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Iraq Looms as Top Issue in 1st Bush-Kerry Debate - 2004-09-30


President Bush and Democratic Party challenger John Kerry face-off in their first debate Thursday focusing on U.S. foreign policy. Iraq will dominate the foreign policy debate as each man tries to portray the other as out of touch with reality.

Senator Kerry says Americans have paid more than their fair share in lives and dollars in Iraq, because President Bush ordered last year's invasion without a broad enough alliance to share those costs.

"Instead of bringing the world together against the terrorists, the president alienated the countries, whose help we need to defeat them," said Mr. Kerry. "That was the wrong choice."

President Bush says Senator Kerry is denigrating the more than 30 countries that are helping in Iraq and suggests the Democrat would make America less secure by bending to international will.

"You can't build alliances, if you criticize the efforts of those who are working side by side with you," said Mr. Bush. "So, we will build alliances, but I assure you, I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries."

Despite continuing violence in Iraq, President Bush says he was right to topple Saddam Hussein because it has made America safer. "It's tough work, no question about it. We've done tough work before," said Mr. Bush. "But if Saddam Hussein were in power, our security would be threatened. If Saddam Hussein were in power there would still be mass graves and torture chambers in Iraq."

Senator Kerry says President Bush was determined to invade Iraq, regardless of the immediacy of its threat. "Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan, the president rushed into a new war in Iraq. That was the wrong choice," said Mr. Kerry.

In a meeting at the White House recently, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi backed up Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and criticized those who question the president's optimistic view of the challenges ahead. "When governments negotiate with terrorists, everyone in the free world suffers," said Mr. Allawi. "When political leaders sound the sirens of defeatism in the face of terrorism, that only encourages more violence."

Senator Kerry says Prime Minister Allawi and President Bush are trying to put the best face on a situation that he says is getting worse. President Bush questions Senator Kerry's ability to lead.

"My opponent chose to criticize the prime minister of Iraq," added Mr. Bush. "This brave man came to our country to talk about how he is risking his life for a free Iraq which helps America, and Senator Kerry held a press conference to question Prime Minister Allawi's credibility. You can't lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility."

President Bush says the war on terror and the war in Iraq are linked, and Iraq is the central front in the fight against terrorism. "If we stop fighting terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere, in America and other free nations," said Mr. Bush.

Senator Kerry says war in Iraq has drawn attention away from a broader fight. "George Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority," he said. "I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority."

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, but Senator Kerry has yet to turn that to his advantage, as the president continues to lead in most polls.

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