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Kerry says Bush fails US commander in chief test
Updated: 2004-10-27 00:03

Democratic challenger John Kerry turned the tables on Republicans who call him unfit to be commander in chief and said on Tuesday President Bush failed the "fundamental obligation" of the job -- to keep America as safe as possible.

The Massachusetts senator accused Bush of trying to hide until after next week's election news that 380 tons of powerful explosives were taken from an Iraqi military installation following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"He has stood in front of the American people day after day, telling us how much progress we are making in Iraq and how much safer we are under his leadership," Kerry said. "And what did the president have to say about the missing explosives? Not a word."

"Mr. President, what else are you being silent about? What else are you keeping from the American people?" he asked.

With the deadlocked election a week away and campaigning in the key battleground state of Wisconsin, as was Bush, Kerry kept pummeling the president on national security, an issue polls have shown favors the president.

Two days after he chided Bush for trying to scare Americans, Kerry told supporters at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay the unaccounted-for explosives could be in the hands of terrorists and could "produce bombs powerful enough to demolish entire buildings, blow up airplanes, destroy tanks and kill our troops."

"Over the last four years, he has failed in his fundamental obligation as commander in chief to make America as safe and secure as we should be," Kerry declared.

Both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have tried to raise doubts about Kerry's ability to fight the war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, suggesting he would not pursue them aggressively enough.

With Republicans claiming the world would be a more dangerous place with him in the White House, Kerry struck back, rebuking Bush for failing to tell the truth about Iraq or to face the consequences of his choices.

"When a commander in chief makes the wrong decisions, America's security pays the price," he said.


Kerry also called Cheney "out of touch" for describing Iraq as "a remarkable success story" despite the steady diet of bad news -- attacks on U.S. troops, the murder of Iraqi policemen, kidnappings and beheadings -- that Americans get from television every day.

"They don't see it, they don't get it, they can't fix it," he said. "I can and I will."

Both Bush and Kerry have vowed to stay the course in Iraq, but Kerry said he would do a better job of bringing in allies to help with reconstruction and security, even though countries like France and Germany who opposed the war have given no indication of new willingness to contribute even if the Democrat wins on Nov. 2.

Blasting the expected White House request for another $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan as "the incredible price of going it almost alone," Kerry asked: "How much more will the American people have to pay?"

Broadening his stinging critique from Iraq to homeland security, Kerry said Bush still had not done the necessary work to protect America after Sept. 11 because he was "too busy protecting his tax cuts for the wealthy and well connected."

More than 100 U.S. chemical plants are vulnerable to attack, American borders remain unsecured and 95 percent of the containers arriving at U.S. ports every day are not physically inspected, he said.


Kerry pledged to invest $60 million more in homeland security over the next decade to help screen cargo for nuclear materials, create a single, integrated terrorist watch list and increase the number of border patrol agents.

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