- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

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.

“I defended our country as a young man — when others chose not to — and I will defend it as president of the United States,” he said.

The Bush-Cheney campaign has taken pains to avoid criticizing Mr. Kerry’s service in Vietnam — even in the face of accusations from more than 200 sailors who served with him that it was less heroic than the candidate has claimed.

In fact, hours after being accused by the Kerry campaign of shirking his duty during the Vietnam War, Mr. Bush praised his opponent’s “noble service” in Vietnam.

“Senator Kerry is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam and he should be,” he said on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

However, Mr. Bush stepped up his criticism of Mr. Kerry for equivocating after voting to authorize war against Iraq.

“Looked like for a while he was trying to squirm out of that vote,” Mr. Bush told union carpenters in Las Vegas. “The other day he said that knowing what we know today, he agreed that the use of force in Iraq was necessary.”

Mr. Bush also accused Mr. Kerry of flip-flopping on the issue of whether to store nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a swing state the president narrowly won in 2000. He accused the Massachusetts Democrat of voting for the disposal site for years before opposing it now that he is running for president.

“My opponent’s trying to turn Yucca Mountain into a political poker chip,” he said.

In response to reporters after his economic policy speech at California State University Dominguez Hills, Mr. Kerry said the Republicans are just diverting attention.

“It’s sad that they can only be negative,” he said. “They have nothing to say about the future vision of America. I think Americans want a positive vision for the future.”

A reporter then asked what he meant by a more sensitive war, but Mr. Kerry didn’t respond and walked away.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from California and Oregon. Bill Sammon reported from California; James Lakely from Washington.

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