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Fight escalates over national security

The war of words between Republicans and Democrats over who is better qualified to shepherd the nation's security escalated Monday as the two presidential campaigns traded new attacks on the issue.
Cheney addresses supporters at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.James A. Finley / AP
/ Source: news services

The war of words between Republicans and Democrats over who is better qualified to shepherd the nation's security escalated Monday as the two presidential campaigns traded new attacks on the issue.

Speaking in Missouri, Vice President Dick Cheney said that John Kerry “has given us ample grounds to doubt” his judgment on national security.

Democrats were quick to respond. “Call off the Republican attack dogs,” DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters in Washington.

But half a country away, Cheney told a friendly crowd at Westminster College that Kerry wavered in views to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as well as the strength of the Persian Gulf war coalition built by President Bush’s father.

The vice president dug up several quotes in which Kerry supported the removal of Saddam Hussein and praised the effort of the first Bush president. The vice president also criticized Kerry for supporting military budget and intelligence cuts during his four terms as Massachusetts senator.

“In his years in Washington, Senator Kerry has been one vote of 100 in the U.S. Senate and fortunately on matters of national security, he was often the minority. But the president always casts the deciding vote and the senator from Massachusetts has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear on vital issues of national security.”

Cheney’s speech coincides with a $10 million television advertising spree by Bush’s re-election campaign, starting this week, that seeks to portray Kerry as weak on national security. Other Bush ads have questioned the Massachusetts senator’s fitness for the presidency because he voted against a $87 billion funding measure for U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush, Kerry has said, threatened to veto the bill.

'Misleading ad campaign'
“George Bush has sent Dick Cheney to kick off a misleading ad campaign attacking John Kerry’s commitments to defending America. And Dick Cheney is still able to stand by with a straight face and watch these attacks unfold,” McAuliffe said during a news conference.

“The American people have better things to do with their time than listen to more misleading attacks from a man who has been misleading them from the day he took office,” McAuliffe said.

A spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, Steve Schmidt, responded that McAuliffe has “a staggering lack of credibility” on the issue.

“During the height of the Cold War John Kerry advocated canceling the critical weapons systems that helped win the Cold War and are still being used to win the war on terror,” Schmidt said. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vice President Cheney helped transform the military from the Cold War era to the 21st century military that serves America today.”

In a preview of his news conference, McAuliffe said Sunday that Cheney has “zero credibility” when it comes to criticizing Kerry’s national security credentials. Cheney as secretary of defense had proposed cuts to weapons programs being used by U.S. troops in Iraq, McAuliffe said.

A salvo at Cheney
Cheney, who was defense secretary from 1989-1992, “tried to kill” more than 81 weapons programs, including M-1 tanks, Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter planes and B-2 bombers, McAuliffe said. He also pushed for closing more than 70 domestic military installations, and reducing the size of the military by 500,000 active duty personnel and 200,000 reservists, McAuliffe said.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case seeking to force the disclosure of members of Cheney’s energy task force. Bush and Cheney testify together and in private Thursday before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.

Saturday marks the first anniversary of Bush’s visit to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, where, under a giant banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” he declared the end of major combat in Iraq. Most of the more than 700 U.S. troops killed in Iraq lost their lives after Bush’s May 1, 2003, declaration.