Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says when he meets President George W. Bush at this week's much-anticipated debate he's looking forward to tearing apart the idea that he's a "flip-flopper" on important issues.
"I think their advertising and their effort over these last months — to use that word — have been particularly successful. I give them credit for it. But it doesn't reflect the truth," the Massachusetts senator told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
"See, what the Republicans do — and they love to do it and they're very good at it and they've spent millions of dollars doing it — is just find a little sentence here and find a little sentence there and take it out of context," he said. "That's why I look forward to this debate, because it's an opportunity to be able to really let the American people know the truth and know where you stand."
For more of Kerry's interview, watch Good Morning America on Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7 a.m. ET.
$87 Billion Misunderstanding?
One of the Bush ads Kerry has battled most in his effort to fight the "flip-flop" label refers to the senator's vote on an $87 billion aid package to provide equipment for U.S. troops and to support reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the ad, Kerry is quoted as saying "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."
Kerry says the ad's quick soundbite doesn't fairly portray what actually occured. Kerry said the ad ignores the fact that he initially supported the appropriation when it was to be funded at least in part by rolling back tax cuts for the wealthy. He says he ended up voting against the final version of the bill in the Senate as a protest over its funding — which included no-bid contracts.
"It just was a very inarticulate way of saying something, and I had one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries and I didn't say something very clearly," Kerry said of the quote.
"But it reflects the truth of the position, which is I thought to have the wealthiest people in America share the burden of paying for that war. It was a protest. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted, and that's what I did," he said.
Iraq: ‘It Was a Mistake’
Meanwhile, Kerry's staff has been working to portray Bush as a president who has consistently made bad decisions, particularly when it comes to the war in Iraq.
"It was a mistake to do what he did, but we have to succeed now that we've done … I mean, look, we have to succeed," Kerry said. "But I would not have gone to war knowing that there was no imminent threat, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no connection of Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. The president misled the American people, plain and simple — bottom line."
In restrospect, Kerry said the weapons inspectors should have continued their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the president should have found other ways to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein.
While Kerry says the United States should not have gone to war in Iraq based on what we know today, he says Americans need "better leadership" to finish what's already been started.
The presidential nominee says he has a plan for Iraq and that he believes he has the credibility to get the allies to pitch in more there, making it possible for him to bring American troops home within the next four-and-a-half years.
"Most recently I've laid out a plan for how we are successful in Iraq — and if my plan works, Diane, which I expect it will, we'll be able to draw down the numbers of American troops. My goal is to get our troops out of Iraq."
When asked about newspaper reports that allies might continue to resist further assistance, particularly sending in troops, even under Kerry, the senator continued to defend his plan to further involve allies.
"Well, first of all I've never said that I expect France or Germany to put troops on the ground, but there are plenty of things that they can do and that can be done and it depends on the relationships," Kerry said. "Secondly, I'd never expect them to say that now while a sitting president is there. No diplomat and no country and no government's going to do that."
Kerry defended remarks last week after Ayad Allawi — Iraq's interim government's prime minister — talked to a joint meeting of Congress about the country's progress toward peace.
At the time, Kerry responded to Allwai's assessment with some critical words for the Bush administration.
"The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy," Kerry said following Allawi's address. "But the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Vice President Dick Cheney immediately responded to Kerry, saying his comments showed a "lack of respect" for Allawi.
But Kerry told Sawyer his response was meant for the Bush adminstration's portrayal of the situation in Iraq and not Allawi.
"I'm not attacking him [Allawi]. I'm not attacking him at all," Kerry said. "He's a strong man. I hope he's successful. I'm going to help him be successful," he said.
"I'm simply telling the truth about what is happening in Iraq, Diane. Kids are dying in Iraq in a greater number this month than they died last month, and they died last month in a greater number than they did the month before," he said.
"And the fact is, services aren't being delivered, and whole communities are in the hands of the terrorists. And George Bush walked away from that. I think that's a mistake."