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Kerry dismisses criticism of 'global test' remark as 'pathetic'

'I can do a better job of protecting America's security'

John Kerry speaks on Monday on a campaign stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
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John F. Kerry
America Votes 2004

HAMPTON, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry on Monday lambasted as "pathetic" scaremongering, Republican criticism of his comments during last Thursday's debate in which he said the president's decision to go to war should pass a "global test" of legitimacy.

Asked during a town hall meeting in Hampton to explain what he meant, the Massachusetts senator said, "It's almost sad; it's certainly pathetic, because all they can do is grab a little phrase and try to play a game and scare Americans."

He added, "They're misleading Americans about what I said. What I said in the sentence preceding that was, 'I will never cede America's security to any institution or any other country.' No one gets a veto over our security. No one.

"And if they were honest enough to give America the full quote, which America heard, they would know that I'm never going to allow America's security to be outsourced. That's the job of the president.

"But I can do a better job of protecting America's security because the test that I was talking about was a test of legitimacy, not just in the globe, but elsewhere. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the issues)

"If you do things that are illegitimate in the eyes of the other people, it's very hard to get them to share the burden and risk with you."

Kerry said he intends to be a president who understands "that America is stronger when we are leading global alliances and when we are leading the world, and that's how we are going to do it. And that's what I meant."

Here is what Kerry said during the debate:

"No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded -- and nor would I -- the right to preempt in any way necessary, to protect the United States of America," the Democrat told moderator Jim Lehrer during the debate.

"But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the, the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people, understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Kerry's comment drew immediate criticism from Bush: "I'm not exactly sure what you mean, 'passes the global test,' [that] you take preemptive action if you pass a global test," he said during the debate. "My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure."

During an appearance in Ohio late last week, Bush returned to the issue: "When our country is in danger, it is not the job of the president to take an international poll; it's to defend our country," he said.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also questioned Kerry's comments.

"I heard Senator Kerry say that there was some kind of 'global test' that you ought to be able to pass to support preemption, and I don't understand what that means," Rice told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"I don't understand 'proving to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons,' " she said.

During the town hall meeting, Kerry also took Bush to task for his policy that limits the use of federal funds for stem cell research, allowing it only with restrictions that some scientists contend slows the pace of discovery.

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