Kerry Criticized for 'Sensitive' Anti-Terror Plans

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 12, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sen. Kerry has also said that if he were in charge, he would fight a more sensitive war on terror. America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Vice President Dick Cheney (search) says John Kerry (search) acts like we were never attacked on Sept. 11 when he calls for are a more sensitive war on terror. The Kerry campaign says Cheney was taking Kerry's remark out of context.

Former Sen. Max Cleland (search) joins me from the Kerry campaign headquarters. Senator, the big question: would John Kerry really get sensitive with terrorists?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER SENATOR, GEORGIA: Well, first of all, Dick Cheney has no business criticizing anybody about war, especially somebody who's been to war, since he evaded war himself five different times in the Vietnam era by getting five different deferments. That's pretty sensitive if you ask me.

John Kerry had the courage to volunteer. Not only the courage, but when he went to war, he defeated his enemies, he brought his ship home safely, and he brought his crew mates back alive.

Secondly, in terms of being careful where you step in the world, it was a great Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt (search), that said, "Walk softly, but carry a big stick." That's actually the essence of John Kerry's foreign policy, and we should have done that in Iraq.

We should make sure that when we go to war, we win, and we have a strategy to win and a strategy to get out. This crowd, that has never been to war, made every mistake you can possibly make. And the young people out there are paying the price.

GIBSON: Senator, have I got this straight? John Kerry says he would have waged that war?

CLELAND: John Kerry and I and John Edwards (search) believed the president and the vice president and the secretary of defense and the deputy secretary of defense when they said there are weapons of mass destruction. There are no weapons of mass destruction there.

We believed them when they said there were nuclear weapons programs there. There are no nuclear weapons programs there. And believed them when they said that there was ties to Al Qaeda and Sept. 11. The 9/11 Commission, upon which I sat for a year says there are no ties to Al Qaeda, in terms of the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq has actually created more terrorists, Al Qaeda is morphing now, into a worse enemy, we've teed off the Arab world, and we're making more enemies than friends, and you've got to reverse that, and John Kerry knows that.

GIBSON: And I mean I think John Kerry said he would have voted to authorize the war, even knowing now all the things you went over. I mean, you didn't use the word lie. The President didn't lie. It was just wrong about WMD. His CIA director was wrong.

CLELAND: The President misled this country in the State of the Union Address.

GIBSON: Misled implies that you are saying he lied. Are you saying he lied?

CLELAND: He misled this country, in terms of the State of the Union when he told the country that there was indications that yellow cake was coming up from Africa to make nuclear weapons in Iraq. That was a falsehood. That was not true.

GIBSON: Senator...

CLELAND: All the aspects that underlie the war in Iraq have been proven to be false. And John Kerry knows that.

GIBSON: Senator, the 9/11 Commission in the Butler Report in England now say that report of yellow cake out of Africa was well-founded.

CLELAND: And Tony Blair has said his intelligence agency was wrong. And so now, you have a situation where young men and women are dying in Iraq in an open-ended conflict and the majority of the American people are pulling their support away from them. That's Vietnam all over again.

John Kerry knows we got to change course; he will change course, and he's effective as a proven leader.

GIBSON: I'm still confused. Did John Kerry say that he would wage just war or not?

CLELAND: In my opinion, the Teddy Roosevelt quote is exactly what we should be doing, and that's exactly what John Kerry has said many times over. "Walk softly." That means sensitively, that means smart, not dumb. And people in the White House planned this war in Iraq in a dumb way, and they did not provide a plan to get out. And that's one of the things that's losing our young Americans over there.

GIBSON: Senator, I understand your criticism, criticizing them, the White House in the way they could have prevented the war. But it's a very simple question, especially considering the Democratic Party is anti-go-to- war. Is James Kerry the guy who would not have gone into this war?

CLELAND: Yes, it is a simple question, as to why you would go to war. We wanted to trust the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States and we cannot trust them anymore. That's why veterans, military families, and people in the military are gravitating to John Kerry because they know he's the real deal.

GIBSON: Do they know that he would not have conducted that war, or do they believe he would have?

CLELAND: John Kerry — when — one indication that you have that makes Vietnam relevant to what we're talking about here is when does John Kerry go to war? What kind of action does he take?

First of all, he defeats his enemies. Second of all, he brings his ship and his crew home safely. That's the kind of commander in chief we need, but we don't have. We have a commander in chief that's got us into a quagmire because he, nor his vice president, ever went to the quagmire called Vietnam, which was a mistake.

Now we got another disaster on our hands, and John Kerry's going to correct it.

GIBSON: All right. Sen. Max Cleland, appreciate you coming on.

CLELAND: Thank you.

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