President Bush and his former Democratic presidential rival, Senator John Kerry, are engaged in a verbal battle over the situation in Iraq, with the President accusing the Massachusetts Democrat of insulting U.S. troops and Kerry lambasting Bush for a failed policy. The rhetoric escalated Tuesday, one week before crucial midterm elections that will determine control of the U.S. Congress.
What sparked the heated exchange between President Bush and Senator Kerry were remarks the Senate Democrat made to students at a college in California earlier this week. "You know, education - if you make the most of it - you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," he said.
President Bush seized on Kerry's remarks Tuesday as he campaigned for Republican congressional candidates in the southern U.S. state of Georgia. "The Senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and shameful. The members of the United States military are plenty smart and plenty brave, and the Senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology," he said.
Kerry, traveling in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington Tuesday, told reporters his statement was, in his words, a "botched joke" about the president and the president's people, and not about U.S. troops.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who may run for the White House again in 2008, said he would apologize to no one for his criticism of the president and his broken policy. "If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the president and his failed team, a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp, rubber stamp, policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families," he said.
Kerry's Republican Senate colleague, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is also a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, echoed Mr. Bush's call for Kerry to apologize to U.S. troops.
The war in Iraq is a key issue in the midterm election campaign.
With public opinion polls showing most Americans disapproving of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war, Democrats hope that public dissatisfaction will translate into their party retaking control of one or both houses of Congress on November 7.