(ABC)ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Sept. 17, 2004 — Democratic Sen. John Kerry on Friday accused the Bush administration of hiding a plan to mobilize more National Guard and reserve troops after the election while glossing over a worsening conflict in Iraq.
“He won’t tell us what congressional leaders are now saying, that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and guard units immediately after the election,” Kerry said. “Hide it from people through the election, then make the move.”
The Democratic presidential candidate listed examples where he sees Bush misleading voters about Iraq, seeking to turn the conflict into a liability for Bush even as the president polishes his credentials as the best candidate to deter terrorists and protect the nation. Kerry portrayed the president as out of touch with a serious and dangerous situation.
“With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?” Kerry said. “Does he really know what’s happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?”
Kerry spoke as the House’s top Democrat said the president should “stop being in denial” about escalating problems in Iraq.
“It’s clear that this administration didn’t know what it was getting into, or else they grossly misrepresented the facts to the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “In either case, staying the course is not an option.”
Kerry said the president is avoiding hard truths about troops casualties, new insurgencies and troop shortages.
“He doesn’t tell us that with each passing day, we’re seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings. He won’t tell us that the Pentagon itself has reported that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and insurgents where they weren’t before,” Kerry said. “He won’t tell us that, day by day, we’re running out of soldiers and that we’re now resorted to a backdoor draft of our reservists and our National Guard.”
In a statement, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the ranking member on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and a former Marine who served in Vietnam, said Friday that he has learned through conversations with Pentagon officials that beginning in November, “the Bush administration plans to call up large numbers of the military Guard and Reserves, to include plans that they previously had put off to call up the Individual Ready Reserve.”
The Bush campaign immediately denied the assertion about troop deployments.
“John Kerry’s conspiracy theory of a secret troop deployment is completely irresponsible,” said spokesman Steve Schmidt. “John Kerry didn’t launch this attack when he spoke to the National Guard because he knows they know it is false and ridiculous.”
Kerry’s campaign also intensified its criticism of the vice president and defense contractor Halliburton, the company Cheney used to lead, as an aspect of the administration’s management of the war.
“Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers,” Kerry said.
In a new television ad, which went on the air Friday in Oregon and other battleground states, the Democrat suggests that Cheney has conflicts of interest stemming from money he received from Halliburton under a deferred compensation agreement.
The ad also contends that Halliburton wasted taxpayer money, in contracts awarded without competitive bidding, that could have been better used at home. Several investigations have found evidence of overcharging or raised questions about the company’s performance.
The Bush-Cheney campaign denied any conflicts of interest existed for Cheney, saying that deferred compensation agreements aren’t uncommon and that the vice president has no influence on contracts awarded to his former employer.
A new radio ad running in New Hampshire and Florida says “the Saudi royal family appreciates the support” when Americans fill up their tanks at gas stations. “Who does the royal family support? George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.”
The radio ad says that “No administration’s ever been so close to big oil and foreign oil,” and that the Bush administration “gives Saudi Prince Bandar classified briefings.”