WASHINGTON -- Armed with the advantage of incumbency, President Bush is preparing to showcase his role as commander in chief this week while his Republican allies are attempting to cast doubt on the national security credentials claimed by his Democratic rival, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
Most notably, Bush plans to announce reductions in the levels of US troops stationed in Europe and Asia, the first such move since World War II, when he addresses veterans during a swing through Ohio today. An administration official said it will be billed as a move to ''strengthen our ability to address threats abroad, improve our capability to protect America, and ease some of the burden on our uniformed military and their families," all hot-button issues in the campaign.
Back at campaign headquarters, Bush advisers are set to air a new television spot that criticizes Kerry's role on the Senate Intelligence Committee in the 1990s, accusing him of missing three-quarters of its public hearings. Kerry advisers say the Republican calculations are flawed because they do not include any closed-door sessions Kerry participated in during those years.
Yesterday Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, challenged Kerry to authorize the release of the number of private hearings he attended.
Asked whether he recalled seeing Kerry at many closed hearings, Roberts demurred. ''I'm not going to get into whether he was there or not," he said on NBC's ''Meet the Press."
Whether Kerry was as committed to the committee as he has asserted is up for interpretation, Roberts said, using a point Republicans have circulated recently.
'' 'Hard-working member' is in the eyes of the beholder," he said. ''I'm just saying that John Kerry and John Edwards could ask Jay [Rockefeller] and myself to release the attendance records. It is important, because you have to be in attendance to learn the job." Edwards is currently a member of the committee.
Mark Kornblau, the Kerry-Edwards campaign spokesman, responded that it was ''unfortunate that Senator Roberts has politicized the important work of the intelligence committee by engaging in the Bush-Cheney model of attack politics."
Kerry served on the intelligence committee from 1993 to 2001, departing before the Sept. 11 attacks. It is a role that he has cited as one of his chief qualifications in a campaign focused predominantly on national security, Iraq, and the threat of terrorism. Kerry campaign officials have taken particular exception to suggestions that he did not attend meetings after Sept. 11, 2001 (the advertisement refers simply to the ''first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center," which took place in 1993), pointing out that he no longer served on the committee.
''Once people realize that the Bush-Cheney campaign is talking about a terrorist attack more than a decade ago, people will also realize that the intelligence community's budget back then , including the decreases in intelligence spending that were starting to occur at that time, had been presented by then-President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Cheney," Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in an e-mail yesterday.
In his appearance today before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati, Bush is expected to announce plans to withdraw some 70,000 US troops from Asia and Europe.
For several years the Defense Department has been reviewing how to restructure the military's global footprint so it is better suited for responding to hot spots around the globe, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia.
In June, the Bush administration announced that it was sending 12,500 out of 36,000 troops stationed in South Korea to Iraq and will not replace them, the largest reduction on the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The new realignment to be announced today would pull out most of the US ground troops in Western Europe and station them at bases across the United States and in other overseas posts to prepare for possible threats anywhere. Large permanent naval and air forces in and near Japan are also set for reductions.
While in the works for some time, the decision follows remarks by Kerry that he would try to begin withdrawing US troops from Iraq within his first six months as president. The comment drew fire from the Bush administration as irresponsible, but today's withdrawal announcement demonstrates the political potency of military members and their families. At least one Republican expressed concern that scaling back the US military presence beyond Iraq would have a destabilizing effect on diplomacy, especially on the Korean peninsula. Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the president's decision as a ''tough call" and suggested that it was not a done deal, but rather a starting point yet to be negotiated with other powers in the region.
''Clearly, some [troops] have come out of South Korea already, as I understand, to go to Iraq simply to supplement there," Lugar said yesterday on ''Fox News Sunday." ''I think this is a situation for very careful continuing negotiation with our South Korean friends. . . . We ought not to do anything that's going to jeopardize the success, potentially, of those talks."
Bryan Bender contributed to this report. Anne E. Kornblut can be reached at email@example.com.