As a national uproar continues over comments by Sen. John Kerry suggesting American troops were lazy and not bright, President Bush is hammering Kerry and fellow Democrats for their lack of strategy for winning the war in Iraq, while troops themselves are mocking Kerry.

In a photo circulating the Internet today, soldiers were shown holding a banner with intentional misspellings reading: “Halp Us Jon Carry – We R Stuck Hear N Irak.”

“I am… I guess ‘amazed’ is the proper word at how courageous our troops are, and I am amazed at the fact that they are so capable, and that they volunteer in the midst of this war to defend us, and these troops deserve all the support of the United States of America, and they understand as well as anybody that we are making progress in Iraq,” Bush told talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh today.

“My problem with many of the Democrat voices in Washington is they have no plan for victory. … I believe responsible leaders must come up with a plan for victory in order to achieve peace, and yet the only plan I hear is, one: let’s get out of Iraq before the job is done – which would be a disaster for a future generation of Americans.”

Bush pointed out that different from previous wars, “if you leave the battle, the enemy follows us home to America.”

President Bush

“That’s one of the reasons why we will win in Iraq. I repeat: the only reason we could lose in Iraq is if we leave, and, therefore, we’ve got kids sacrificing in Iraq, and when they hear politicians say, ‘Get out before the job is done,’ that’s discouraging to them, and it’s discouraging to the Iraqis, and it’s encouraging to the enemy. That’s why my voice is so loud in saying to our troops: ‘What you’re doing is noble and important and you’re going to win and history will look back and thank you for your sacrifices.'”

Bush’s remarks come one day after a furor erupted over a statement by Kerry who told students at Pasadena City College in Southern California: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq. …”

While the former presidential nominee later referred to his comment as a “botched joke,” it came under immediate fire from the White House, where press secretary Tony Snow called it an “absolute insult.”

“Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who’ve given their lives in this.”

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Kerry hit back at the White House in a statement, charging it’s the president and his administration who owe U.S. troops an apology because they “misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it.”

“This is the classic GOP playbook,” Kerry said. “I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did. I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium.”

But with a growing firestorm of criticism, Kerry held a news conference yesterday in Seattle where he was campaigning for Democrat candidates. The senator said he would not apologize, calling his comment a “botched joke about the president and the president’s people, not about the troops.”

“Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how,” Kerry said. “I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and his broken policy. If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the president and his failed team.”

Limbaugh told Bush, “Frankly, Mr. President, the American people are outraged by this because John Kerry is just the latest. This is not the first.”

Bush answered:

Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words, and our troops deserve the full support of people in government. People here may not agree with my decision. I understand that. But what I don’t understand is any diminution of their sacrifice. We’ve got incredible people in our military, and they deserve full praise and full support of this government. Secondly, what they deserve is a plan for victory, and we have a plan for victory. Our victory, as you know, is really to help the Iraqis win, to help the 12 million people, to help Iraq realize the dreams of 12 million people who voted. To help the political process and help the security process and help the economic process and we’re doing just that. It’s not easy work, because there’s an enemy that still tries to derail the process. They’re trying to foment sectarian violence, and on the other hand it’s necessary work.

Kerry, meanwhile has canceled some personal campaign appearances for other Democrats today, while some candidates in his own party are asking for an apology.

‘Terrorizing’ Iraqi children

Kerry angered many in the military last December with remarks in an interview with CBS “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, accusing U.S. soldiers of “terrorizing” Iraqi children.

John Kerry testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.

“And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the – of – the historical customs, religious customs,” Kerry said. “Whether you like it or not … Iraqis should be doing that.”

Those remarks reminded many Americans of Kerry’s most controversial testimony before the nation in 1970, when he was a returning Vietnam vet calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces in that conflict.

He told senators about hearings he helped organize among disenchanted Vietnam war vets in which accusations of atrocities by U.S. troops were recounted.

“They told stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country,” he said.

‘Insensitive, ill-considered and uninformed’

Responding to the “stuck in Iraq” comment, Sen. John McCain, a POW in Vietnam and potential rival to Kerry in the 2008 presidential election, said in a statement the senator “owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education.”

“Americans from all backgrounds, well off and less fortunate, with high school diplomas and graduate degrees, take seriously their duty to our country, and risk their lives today to defend the rest of us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere,” McCain said.

The Arizona Republican said the “suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq, is an insult to every soldier serving in combat, and should deeply offend any American with an ounce of appreciation for what they suffer and risk so that the rest of us can sleep more comfortably at night.”

“Without them, we wouldn’t live in a country where people securely possess all their God-given rights, including the right to express insensitive, ill-considered and uninformed remarks,” McCain concluded.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., fired off a letter to Kerry today, calling the comment “truly despicable and offensive.”

“It’s a slap in the face of all of our intelligent, dedicated, brave men,” Vitter wrote. ” … They aren’t stupid, uneducated, or lazy. They’re heroes. And they deserve your immediate apology.”

The national commander of the American Legion also has called on Kerry to apologize.

“As a constituent of Senator Kerry’s, I am disappointed. As leader of the American Legion, I am outraged,” said Paul A. Morin. “A generation ago, Sen. Kerry slandered his comrades in Vietnam by saying that they were rapists and murderers. It wasn’t true then and his warped view of today’s heroes isn’t true now.”

Last year, the Heritage Foundation published a study titled, “Debunking the myth of the underprivileged soldier,” which said “the typical recruit in the all-volunteer force is wealthier, more educated and more rural than the average 18- to 24-year-old citizen is.”

For every two recruits coming from the poorest neighborhoods, the study said, “there are three recruits coming from the richest neighborhoods.”

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