updated 8/12/2004 12:58:47 PM ET 2004-08-12T16:58:47

Vice President Dick Cheney ridiculed Sen. John Kerry’s call for a “more sensitive” war on terrorism Thursday, saying it would not impress the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists or the Islamic militants who had beheaded U.S. citizens.

“America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive,” Cheney told supporters in this swing state. “A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans. ... The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.”

He was referring to Kerry’s statement last week at a minority journalists’ convention in which Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, said: “I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history.”

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Kerry, said Thursday that Cheney was being disingenuous and was twisting Kerry’s words. Singer noted that President Bush had also used the word “sensitive.”

“Dick Cheney’s desperate misleading attacks now have him criticizing George Bush’s own words, who called for America to be ‘sensitive about expressing our power and influence,’” Singer said.

“Dick Cheney doesn’t understand that arrogance isn’t a virtue, especially when our country is in danger. ... If Dick Cheney learned this lesson instead of spending his time distorting John Kerry’s words, this country would be a safer place,” he added.

Cheney also criticized Kerry’s record on the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he missed most of the panel’s public hearings and proposed cutting the intelligence budget. The Kerry campaign has noted that the cuts in intelligence came as the Cold War was ending, when Republicans and Democrats were proposing similar reductions.

‘They need to be destroyed’
Cheney said sensitivity was not likely to win a war. “Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed,” he said.

None of the country’s military heroes would follow Kerry’s advice, he told an audience that included many veterans.

President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses Grant “did not wage sensitive wars,” Cheney said. “... As our opponents see it, the problem isn’t the thugs and murderers that we face, but our attitude. We, the American people, know better.”

Polls show Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, with a small lead in Ohio, a state that usually votes with the winner. Bush has been here 20 times since taking office, and Kerry has visited 12 times just this year.

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Cheney’s remarks were the latest biting criticism by the vice president of Kerry. Wednesday, he said Kerry lacked “deeply held convictions about right and wrong.”

The issue of a “more sensitive” war also came up a day earlier, when a questioner asked about it in Joplin, Mo. A Bush campaign official called that a coincidence.

In Joplin, where the vice president and his wife, Lynne, took questions, a questioner asked Lynne Cheney “what in the world” Kerry was thinking about when he called for a more sensitive war.

“I just kind of shook my head when I heard that,” Lynne Cheney said. “With all due respect to the senator, it just sounded so foolish. I can’t imagine that al-Qaida is going to be impressed by sensitivity.”

The vice president did not respond to the question Wednesday.

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