Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., believes U.S. troops do not necessarily need to be pulled out of Iraq right away, as a senior Democrat suggested this week, but they need more leadership from the Bush administration.
"What we need is a little more commander in chief, and a little less campaigner in chief," Kerry said in an exclusive interview on "Good Morning America Weekend Edition."
The question of whether or not troops should be withdrawn from Iraq moved to the front burner Thursday when Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., called for all the troops to be withdrawn immediately -- a call that drew charges of recklessness from the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney called Murtha's press conference "reprehensible."
Members of the House of Representatives debated late into Friday night and voted down a resolution to pull the troops out of Iraq by 403-3. Although most Democrats did not support Murtha's call, Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to Bush, said Murtha did not deserve to be called names like "coward" by allies of the administration.
"It's just the attack politics: The people are sick and tired of it," Kerry said. "You don't call John Murtha a coward. … I mean, Dick Cheney had five deferments in a row in Vietnam, when John Murtha went to serve."
Murtha, Kerry said, has simply added to the debate. Kerry said the Bush administration needs to outline a clear plan about what benchmarks must be reached in order to bring the troops home.
"You can differ on the policies, and we should talk about the policy," Kerry said. "The administration has continuously misled Americans about our presence. We need to have the debate and figure out how we bring our troops home in a responsible way. John Murtha is really just adding to the debate in a very personal way. This man's statements have to be taken seriously even if you don't agree with his policy."
Kerry said the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, sent a plan to the Pentagon that outlined a timetable for withdrawal. The president of Iraq also said he had a plan to bring home 50,000 troops by Christmas. Kerry said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also had originally said some troops would be brought home.
Kerry added that the Bush administration was wrong to suggest that calling for a plan to bring the troops home will endanger the troops.
"Let me tell you what is endangering our troops: Sending our troops to war without adequate armor endangers our troops," Kerry said, "not guarding the ammo dumps, so that our troops are now being hurt because of ammo that wasn't properly secured when we took Baghdad. What endangers our troops is sending them to war without adequate numbers of troops to do the job."
Kerry said he has a plan to bring 20,000 troops home by Christmas. He said that if the election and referendum in Iraq are successful, troops should be brought home because the election would act as a benchmark of the troops' success.
"They deserve leadership that is equal to their sacrifice," he said. "The president doesn't have a real plan."
Although he may have sounded as if he were campaigning, Kerry said he's leaving the door open when it comes to running for president in 2008.
He said the more immediate question is how the troops will be protected. It's time, he said, to hand over some responsibility.
"Let Iraqis stand up for Iraq," Kerry said.