The Bush-Cheney campaign yesterday mocked Sen. John Kerry’s promise to wage a “more sensitive war on terror,” prompting the Kerry campaign to accuse President Bush of shirking combat during the Vietnam War.
The escalation of rhetoric began when the Bush camp belatedly realized that Mr. Kerry’s week-old call for “sensitive war” had the potential to be as politically damaging as his March acknowledgment that he had voted for $87 billion in funding for troops in Iraq before voting against it.
“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,” Mr. Kerry said last week to the Unity Conference, a coalition of organizations representing minority journalists.
Vice President Dick Cheney led yesterday’s attack, telling a Dayton audience that there is nothing “sensitive” about Islamist militants who videotape their decapitations of innocent civilians.
“America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive,” said Mr. Cheney, who was flanked by scores of veterans.
“A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans and who seek the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more,” he said. “The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.”
The Kerry campaign immediately cried foul, accusing Mr. Cheney of arrogance and saying that Mr. Kerry’s use of the word “sensitive” was taken out of context.
Specifically, Mr. Kerry was referring to sensitivity toward traditional U.S. allies, said campaign spokesman Phil Singer, not sensitivity toward terrorists.
“Dick Cheney doesn’t understand that arrogance isn’t a virtue, especially when our country is in danger,” Mr. Singer said.
“Alienating allies makes it harder to hunt terrorists and bring them justice,” he added. “If Dick Cheney learned this lesson instead of spending his time distorting John Kerry’s words, this country would be a safer place.”
The Kerry campaign also pointed to a speech Mr. Bush gave upon the dedication of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, in which the president said that “precisely because America is powerful, we must be sensitive about expressing our power and influence.”
That speech, however, was delivered six months before the September 11 attacks, which Mr. Bush says changed the way he thought about foreign policy and the projection and use of U.S. military power.
The Kerry campaign, however, took the opportunity to impugn the Republican ticket’s lack of military service.
“Let’s get the record straight. No one disputes these facts: John Kerry volunteered for active military service when many others — including President Bush and Vice President Cheney — found a way to avoid it,” said retired Army Gen. Merrill McPeak, who is supporting Mr. Kerry. “He came under intense hostile fire, was wounded three times and was decorated for gallantry.
Last night, Mr. Kerry, at a rally in Medford, Ore., put an unusually pointed response in the middle of one of his standard campaign lines.