on Wednesday cataloged what he called a series of missteps in postwar planning that have allowed terrorism to flourish.
Speaking to thousands of American Legion members gathered in Nashville for their annual convention, the Democratic presidential candidate cited decisions by the “civilian leadership” that he said left Iraqi security forces unprepared for their new tasks, the country’s borders insecure and its weapons unattended.
“Terrorists have secured havens in Iraq that were not there before,” said Kerry, standing on stage in a cavernous hotel ballroom. “And we have been forced to reach accommodation with those who have repeatedly attacked our troops. Violence has spread in Iraq; Iran has expanded its influence; and extremism has gained momentum.”
While many of the American Legion delegates enthusiastically applauded remarks Kerry made earlier in his speech about the need for better veterans benefits, his criticism of the administration’s foreign policy was received coolly and the room remained silent as he detailed his view of what has gone wrong in Iraq.
“Now, I know that some of these things are hard to listen to,” the candidate said, breaking from his prepared remarks to acknowledge the silence. “But I think the president himself … admitted that he miscalculated in Iraq,” Kerry added, referring to a remark Bush made in a New York Times interview. “In truth, his miscalculation was ignoring the advice that was given to him, including the best advice of America’s own military.”
With his address, the Massachusetts senator attempted to regain traction after a rough month in which he fielded harsh denunciations of his war record and saw his standing in some polls decline.
Some Democratic Party activists have grown increasingly concerned about the state of Kerry’s campaign, with several publicly urging him to shift gears and some privately suggesting that he shake up his staff.
“We haven’t taken the gloves off yet,” said Roger Wilson, the state Democratic Party chairman in Missouri. “We’re letting them define someone who served honorably in Vietnam when the records of our incumbent president can’t even be found.”
Kerry’s aides have dismissed reports of internal upheaval. “The marathon is about to turn into a sprint, and we have a team that’s ready to take on the Bush attack machine and win,” spokesman David Wade said.