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Wednesday, Jun. 02, 2004 at 9:17 AM
May 28 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry called for increasing the U.S. military by 40,000 troops, probably for a decade, in order ``to match its new missions'' in the war on terror and homeland security.
``I make this simple pledge,'' Kerry, 60, said in remarks prepared for delivery to veterans and military families in Green Bay, Wisconsin. ``If I am president, I will fight for a constant standard of decency and respect for those who serve their country in our armed forces -- on active duty and as veterans.''
The added troops would help ``relieve over-extended'' National Guard and reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kerry spokesman David Wade said. Half of the additional 40,000 troops would be used as military police and for civil affairs, tasks now mainly carried out by reservists; the other 20,000 would be combat troops. The U.S. now has about 138,000 troops in Iraq.
Kerry's plan is one of four priorities for a new U.S. security policy he outlined yesterday in Seattle. His other three priorities are: to forge new international alliances, use diplomacy and economic leverage in addition to military might and reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Wade said Kerry would pay for the added troops by making cuts elsewhere in the Pentagon budget. He gave no specifics.
Bush's re-election campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Kerry's plan. Campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said yesterday that Kerry, as senator, ``said it would be irresponsible to vote against money for our troops in Iraq, and then voted against the money.''
Extending Health Care
Kerry, a four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts, also says in his planned remarks that he would extend U.S. military health care to the National Guard, reservists and their families and ensure that deployed soldiers are fully equipped. He also proposes a tax credit for small businesses struggling to pay reservists and National Guard called up for duty.
``Kerry has to be careful in the campaign not to be perceived as too eager to change the course of U.S. policy toward Iraq,'' said Mark Rozell, head of Catholic University's politics department in Washington. ``His policy options are limited by what Bush decides and he cannot say too much in a critical way or else he risks being perceived as undermining the U.S. war effort. It is a delicate balancing act for him.''
Today's town hall meeting in Wisconsin is part of an 11-day campaign Kerry began yesterday attacking Bush's foreign policies. The president has come under increasing criticism over his administration's strategy for Iraq as violence in the country escalates before the June 30 deadline to transfer sovereignty to Iraqis.
Bush's approval rating dropped to record and near-record lows following disclosures that U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners. At least seven soldiers have been criminally charged after photos were released showing prisoners forced to pose naked simulating sexual acts while grinning U.S. guards look on.
In a Gallup poll this week, 52 percent of those surveyed said the war in Iraq wasn't worth it while 45 percent said they believed that it was. A year ago, 68 percent said they supported the waro and 29 percent said it wasn't worth it. The poll of 1,002 adults conducted May 21-23 by the Princeton, New Jersey- based firm had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
``There's a growing public consensus that the war has gone poorly, and Kerry needs to capitalize on it; he really hasn't yet,'' said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist for Schwab Soundview Capital Markets in Washington. ``It may be a gamble for Kerry to focus so intensely on Iraq in upcoming days, but it's a gamble he needs to take.''
Former Vice President Al Gore won Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes in the 2000 election by 5,708 votes or 0.22 percent. Wisconsin, one of 17 swing states that were won or lost by less than 7 percent in the 2000 election, has lost 26,400 jobs since Bush, 57, took office. The state's unemployment rate was 4.6 percent in April, down from 5.1 percent in March and below the national average of 5.6 percent.
A Rasmussen Reports survey April 28 of 500 likely voters in the Midwestern state showed Kerry with 50 percent to Bush's 42 percent. If Independent Ralph Nader's candidacy is taken into account, Kerry's lead is cut to 45 percent to Bush's 41 percent with 8 percent for Nader. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Jay Newton-Small in Green Bay, Wisconsin at jnewtonsmall@Bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Glenn Hall at at ghall@Bloomberg.net
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