Speaking in the same Cincinnati hall where the president made the case for the war nearly two years ago, Kerry linked the war cost of $200 billion with an inability to provide needed domestic programs like education and health care.
"George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction on Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home," the Democratic presidential candidate said.
"The cost of the president's go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting."
Kerry said the "hard reality" is that Mr. Bush's choices have led to "spreading violence, growing extremism, havens for terrorists that weren't there before."
"I call this course a catastrophic choice that has cost us $200 billion because we went it alone, and we've paid an even more unbearable price in young American lives."
The speech showed Kerry shifting from a defensive stance fending off charges of inconsistencies on the war to an aggressive challenge of Mr. Bush's decisions in the run-up and aftermath of the U.S. invasion.
Linking the choice to go to war with budgetary consequences, Kerry sought to tie Iraq to health care, education, jobs and other areas where he says the administration followed a misguided path.
"$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children; $200 billion in Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 police officers we put on the street," Kerry said.
"He doesn't believe that America can be strong in the world while we also make progress here at home. He believes we have to choose one or the other. That's a false choice, and I reject it."
In a speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center in 2002, Mr. Bush made a case for removing Saddam Hussein from power. He called the Iraqi leader a "murderous tyrant" who may be plotting to attack the United States with biological and chemical weapons.
The address opened debate in Congress that eventually led to a vote authorizing the president to use force against Iraq, a resolution that Kerry supported.
U.S. military deaths in the Iraq fightingon Tuesday.
The Kerry campaign said Mr. Bush's argument for war was laced with assertions later ignored or proved untrue.
Mr. Bush said he would pursue diplomatic solutions in Iraq; Kerry says he rushed to war. Mr. Bush said he would build a coalition of allies; Kerry says the United States bears virtually all the war's cost, in lives lost and dollars spent.
Mr. Bush said Iraq was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but U.S. forces have not found stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush said Iraq supported al Qaeda's designs against the United States, but the Sept. 11 commission found no active collaboration.
On the other hand, the Bush-Cheney campaign said Kerry has taken multiple, inconsistent positions on the war.
"John Kerry voted for the war but voted against funding for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. "This is another example of John Kerry's indecision, vacillation and political gamesmanship."
Kerry marked the 1,000th death in Iraq on Tuesday as a "tragic milestone," saying the soldiers gave their lives on behalf of country, freedom and "the war on terror." Kerry has previously not linked the Iraq war to the fight against terrorists. Spokesman David Wade said Kerry was referring to U.S. soldiers fighting in parts of Iraq that have now become a breeding ground for terrorists.
In conjunction with the speech, Kerry unveiled an ad that accuses Mr. Bush of squandering $200 billion on Iraq while the United States suffers "lost jobs" and "rising health care costs." The commercial claims, "George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home."
Kerry's sharp attack on the president was matched by remarks from Vice President Dick Cheney in Iowa.
"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters in Des Moines.
If Kerry were elected president, Cheney said the nation would risk falling back into a "pre-9/11 mind-set" that terrorist attacks are criminal acts that require a reactive approach.
Cheney pointed to Afghanistan as a success story in pursuing terrorists although the Sept. 11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden, remains at large., the vice president said, the United States has taken out a leader who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and harbored other terrorists.
"Saddam Hussein today is in jail, which is exactly where he belongs," Cheney said. Cheney has in the past linked Iraq to Sept. 11, but the commission that studied the 2001 terrorist attacks found no ties between Baghdad and the hijackings, and no evidence of an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
A White House spokesman tied to clarify Dick Cheney's remarks – saying the vice president was referring to "differences" in how the two man approach the war on terror
Democrats reacted quickly.
"Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line today, showing once again that he and George Bush will do anything and say anything to save their jobs," said a statement issued by vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
"Protecting America from vicious terrorists is not a Democratic or Republican issue and Dick Cheney and George Bush should know that. John Kerry and I will keep America safe, and we will not divide the American people to do it," the statement continued.