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Bush and Kerry Spar Over Iraq War, Economy - 2004-08-12

President Bush is criticizing Democratic challenger John Kerry for what he says is his misunderstanding of the fight against terrorism. Senator Kerry's campaign says the president's unilateral approach to the war in Iraq has made fighting terrorism more difficult.

President Bush says he thought U.S. troops would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as that was his biggest justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.

But even though none of those weapons has yet been found, Mr. Bush told labor supporters in the state of Nevada that knowing what he knows now, he still would have ordered the invasion because Saddam Hussein may have eventually developed those weapons and given them to terrorists.

Senator Kerry has been critical of the president's handling of the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush returned to a series of rhetorical attacks against what he calls his opponent's flip-flopping on major issues, pointing out that Senator Kerry voted to authorize the president's use of force. "Looked like for awhile he was trying to squirm out of that vote. The other day he said that knowing what we know today, he agreed that the use of force in Iraq was necessary," he said. "I welcome that clarification. Still got 82 days left in the campaign, though."

If elected, Senator Kerry says he would do a better job of getting more of the world to agree on a plan for fighting terrorism to better share both the financial and military costs.

President Bush says he has put together what he calls a great coalition to fight terrorism and will continue working with friends and allies if he is re-elected. But he portrayed Senator Kerry's quest for greater consensus as a weakness that could threaten America's security. "Countries all around the world understand what we know, that free societies are peaceful societies. They understand the stakes. They know what is really important, but I'll assure you, I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries," he said.

Senator Kerry's campaign says he would have handled the threat from Iraq much differently than President Bush who Democrats say rushed into the war without support from enough allies and without the proper training of U.S. troops. The Kerry campaign says Mr. Bush had no clear plan to win the peace after the fighting and did not sufficiently examine the quality of the intelligence leading to the miscalculation about weapons of mass destruction.

Campaigning in California Thursday, the Massachusetts Senator did not directly mention his dispute with the president over Iraq. Instead, he criticized the Bush administration's handling of the economy, specifically tax cuts for companies that shift jobs overseas. "Instead of supporting an economic policy that thinks sending jobs overseas is good for America, we are going to provide incentives for companies that create and keep the jobs right here where they belong right here in the good old USA," he said.

Most public opinion polls show Senator Kerry with a slight lead over President Bush. Mr. Kerry is ahead on economic issues. Mr. Bush is still leading when it comes to fighting terrorism.