PORTLAND, Ore. - Though Sen. John Kerry planned to focus his appearance here yesterday on the issue of high gasoline prices, a question from the audience provoked a sharp comment on the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
"It is an unbelievable statement about the failure of the diplomacy of this president and this administration" that Europe and the Arab countries have sat on their hands even though they are more threatened by the prospect of Iraq as a failed state than the United States, Kerry said.
"That tells you everything about the arrogance and ineptness of this administration that needs to be changed," said Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
For many weeks, Kerry has been reluctant to forcefully attack the Bush administration at every turn for its actions in Iraq.
The approach has been largely one of allowing the bad news from Iraq - the continued violence and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison - to serve as its criticism of the Republican administration. The campaign said Kerry will outline his ideas on national security, including Iraq, this week.
Kerry has tried to keep the emphasis on domestic issues such as health care and education.
His event yesterday at the Portland school bus depot fit the pattern. It was billed as a chance for Kerry to critique the Bush administration for not doing enough to control gasoline prices.
The Kerry campaign views the gasoline-price issue as a major Bush administration vulnerability, because it feeds into a widely held perception of a White House too cozy with the oil industry. The president and Vice President Dick Cheney were employed in the energy industry, and the president's family has a longtime relationship with the Saudi royal family.
"What about the Saudi-George Bush gasoline tax that we're now paying because OPEC wasn't pressured to lower the prices by producing more?" Kerry asked, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "They could've produced more before now. And America is paying an enormous penalty because of that, and all of our economy gets hurt because of that."
As he has done recently, Kerry accused the president of breaking a promise from the 2000 campaign, in which Bush said he would force the Saudis, the world's largest oil producers, to lower prices during times of high oil costs.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.