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Inside Politics

Kennedy slams Bush on Iraq

'Wrong war at the wrong time'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. Edward Kennedy
Sen. Edward Kennedy

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration's foreign policy, Sen. Edward Kennedy predicted Tuesday that a military strike against Iraq would "undermine" the war against terrorism, "feed a rising tide of anti-Americanism overseas" and strain diplomatic ties.

"Surely, we can have effective relationships with other nations without adopting a chip-on-the-shoulder foreign policy, a my-way-or-the-highway policy that makes all our goals in the world more difficult to achieve," Kennedy said in a speech delivered to the National Press Club.

While Kennedy's opposition to the administration's Iraqi policy is not surprising, his comments were particularly strong and come at a time when the president is struggling to build an international coalition to support a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.

Kennedy said U.N. weapons inspectors need more time to discover what kind of weapons Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may be amassing in Iraq.

"I continue to be convinced that this is the wrong war at the wrong time," Kennedy, the Senate's leading liberal said. "The threat from Iraq is not imminent and it will distract America from the two more immediate threats to our security: the clear and present danger of terrorism and the crisis with North Korea."

Bush, however, said Tuesday that Saddam was not disarming his nation and was giving the world community "the runaround." (Full story)

But in an interview with CNN, Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Bush administration not to rush toward any confrontation with Iraq.

"We need to be patient here; time is on our side here," Hagel said. He added that a "precipitous" move would "endanger not just Americans around the world, but it would endanger this country, our security, stability in the world for a long time to come because we were rash in using our power."

In his speech, Kennedy said Bush had displayed "impressive leadership" after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but suggested the administration was embarking on "a new unilateralism" that would prove dangerous.

The Massachusetts Democrat also took aim at Bush's domestic agenda, criticizing his proposed tax cuts, faulting his prescription drug plan for seniors and assailing the president's opposition to some affirmative action programs.

Kennedy said Bush had issued an "eloquent denunciation" of segregation last month when he criticized racially charged comments by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. But Kennedy said the president's action did not match his words, faulting his choice of judicial nominees and his opposition to an admissions policy, targeting minorities, at the University of Michigan.

"An administration that takes such a course, whether out of conviction or political calculation is no friend of minorities and no force for civil rights," Kennedy said.

Bush defends tax-cut proposals

He hit on issues that Democrats have been turning to with increasing fervor in the past few weeks, offering a hint of what are likely to be themes sounded throughout the 2004 presidential campaign.

Kennedy asserted the president's proposed package of tax breaks would benefit disproportionately the wealthiest taxpayers.

"We cannot say it is wartime for the rest of America, but still peacetime for the rich," Kennedy said, referencing Bush's calls in the past for Americans to make some sacrifice in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Tuesday morning, Bush -- who has called such Democratic criticism "class warfare" -- met with leading economists at the White House and made another pitch for his economic growth plan, which has an estimated price tag of $670 billion over 10 years.

The president described his proposal as "a plan which focuses on job creation, a plan which recognizes that money in the consumers' pocket will help grow this economy." He called on Congress to approve it.

Election prediction

In taking questions from the audience, Kennedy predicted that his Massachusetts colleague Sen. John Kerry would win the Democratic nomination for president and defeat Bush in 2004.

Kennedy offered his prediction when asked about the candidacy of civil rights activist Al Sharpton and who has the best chance of defeating Bush. Kennedy said he thought Sharpton would "add to the dialogue and the debate," but did not comment on his prospects in the race.

"I think my friend and colleague John Kerry is doing a great job," Kennedy said. "I think he was out early, he's worked hard, he's speaking to all of these issues, and I expect he will announce his candidacy and I expect to support him and I expect he'll win."

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