Looks like Bush is having trouble keeping his people on message. Are things unravelling for the Teflon President?

First off, Paul Bremer, former civilian overseer of occupied Iraq – under what he thought was a “confidential” speech at an insurance convention – that he never had enough troops in Iraq to get the job done right. Then Rumsfeld spoke the truth, when he said there was no connection between Iraq and al Qaieda.

How will this get spun?

Article archived here.Two US officials embarrass Bush on Iraq

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Statements by two top US policymakers contradicting administration dogma on Iraq (news – web sites) provided new fuel to relentless Democratic criticism of President George W. Bush (news – web sites) that have jolted his re-election bid.

Paul Bremer, former civilian overseer of occupied Iraq, said the United States never had enough troops on the ground to establish control and was remiss in not stamping out looting and other violence after Baghdad fell.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added to Bush’s embarrassment by saying he had not seen any convincing evidence linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) and Al-Qaeda terrorists as claimed by the White House.

Bremer and Rumsfeld both issued clarifications of their remarks, made in separate speeches Monday. But Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (news – web sites) wasted no time Tuesday in using them to score political points.

“There are a long list of mistakes,” the Massachusetts senator told a rally in the midwestern state of Iowa, a key battleground in the November 2 election. “I’m glad that Paul Bremer has finally admitted at least two of them.”

Kerry said that Bush “needs to tell the truth to the American people” about Iraq but addded, “I don’t know whether the president is constitutionally incapable of acknowledging the truth.”

The Democrat repeated his assertion Saddam was not connected to Al-Qaeda, drawing flak from Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt who said it contradicted the view of investigators, including an inquiry panel on the September 11, 2001 attacks.

“John Kerry’s incoherence on the security issues facing our country calls into question his ability to lead our nation in the war on terror,” Schmidt said in a statement.

Actually, the September 11 panel’s final report in July said Iraq had sporadic contacts with Osama bin Laden (news – web sites)’s movement but there was no evidence it developed a “collaborative relationship” with Al-Qaeda.

Kerry has been on a roll since his first televised debate with Bush last Thursday, where his pointed attacks on the rationale and conduct of the Iraq war rattled the usually sure-footed president.

Polls unanimously gave Kerry a victory in the encounter, with several showing him cutting deeply into the Republican’s standing on security issues and pulling even in the overall race.

Even ABC News, which had Bush clinging to a five-point lead, had bad news for him on Iraq. The number who said he had no clear strategy in the war rose six points to 48 percent; the percentage who felt Kerry had a plan rose five points to 42 percent.

Kerry, speaking at a news conference Monday, pulled back somewhat from his plan to entice other countries to contribute more troops and take some of the burden off the 133,000 US forces in Iraq.

“Does that mean allies are going to trade their young for our young in body-bags? I know they are not. I know that,” he said. But he said he could involve allies more in securing Iraq’s borders and training Iraqi security forces.

Republicans hope to refocus the campaign on Bush’s leadership in the war on terror after the September 11 attacks, and they said they would start in Tuesday night’s debate between the vice presidential candidates.

But the comments by Bremer and Rumsfeld could complicate their task as they echoed two main Kerry criticism, that Bush trumped up ties between Saddam and Al-Qaeda and did not support his March 2003 invasion with sufficient manpower.

“We never had enough troops on the ground,” Bremer told a conference in West Virginia, according to a transcript supplied by the organizers.

He said the lack of adequate patrols after the fall of Baghdad had allowed “horrid” looting. “We paid a big price for not stopping it, because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness.”

Bremer later sent a statement to the Washington Post, which carried his original remarks, to stress his belief “that we currently have sufficient troop levels in Iraq.”

Rumsfeld, in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, seemed to back away from his assertions in September 2002 of a decade-old history of contacts between Saddam and Al-Qaeda.

The defense chief, a key shaper of Iraq policy, said there were differences in the intelligence community as to what the relationship was. “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two,” he said.

But in a statement issued Monday, Rumsfeld said his comment was “misunderstood,” and added: “I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between Al-Qaeda and Iraq.”

By walterh

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