Kennedy evokes the Vietnam 'quagmire' fears of Americans

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The Independent US

Edward Kennedy has declared that Iraq is turning into "George Bush's Vietnam", part of what the veteran liberal senator called a "breach of trust with the American people".

Edward Kennedy has declared that Iraq is turning into "George Bush's Vietnam", part of what the veteran liberal senator called a "breach of trust with the American people".

At the same time, John Kerry, the likely Democratic nominee, said Mr Bush might have set the 30 June date for a handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraq government for domestic political reasons.

In an interview to be broadcast on public radio today, Mr Kerry described the June deadline as "a fiction," an arbitrary decision that had "almost certainly been affected by the election schedule".

The charges by the two Massachusetts senators ­ one the near-certain challenger of Mr Bush in November, the other the party's grand old liberal lion ­ will add yet more venom to an already bitter election campaign, even though almost seven months remain before the presidential vote.

Mr Bush yesterday repeated his vow to maintain the 30 June date, despite doubts within his own party, and increasingly urgent calls for more US troops to be sent to Iraq.

Mitch McConnell, the majority whip and second ranking Republican in the Senate, took to the chamber's floor to denounce Mr Kennedy's remarks as "completely outrageous". Americans "would be much better served if the senator from Massachusetts would remember who the enemy is".

Mr Kennedy's attack, delivered in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is the latest of several against Mr Bush ­ with whom he once worked closely to fashion an important 2001 education reform measure, "No Child Left Behind". But on education, health care and the economy ­ as on Iraq ­ this president had created what Mr Kennedy called "the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon".

The military attack on Iraq was first likened to Vietnam in March and April 2003, as advancing US forces encountered guerrilla resistance on the way to Baghdad. But the low casualty count, and the swiftness of battlefield victory, soon invalidated the comparison.

Now, however, the fear has returned to haunt supporters and critics of Mr Bush's war, that the US might have trapped itself in an unwinnable conflict, from which it could not withdraw. Once more the dreaded "Q-word" or "quagmire" is to be heard.

Senior Republican and Democratic politicians alike warned at the weekend that far from withdrawing US troops from Iraq, the White House and Pentagon may have no choice but to send more to re-impose security.

Mr Kennedy also accused Mr Bush of using Iraq to divert attention from the administration's "deceptions here at home" ­ especially on the economy, health care and education.

He lambasted Mr Bush for trying to blame President Clinton and the Democrats for the recession whose after-effects now weigh upon Mr Bush's re-election prospects. On health care, he accused the Bush administration of deliberately misleading Congress about the cost of the Medicare prescription drug reform, suppressing the true cost. "Why? Because they [the White House] knew the bill would never pass otherwise, and they believed victory was more important than honesty." On education, "4.6 million children had been left behind", Mr Kennedy charged, as the President had failed to fund the measure.

His bluntness may cause problems for Mr Kerry. With the election campaign in full swing, some senior Democrats are privately urging Mr Kerry to keep a distance from Mr Kennedy, arguing that the Republicans will only use joint appearances to step up their attacks on the future nominee as an elitist "Massachusetts liberal".

But the broader Kennedy theme, that Mr Bush has created a giant "credibility gap" in both domestic and foreign policy, has already been taken up by Mr Kerry. He has described Mr Bush as "saying one thing and doing another".

But even Mr Kerry, who was decorated in Vietnam before becoming a vehement critic of the war, has stopped short of likening events then to Iraq now.