DURHAM, N.H., Oct. 28 — In a blistering review of President Bush's national security policy, Gen. Wesley K. Clark said on Tuesday that the administration could not "walk away from its responsibilities for 9/11."
"You can't blame something like this on lower-level intelligence officers, however badly they communicated in memos with each other," said the retired general, the latest entrant in the Democratic presidential field. "It goes back to what our great president Harry Truman said with the sign on his desk: `The buck stops here.' And it sure is clear to me that when it comes to our nation's national security, the buck rests with the commander in chief, right on George W. Bush's desk."
"And," he added, "we've got to say again and again and again, until the American people understand: strong rhetoric in the aftermath is no substitute for wise leadership."
General Clark's remarks were his most scathing of the campaign to date and went further than those of a number of other Democratic candidates in laying blame on the administration for intelligence failures.
He delivered those remarks in a private room at the University of New Hampshire here, reading from a teleprompter in giving a keynote speech, beamed to Washington by satellite, to a conference sponsored by The American Prospect, a liberal magazine, and two research groups.
That speech fell on the same day that General Clark, filling in more details of his domestic agenda, also delivered a major address here outlining his health care plan. He proposed spending $695 billion over 10 years, partly to guarantee coverage to all 13.1 million uninsured Americans under 22 years old, subsidize insurance for those who have difficulty paying for it and place a greater emphasis on preventive care.
His plan would allow people who have no insurance through employment to buy coverage from the same system available to members of Congress. It would also make liberal use of child tax credits. In all, he said, it would mean insurance for 31.8 million of the 43 million now uninsured.
In seeking to offer insurance for everyone under 22, General Clark was closely emulating a plan put forth by a presidential campaign rival, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who would provide insurance for everyone under 21. But General Clark's aides said his plan would cover more uninsured than the plans of other candidates and would cost less than those proposed by everyone except Senator Edwards and a third candidate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.
In any case, General Clark's criticism of the conduct of the war in Iraq and his evident fury at Mr. Bush, which he took several opportunities to express, overshadowed his health care program, presented to an audience at the university here before he went on the attack by satellite.
Right after the health care speech, the general introduced some new confusion into his stance on the administration's request for $87 billion in emergency spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. He has said that he opposes the request, and he repeated that position on Tuesday. But he told one woman who asked him what he would do about Iraq, "We broke the dishes, we're going to pay for them."
Asked later by reporters to reconcile his opposition to the $87 billion request with his assertion that the United States should pay for the damage, he said, "Eventually we're going to have to do our part in the reconstruction of Iraq." But, he added, he will not support any appropriation until Mr. Bush has a strategy for getting out.
General Clark asserted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "had to leak his own memo," in which he gave a bleaker assessment of the administration's progress in Iraq than he has in public statements. The candidate said Mr. Rumsfeld had leaked the memorandum "because no one would have believed him that we've been two years in the war on terror and we don't have a strategy and we don't know how to measure success."
Asked how he knew that Mr. Rumsfeld was behind the leak, he replied, "Well, that's what the rumor is, and it's been talked about on the Sunday talk shows."
But that was only one arrow from a full quiver that General Clark aimed at the administration on Tuesday. In his address by satellite to Washington, he said the nation was now exposed to risk because the armed forces were fully committed in Iraq and "we have no real reserves, either physical or, unfortunately, intellectual."
As the accusations flew, the general's organization announced an addition to his camp. James P. Rubin, a State Department spokesman in the Clinton administration, will serve without pay as senior foreign policy adviser.
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