Tough talk meets tough cookie

Posted: Oct 08, 2004 12:00 AM

The contrast could not be clearer.

 One side proposed a war and waged it. Yes, President Bush has been slow to correct mistakes made in the course of the war -- not that Vice President Dick Cheney would admit as much in Tuesday's debate in Ohio. Still, the administration has shown the resolve to win the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. Cheney was right to assert that voters should know that re-electing this ticket is the only way they can be sure America won't cut and run.

 The other side voted to authorize the war and then was quick to pounce on every mistake or shortcoming in the war effort -- even shortcomings Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards cannot possibly overcome.

 Take the Kerry/Edwards claim that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is not a legitimate coalition. During the debate, moderator Gwen Ifill asked Edwards how Kerry could bring more countries into the coalition. Edwards said a Kerry administration would have more "credibility," as if that would bring troops to Iraq. Yeah, sure.

 Or as Cheney chided, "You demean the sacrifice of our allies and you say it's the 'wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.' And oh, by the way, send troops."

 Democrats may nod their heads when Kerry and Edwards claim they can bring more countries into the coalition, but surely, they know that won't happen. The most Americans should expect is that France and Germany would approve of Kerry, and maybe give him a pat on the head.

 But troops? Why would France or Germany send troops to the "wrong war"? Referring to a promise by Kerry that America wouldn't go to war without passing a "global test," Ifill asked Edwards: "What is a global test if it's not a global veto?"

 Edwards bristled at the suggestion that Kerry's "global test" actually means a "global test." After all, Edwards said, Kerry said no country would have veto power over U.S. security. So it's a test, but not a test.

 If Kerry and Edwards were in charge in 2002, would Saddam Hussein still be in power? Ifill asked. Edwards said he and Kerry voted for the war resolution because "Saddam Hussein needed to be confronted."

 Confronted how? Why, according to Edwards, "The right way," that is, after U.N. weapons inspections -- which were stymied. So insert what you want to believe here.

 Edwards was more convincing when he confronted Cheney's association with Halliburton, the Houston-based company that has major Defense Department contracts in Iraq. Edwards failed to establish that Cheney has done anything improper, but he didn't have to. It's unseemly, undignified and bad politics for a sitting vice president to collect a golden-parachute stipend while in office.

 "People are going to be turned off by the way in which Cheney failed to directly respond to the questions (about Halliburton) that were posed to him," noted Roger Salazar, who was Edwards' spokesman during the primary. If voters weren't turned off by Cheney's demeanor, they should be turned off by this seedy arrangement.

 Cheney also stumbled when he claimed to have not met Edwards before the debate -- although the fact that they met twice doesn't exactly speak volumes for Edwards' presence on Capitol Hill.

 Otherwise, Cheney carried the day when he dismissed the hawkish (at least this week) position of Kerry/Edwards as "a little tough talk in the midst of a campaign."

 Cheney referred to Kerry's and Edwards' vote against $87 billion in funding for the war in Iraq and noted, "I couldn't figure out why that happened initially." But then, Cheney said he noticed that Howard Dean was running well on his anti-war rhetoric. The kicker: "Now, if they couldn't stand up to the (political) pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?" And: "These are two individuals who have been for the war when the headlines were good and against it when their poll ratings were bad."

 So you see the contrast. One ticket is committed to winning the war and staying the course in good times and bad.

 The other ticket is committed to winning the election and thus talks about sending more troops one week, then withdrawing troops the next. It promotes a beefed-up international coalition it can't deliver. It berates the Bushies for doing things -- going after Saddam Hussein before catching Osama bin Laden -- that Kerry failed to protest when he voted for the resolution.

 The choice is clear: commitment or opportunism.