In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., rebuked President Bush's assertion that those who advocate a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq are supporting "surrender."
"That's reprehensible. It's a lie," Kerry said.
President Bush discussed the issue in an interview with Stephanopoulos.
"Frankly, I hear disparate voices all over the place from the Democrats' side about Iraq. We got some saying, 'Get out,' " Bush said. "The person I ran against in 2004, Sen. Kerry, said at a date-certain time, withdraw."
The president insisted he was not saying his opponents, including Kerry, were unpatriotic.
"It's not questioning their patriotism. I think it's questioning their judgment," he said.
In that same exclusive interview with President Bush, portions of which aired on "This Week," the president contended, "First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause us to withdraw."
President Has 'Misled' America
Echoing their debate in the 2004 campaign, Kerry shot back.
"The president just misled America again in that interview," he said. "Al Qaeda is not the problem in Iraq."
Kerry added, "The violence in Iraq today, George, is between Shia and Sunni; this is a civil war."
Kerry did not reserve all of his criticism for Bush. He also took aim at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.
"The solution in Iraq is not military," Kerry said. "If it's not military, don't talk, as John McCain does, about putting more troops in."
Kerry called McCain's approach a "fantasy" and reiterated that Bush must get tougher with the leaders of the newly formed Iraqi government.
"I think you have to be more blunt: I think you have to say, 'No young American is going to die or give their life or limb for Iraqi politicians who refuse to compromise,' " Kerry said. "They have to want democracy for themselves as much as we want it for them."
Of his date-certain approach, Kerry argued, "You have to set a date because it's the only way to get Iraqis to respond," adding, "The date is not a date in a vacuum. I mean, I'm not stupid."
Kerry later summed up the situation.
"Either they resolve the political differences within this year because they want to, or they don't want to. If they don't want to, there's nothing American troops can do," he said.
Kerry said he "resent[s]" the President's statement that such an approach equals surrender.
Rejecting President Bush's suggestion that the White House may consider a change of strategy in Iraq after the midterm elections, Kerry said, "If you've got a better strategy, Mr. President, we deserve to have it now."
Possibilities for '08
On the subject of his own political future, Kerry said that he would make a decision about whether or not he would run for president again in 2008 "after the elections."
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether or not he feared that rising star Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., might also run, Kerry shrugged off the suggestion.
"Whatever he wants to do; I mean, look, this is a free country," Kerry said. "I think he's a very interesting and very powerful communicator."
Stephanopoulos' entire interview with Kerry can be seen on "This Week's" Web page.