Boston Globe Staff
Wednesday 3 April 2003
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. - Senator John F. Kerry said yesterday that President Bush committed a ''breach of trust'' in the eyes of many United Nations members by going to war with Iraq, creating a diplomatic chasm that will not be bridged as long as Bush remains in office.
''What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States,'' Kerry said in a speech at the Peterborough Town Library.
Despite pledging two weeks ago to cool his criticism of the administration once war began, Kerry unleashed a barrage of criticism as US troops fought within 25 miles of Baghdad.
By echoing the ''regime change'' line popular with hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters who have demonstrated across the nation in recent weeks, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential contender seemed to be reaching out to a newly invigorated constituency as rival Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont and a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, closes in on Kerry in opinion polls.
Kerry said that he had spoken with foreign diplomats and several world leaders as recently as Monday while fund-raising in New York and that they told him they felt betrayed when Bush resorted to war in Iraq before they believed diplomacy had run its course.
He said the leaders, whom he did not identify, believed that Bush wanted to ''end-run around the UN.''
''I don't think they're going to trust this president, no matter what,'' Kerry said. ''I believe it deeply, that it will take a new president of the United States, declaring a new day for our relationship with the world, to clear the air and turn a new page on American history.''
With a dig at Bush's previous lack of foreign policy experience, Kerry said he would usher in a new US foreign policy if he stood before the United Nations as president.
''I believe we can have a golden age of American diplomacy,'' he said, outlining his own foreign policy credentials in the speech. ''But it will take a new president who is prepared to lead, and who has, frankly, a little more experience than visiting the sum total of two countries'' before taking office.
The criticism appeared to contradict statements Kerry made on March 18, just a day before Bush authorized military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Kerry, who previously had been critical of Bush's efforts to reach out to the international community, was reluctant that day to answer when a television crew asked him whether the administration had handled its diplomatic efforts poorly.
''You know, we're beyond that now,'' the senator said after addressing the International Association of Fire Fighters. ''We have to come together as a country to get this done and heal the wounds.''
Kerry, a Navy veteran of Vietnam, said he strongly supported US troops. ''There will be plenty of time here to be critical about how we arrived here,'' he said at that time. In response to questions after his speech yesterday, Kerry reiterated his support for the troops.
He also joined the administration in blasting ''armchair generals'' who are criticizing the war plan.
''War is war,'' he said. ''It's tough, and I think there's a little too much armchair quarterbacking and Monday-morning reviewing going on. I think we need to trust in the process for a few days here. This is only  days old, and they've achieved quite a remarkable advance in that period of time.''
When asked to square his criticism with his pledge of restraint two weeks earlier, Kerry first said that he had tempered his criticism of the administration's diplomatic efforts.
Then he said: ''It is possible that the word `regime change' is too harsh. Perhaps it is.''
Finally, he said his overall criticism of the administration was part of ''the healthy democracy of the United States of America'' and no different from some of the war critiques published on the front page of major newspapers. ''Is that unpatriotic?'' he asked.
A top Republican strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kerry was ''free to express his beliefs, but if anyone should be aware of the sensitivities of how our leaders should be conducting themselves while we're at war, I would think Senator Kerry would.''
''The president doesn't have the luxury of a campaign timeline to address the crisis of terrorism and its manifestation in Saddam Hussein,'' the strategist said.
During his opening remarks and on several occasions as he answered questions from the audience of more than 100 people, Kerry said he was the most experienced candidate in either party in terms of foreign policy and national security background.
''We need a president of the United States who has a vision of the world that is very different from what these excessively ideological unilateralists want to thrust on us and the rest of the world,'' said the 18-year veteran of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Taking aim at Attorney General John D. Ashcroft at one point, the senator added: ''One of the reasons why I am running for president of the United States is that I look forward with pleasure and zeal for the opportunity to appoint an attorney general of the United States who believes and reads and abides by the Constitution.''
Kerry was equally critical of his rivals for the Democratic nomination.
''I believe that I have a better capacity than any other candidate running in the field to be able to stand up and address questions of national security and America's role in the world with credibility and history, and to be able to move us to those areas where we win, which is on the domestic agenda,'' he said.
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