Candidates Trade Barbs Over Missing Explosives
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SEN. JOHN KERRY: I believe we need a fresh start in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, John Kerry sharpened his attack on the president’s Iraq policy, and as he has all week, focused on Monday’s New York Times report that hundreds of tons of highly explosive material are missing in Iraq. The senator spoke at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, this morning.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: The Bush administration first response was to try to convince the American people that this was not a big deal– not a big deal that 380 tons of high-grade explosives were now likely in the hands of terrorists and insurgents.
Then the White House shifted, and they said that officials guarding the explosive dumps was not really a high priority, but guarding the Iraqi oil ministry was. (Applause) As more information was revealed in the press, the White House switched to their most comfortable position of all, the situation was bad, but it was not their responsibility.
Here are the facts: The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned the Bush administration, they warned the Bush administration, gave them notice before the war that this weapons site was critical and needed urgent protection. It was protected by them before the war. But because we were coming in and they were going out, they told us, “you better protect it.”
The U.S. commander who reached the site was never told to stop, and inspect it and protect it. He was never even told what it was. Col. Joseph Anderson, the commander of the army’s 101st airborne division said, and I quote him, I didn’t know what the place was supposed to be.This was not our mission, folks. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there – this is what he said – we were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad.
My friends, I want to make this clear to you. Our troops every step of the way, from the first moment, without body armor, without even the best equipment, they have done their job magnificently and with courage. (Applause) The troops did their job, but the Bush administration failed to tell them what they already knew, what they, the administration, knew, and what the international agencies already knew, that this site contained some of the largest quantities of the most dangerous explosives in Iraq.
What do we hear now from this president on this important matter of national security? Silence.
KWAME HOLMAN: Less than an hour later, President Bush made his first comments on the stolen explosives. Arriving in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the president spoke at a rally just off the airport runway.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: After repeatedly calling Iraq the “wrong war” and a “diversion,” Sen. Kerry this week seemed shocked to learn that Iraq was a dangerous place full of dangerous weapons. The senator used to know that, even though he seems to have forgotten it over the course of the campaign. But, after all, that’s why we’re there. Iraq was a dangerous place run by a dangerous tyrant who had a lot of weapons.
We have seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions, including explosives, at more than thousands of different sites, and we’re continuing to round up more weapons every day. I want to remind the American people if Sen. Kerry had his way, we would still be taking our global test. Saddam Hussein would still be in power; he would control all those weapons and explosives, and could have shared them with our terrorist enemies.
Now the senator is making wild charges about missing explosives when his top foreign policy adviser admits, “We do not know the facts.” Think about that. The senator’s denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts.
KWAME HOLMAN: But even as President Bush was leaving Pennsylvania to repeat his message in Ohio, a new Kerry campaign ad was on the airwaves in both states.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (KERRY CAMPAIGN AD): In Iraq, George Bush has overextended our troops and now failed to secure 380 tons of deadly explosives — the kind used for attacks in Iraq and for terrorist bombings. His Iraq misjudgments put our soldiers at risk and make our country less secure.
KWAME HOLMAN: In Washington, Pennsylvania, Vice President Cheney was quick to respond to the John Kerry ad.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: He rushed out to put up a TV ad saying there was a failure to secure these explosives when he has no idea if they were even there to be secure. The title of John Kerry’s TV ad is “Obligation,” which is pretty ironic if you think about it. The first obligation of a commander-in-chief is to support our men and women in combat, which… (applause) …which John Kerry failed to do a year ago when he failed against the funding they needed and which he is failing to do now with making accusations without knowing the facts. Our troops ought to be praised for the 400,000 tons of weapons and explosives they’ve captured.
KWAME HOLMAN: And President Bush continued to lash back at an afternoon rally near Youngstown, Ohio.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: See, our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including this one: That explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived, even arrived at the site. The investigation is important and ongoing. And a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not the person you want as the commander-in-chief.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, John Kerry’s running mate John Edwards joined the fray, speaking to supporters in Kendall, Florida.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: They did nothing to secure them. Now they’re gone. We don’t know who has them. It’s possible that terrorists have them. What did George Bush have to say about this? He said that John Kerry doesn’t support the troops. (Audience boos) What is he talking about? Aren’t you sick and tired of George Bush and Dick Cheney using our troops as shields to protect their own jobs instead of protecting the troops themselves? (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Late today, President Bush rallied supporters in Findlay, Ohio, and campaigns this evening in Pontiac, Michigan. He’s back in Ohio and in Pennsylvania tomorrow. Sen. Kerry was in Rochester, Minnesota, for a rally this afternoon. He travels to Iowa this evening and Ohio and Wisconsin tomorrow.