This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Sept. 2, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASS.: The Bush administration's focus on Iraq has left us needlessly more vulnerable to Al Qaeda's (search) attack with a nuclear weapon. The greatest threat of all to our homeland is a nuclear attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Senator Ted Kennedy (search) blasting President Bush (search) on the security front. The high-octane rhetoric taking the Democrats' criticism up a notch or two. Joining me now, Democratic Strategist Doug Hattaway and former Republican New York Congressman, Rick Lazio.
Today's big question, Doug, to you: Is Ted Kennedy trying to scare us into voting for Kerry?
DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Kennedy did a really good job posing the question he did — a take on Ronald Reagan's question and his famous, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" and asked, "Are we safer today with George Bush's policies?" and gave 13 reasons why the answer is no.
And I think it's very smart to be carrying that central question of the campaign. Everybody understands it's about security. And Kerry's not on the defensive; I think he's turned this around so that Bush is on the defensive. And Kennedy was bringing that home to a lot of voters, who are concerned about U.S. troops bearing 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq, about U.S. taxpayers spending over $200 billion there.
And that we're not safer.
GIBSON: But what about this nuclear business?
Rick, is this fairly characterized as the politics of fear?
RICK LAZIO, FORMER REPUBLICAN NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Well, let me say this. Since George Bush was elected president and since 9/11, two-thirds of the leadership of Al Qaeda has been either arrested or eliminated. The training camps in Afghanistan are gone. The Taliban is gone. Saddam Hussein is gone. Libya has come to the table saying that they have agreed to a verifiable weapons inspection.
GIBSON: Nuclear weapons inspection.
LAZIO: Nuclear and biological weapons. This is having resonance in all the corners that I think that we ought to worry about. Al Qaeda is not the only threat to America. There are many other terrorist groups that we ought to be concerned about.
GIBSON: Doug, it seemed like it was only a week or so ago that Dick Cheney said if you vote for John Kerry, it's more likely we'll be attacked. And I believe your side was scream the politics of fear, how dare he. And here we have Ted Kennedy saying President Bush has left us open to nuclear attack?
HATTAWAY: Hey, Kennedy made a very clear case that what Bush has done is alienated allies we need to fight terrorism around the world. It's correct Al Qaeda's not our only enemy here and we need to be working with countries, not alienating them.
The fact is: Al Qaeda attacks around the world have increased over the past three years. And he's also pointed out very factually that our military resources have been diverted from that into Iraq...
GIBSON: Yes, but what's that got to do with a nuclear attack?
HATTAWAY: ...and that leaves us vulnerable.
I think part of his point is the fact that we have lost credibility with other nations. We need the.
GIBSON: What's that got to do with a nuclear attack?
HATTAWAY: For example, we need a united front to go to stop Iran and North Korea, who are more likely to move forward request quicker on their nuclear production. We don't have the credibility we did with our allies to be able to get ahead of the curve and stop them. I think that's a very strong point he made on nuclear weapons.
GIBSON: OK. But Rick, I believe the record is it was Clinton and Carter whose deal with North Korea fell apart. And it was the British, French, German outreach to Iran that has now fallen apart and they're going ahead with their nuclear program.
LAZIO: You're correct. And keep in mind also, John, that there is a nuclear proliferation initiative that George Bush has put together with 60 or 70 countries interdicting the shipment of nuclear weapons and their derivatives all around the world.
Great international cooperation. Cooperation in North Korea with the Chinese, the Russians, the major European powers. North Korea, South Korea, Japan all talking together bringing North Korea to the table. Absolutely we need to verify any of the agreements we have, including with Libya and other countries that are being brought to the table because of the actions we've taken in Afghanistan and Libya.
But again, the only way to effectively root out terrorism is to go into their backyard, into their training camps, to eliminate their leadership at the source.
GIBSON: Doug, today in the "Financial Times" both Germany and France saying it would be nice, from their point of view, if Senator Kerry were elected. But they're going to give the United States no help on Iraq under Senator Kerry or President Bush, either one.
So, what's this alliance business?
HATTAWAY: I think the issue is even bigger than Iraq.
Of course, we know Bush has lost credibility with allies. There's no way he's going to get more help there. And in fact, the countries that were supportive are now leaving Iraq, which is another point Senator Kennedy made. And to Mr. Lazio's point about needing to go in and fight these terrorists around the world; that's exactly right.
The problem is Iraq, the way Bush has prosecuted the war has stretched our military resources thinner than they've ever been. It makes it harder to fight the international war on terrorism because those resources are spread so thin, because we've alienated allies we need to fight this war, because this action that Bush has taken and the way he took it has made people.
GIBSON: Rick, we're about to run out of time. I'll give you the last word.
Are we safer now?
LAZIO: We absolutely are safer now. Homeland Security Department, FBI coordinated for counterterrorism, new initiatives to interdict nuclear weapons as they're shipped around the world, alliances being built and fighting the war where it ought to be fought: In the backyard of the terrorists.
GIBSON: Thanks to Rick Lazio and Doug Hattaway, good to see you again. Glad you're back in the game. See you again.
HATTAWAY: Good to see you.
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