Sen. Edward Kennedy said America faces a higher risk of nuclear attack because of President Bush’s policies in a Monday speech at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium.
In his 30-minute, nationally televised speech, the Massachusetts Democrat gave the audience a 13-point list of the president’s failings in both the invasion and rebuilding of Iraq and the war on terrorism. He charged that top administration officials have misallocated money in Iraq and warned that the United States could face another terrorist attack.
“The Bush administration’s focus on Iraq has left us needlessly more vulnerable to an al Qaeda attack with a nuclear weapon,” said Kennedy, who was surrounded by American flags. “The greatest danger we face in the months ahead is a nuclear 9/11. The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely, and it never should have happened.”
Kennedy also accused Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of misallocating money in Iraq and providing no-bid contracts to U.S. companies such as Halliburton. He further criticized Bush for neglecting troops stationed in Iraq.
“What kind of leadership is it, when month after month, our troops on patrol are so urgently in need of protective armor that they call home in desperation and ask their loved ones to buy armor at the local store and Fed-Ex it to them in Iraq?” Kennedy said.
The senator lambasted Bush for waning international support of U.S. policy, describing his foreign policy as “shoot first and ask questions later.” Kennedy blamed the president for allowing numerous terrorist groups to emerge on his watch.
“For two years, terrorist cells have been spreading like cancer cells,” he said. “Any doctor who let that happen would be guilty of malpractice. Is it only coincidence that one of the principal domestic priorities of the Bush administration is to protect doctors from malpractice lawsuits?”
The speech, which was delivered to students, staff and around 60 of Kennedy’s personal guests, also focused on attacks leveled by Bush against Democratic opponent John Kerry.
Kennedy has a close relationship with his fellow Massachusetts senator, and several of his former staffers work on the Kerry campaign. According to some recent polls, Kerry trails Bush by several percentage points with five weeks to go before the November election.
“How dare President Bush accuse John Kerry of flip flops on the war in Iraq? My response is, ‘Physician, heal thyself,'” he said. “President Bush is the all-time world record holder for flip flops.”
After his speech, Kennedy fielded five of the crowd’s questions, which were read by Laila Hasan, president of the GW College Democrats. The senator also took time to shake hands with audience members.
While the afternoon’s address was politically charged, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, as he introduced Kennedy, said the event was consistent with the University’s “commitment to the principles of free and open debate.”
Trachtenberg, an ardent Democrat, also gave an informal invitation to Bush to come speak at GW. The president last visited GW in October 2002, when he called on increased minority homeownership on the same podium Kennedy criticized him from on Monday.
Sophomore Joseph Stoffolano said Kennedy’s point-by-point approach to criticizing the president’s policies was very effective.
“He made a lot of good points. It’s nice that someone finally consolidated them into one speech,” Stoffolano said. “I even saw a few Republicans standing up and clapping.”
Jennifer Riedinger, a sophomore who said she is voting for Bush in November, said she was impressed by the speech.
“I disagree with him on most of the things he said, but I thought it was a great speech,” she said. “His arguments made sense – they weren’t just the angry ranting you hear from other Democrats.”
Riedinger also criticized the content of Kennedy’s remarks, adding, “He didn’t defend Kerry’s positions on Iraq. Everyone is attacking Bush’s policies but no one has any suggestions of what to do instead.”