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Inside Politics

Transcript Part I: Cheney, Edwards spar over Iraq policies


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Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards
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Iraq

CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNN) -- The following is a transcript of answers during the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards held Tuesday night at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The questions from moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS were divided between foreign and domestic policy.

All answers are linked to the questions in the box to the right.

Question 1 -- The report you requested said there was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

IFILL: Vice President Cheney, there have been new developments in Iraq, especially having to do with the administration's handling.

Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, gave a speech in which he said that we have never had enough troops on the ground, or we've never had enough troops on the ground.

Donald Rumsfeld said he has not seen any hard evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Was this approved -- of a report that you requested that you received a week ago that showed there was no connection between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein?

CHENEY: It's important to look at all of our developments in Iraq within the broader context of the global war on terror. And, after 9/11, it became clear that we had to do several things to have a successful strategy to win the global war on terror, specifically that we had to go after the terrorists where ever we might find them, that we also had to go after state sponsors of terror, those who might provide sanctuary or safe harbor for terror.

And we also then finally had to stand up democracies in their stead afterwards, because that was the only way to guarantee that these states would not again become safe harbors for terror or for the development of deadly weapons.

Concern about Iraq specifically focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein had been, for years, listed on the state sponsor of terror, that they he had established relationships with Abu Nidal, who operated out of Baghdad; he paid $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers; and he had an established relationship with al Qaeda.

Specifically, look at George Tenet, the CIA director's testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations two years ago when he talked about a 10-year relationship.

The effort that we've mounted with respect to Iraq focused specifically on the possibility that this was the most likely nexus between the terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

The biggest threat we faced today is the possibility of terrorists smuggling a nuclear weapon or a biological agent into one of our own cities and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do. If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action. The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in jail, his government is no longer in power. And we did exactly the right thing.

IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds to respond.

EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, you are still not being straight with the American people. I mean, the reality you and George Bush continue to tell people, first, that things are going well in Iraq -- the American people don't need us to explain this to them, they see it on their television every single day. We lost more troops in September than we lost in August; lost more in August than we lost in July; lost more in July than we lost in June.

The truth is, our men and women in uniform have been heroic. Our military has done everything they've been asked to do.

And it's not just me that sees the mess in Iraq. There are Republican leaders, like John McCain, like Richard Lugar, like Chuck Hagel, who have said Iraq is a mess and it's getting worse.

And when they were asked why, Richard Lugar said because of the incompetence of the administration.

What Paul Bremer said yesterday is they didn't have enough troops to secure the country. They also didn't have a plan to win the peace. They also didn't put the alliances together to make this successful.

We need a fresh start. We need a president who will speed up the training of the Iraqis, get more staff in for doing that. We need to speed up the reconstruction so the Iraqis see some tangible benefit. We need a new president who has the credibility, which John Kerry has, to bring others into this effort.

IFILL: You have 30 seconds to respond, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: We've made significant progress in Iraq.

We've stood up a new government that's been in power now only 90 days. The notion of additional troops is talked about frequently, but the point of success in Iraq will be reached when we have turned governance over to the Iraqi people; they have been able to establish a democratic government. They're well on their way to doing that. They will have free elections next January for the first time in history.

We also are actively, rapidly training Iraqis to take on the security responsibility.

Those two steps are crucial to success in Iraq. They're well in hand, well under way. And I'm confident that, in fact, we'll get the job done.

IFILL: You have 30 seconds, Senator.

EDWARDS: Mr. Vice President, there is no connection between the attacks of September 11th and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 Commission has said it. Your own secretary of state has said it. And you've gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There is not.

And in fact the CIA is now about to report that the connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein is tenuous at best.

And, in fact, the secretary of defense said yesterday that he knows of no hard evidence of the connection.

We need to be straight with the American people.

(Back to top)

Question 2 -- Would a Kerry-Edwards administration have left Saddam Hussein in power?

IFILL: Time for a new question but the same topic. And this time to you, Senator Edwards.

You and Senator Kerry have said that the war in Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong time.

Does that mean that if you had been president and vice president that Saddam Hussein would still be in power?

EDWARDS: Here's what it means: It means that Saddam Hussein needed to be confronted. John Kerry and I have consistently said that. That's why we voted for the resolution. But it also means it needed to be done the right way.

And doing it the right way meant that we were prepared; that we gave the weapons inspectors time to find out what we now know, that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction; that we didn't take our eye off the ball, which are al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, the people who attacked us on September the 11th.

Now, remember, we went into Afghanistan, which, by the way, was the right thing to do. That was the right decision. And our military performed terrifically there.

But we had Osama bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora. We had the 10th Mountain Division up in Uzbekistan available. We had the finest military in the world on the ground. And what did we do?

We turned -- this is the man who masterminded the greatest mass murder and terrorist attack in American history. And what did the administration decide to do?

They gave the responsibility of capturing and/or killing Saddam -- I mean Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords who, just a few weeks before, had been working with Osama bin Laden.

Our point in this is not complicated: We were attacked by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

We went into Afghanistan and very quickly the administration made a decision to divert attention from that and instead began to plan for the invasion of Iraq.

And these connections -- I want the American people to hear this very clearly. Listen carefully to what the vice president is saying. Because there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of September 11th -- period.

The 9/11 Commission has said that's true. Colin Powell has said it's true. But the vice president keeps suggesting that there is. There is not. And, in fact, any connection with al Qaeda is tenuous at best.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds to respond.

CHENEY: The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror.

And the point is that that's the place where you're most likely to see the terrorists come together with weapons of mass destruction, the deadly technologies that Saddam Hussein had developed and used over the years.

Now, the fact of the matter is, the big difference here, Gwen, is they are not prepared to deal with states that sponsor terror. They've got a very limited view about how to use U.S. military forces to defend America.

We heard Senator Kerry say the other night that there ought to be some kind of global test before U.S. troops are deployed preemptively to protect the United States. That's part of a track record that goes back to the 1970s when he ran for Congress the first time and said troops should not be deployed without U.N. approval.

Then, in the mid-'80s, he ran on the basis of cutting most of our major defense programs. In 1991, he voted against Desert Storm.

It's a consistent pattern over time of always being on the wrong side of defense issues.

A little tough talk in the midst of a campaign or as part of a presidential debate cannot obscure a record of 30 years of being on the wrong side of defense issues.

And they give absolutely no indication, based on that record, of being wiling to go forward and aggressively pursue the war on terror with a kind of strategy that will work, that will defeat our enemies and will guarantee that the United States doesn't again get attacked by the likes of al Qaeda.

(Back to top)

Question 3 -- Your plan for bin Laden and other terrorists?

IFILL: You will respond to that topic, but first I want to ask you for two minutes, Vice President Cheney.

Tonight we mentioned Afghanistan. We believe that Osama bin Laden is hiding perhaps in a cave somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

If you get a second term, what is your plan to capture him and then to neutralize those who have sprung up to replace him?

CHENEY: Gwen, we've never let up on Osama bin Laden from day one. We've actively and aggressively pursued him. We've captured or killed thousands of al Qaeda in various places around the world and especially in Afghanistan. We'll continue to very aggressively pursue him, and I'm confident eventually we'll get him.

The key to success in Afghanistan has been, again, to go in and go after the terrorists, which we've done, and also take down the Taliban regime which allowed them to function there, in effect sponsors, if you will, of the al Qaeda organization.

John Edwards, two and a half years ago, six months after we went into Afghanistan announced that it was chaotic, the situation was deteriorating, the warlords were about to take over.

Here we are, two and a half years later, we're four days away from a democratic election, the first one in history in Afghanistan. We've got 10 million voters who have registered to vote, nearly half of them women.

That election will put in place a democratically elected government that will take over next December.

We've made enormous progress in Afghanistan, in exactly the right direction, in spite of what John Edwards said two and a half years ago. He just got it wrong.

The fact is, as we go forward in Afghanistan, we will pursue Osama bin Laden and the terrorists as long as necessary. We're standing up Afghan security forces so they can take on responsibility for their own security. We'll keep U.S. forces there -- we have about 16,000 there today -- as long as necessary, to assist the Afghans in terms of dealing with their security situation.

But they're making significant progress. We have President Karzai, who is in power. They have done wonders writing their own constitution for the first time ever. Schools are open. Young girls are going to school. Women are going to vote. Women are even eligible to run for office. This is major, major progress. There will be democracy in Afghanistan, make no doubt about it. Freedom is the best antidote to terror.

IFILL: Senator Edwards: You have 90 seconds.

EDWARDS: Someone did get it wrong. But it wasn't John Kerry and John Edwards. They got it wrong. When we had Osama bin Laden cornered, they left the job to the Afghan warlords. They then diverted their attention from the very people who attacked us, who were at the center of the war on terror, and so Osama bin Laden is still at large.

Now, I want to go back to something the vice president said just a minute ago, because these distortions are continuing.

He said that -- made mention of this global test. What John Kerry said -- and it's just as clear as day to anybody who was listening -- he said: We will find terrorists where they are and kill them before they ever do harm to the American people, first.

We will keep this country safe. He defended this country as a young man, he will defend this country as president of the United States.

He also said very clearly that he will never give any country veto power over the security of the United States of America.

Now, I know the vice president would like to pretend that wasn't said, and the president would too. But the reality is it was said.

Here's what's actually happened in Afghanistan, regardless of this rosy scenario that they paint on Afghanistan, just like they do with Iraq. What's actually happened is they're now providing 75 percent of the world's opium.

Not only are they providing 75 percent of the world's opium, large-cut parts of the country are under the control of drug lords and warlords. Big parts of the country are still insecure.

And the reality is the part of Afghanistan, eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden is, is one of the hardest places to control and the most insecure, Gwen.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, 30 seconds.

CHENEY: Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress.

The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. And the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.

And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.

The power of that concept is enormous. And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will apply as well in Iraq.

EDWARDS: The vice president just said that we should focus on state sponsors of terrorism. Iran has moved forward with its nuclear weapons program. They're more dangerous today than they were four years ago.

North Korea has moved forward with their nuclear weapons program, gone from one to two nuclear weapons to six to eight nuclear weapons.

This vice president has been an advocate for over a decade for lifting sanctions against Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorism on the planet. It's a mistake. We should not only not lift them, we should strengthen those sanctions.

(Back to top)

Question 4 -- What did Kerry say about "global test"?

IFILL: New question to you, Senator Edwards, but I don't want to let go of the global test question first, because ... I want people to understand exactly what it is, as you said, that Senator Kerry did say.

IFILL: He said, "You've got to do" -- you know, he was asked about preemptive action at the last debate -- he said, "You've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." What is a global test if it's not a global veto?

EDWARDS: Well, let me say, first, he said in the same segment -- I don't remember precisely where it was connected with what you just read -- but he said, point blank, "We will never give anyone a veto over the security of the United States of America."

What he's saying is we're going to go back to the proud tradition of the United States of America and presidents of the United States of America for the last 50 to 75 years.

First, we're going to actually tell the American people the truth. We're going to tell them the truth about what's happening.

We're not going to suggest to them that things are going well in Iraq or anyplace else when, in fact, they're not.

We're going to make sure that the American people know the truth about why we are using force and what the explanation for it is.

And it's not just the American people. We're also going to make sure that we tell the world the truth.

Because the reality is, for America to lead, for America to do what it's done for 50 years before this president and vice president came into office, it is critical that we be credible.

It is critical that they believe that when America takes action, they can trust what we're doing, what we say, what we say at the United Nations, what we say in direct conversations with leaders of the world -- of other countries.

They need to know that the credibility of the United States is always good, because they will not follow us without that.

And unfortunately, we're seeing the consequences of that right now.

It's one of the reasons that we're having so much difficulty getting others involved in the effort in Iraq.

You know, we've taken 90 percent of the coalition causalities. American taxpayers have borne 90 percent of the costs of the effort in Iraq.

And we see the result of there not being a coalition: The first Gulf war cost America $5 billion. We're at $200 billion and counting.

John Kerry will never give up control over the security of the United States of America to any other country. We will not outsource our responsibility to keep this country safe.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds to respond.

CHENEY: Well, Gwen, the 90 percent figure is just dead wrong. When you include the Iraqi security forces that have suffered casualties, as well as the allies, they've taken almost 50 percent of the casualties in operations in Iraq, which leaves the U.S. with 50 percent, not 90 percent.

With respect to the cost, it wasn't $200 billion. You probably weren't there to vote for that. But $120 billion is, in fact, what has been allocated to Iraq. The rest of it's for Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

The allies have stepped forward and agreed to reduce and forgive Iraqi debt to the tune of nearly $80 billion by one estimate. That, plus $14 billion they promised in terms of direct aid, puts the overall allied contribution financially at about $95 billion, not to the $120 billion we've got, but, you know, better than 40 percent. So your facts are just wrong, Senator.

You also have a situation where you talk about credibility.

It's awfully hard to convey a sense of credibility to allies when you voted for the war and then you declared: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. You voted for the war, and then you voted against supporting the troops when they needed the equipment, the fuel, the spare parts and the ammunition and the body armor.

You're not credible on Iraq because of the enormous inconsistencies that John Kerry and you have cited time after time after time during the course of the campaign. Whatever the political pressures of the moment requires, that's where you're at. But you've not been consistent, and there's no indication at all that John Kerry has the conviction to successfully carry through on the war on terror.

EDWARDS: May I respond briefly?

What the vice president has just said is just a complete distortion. The American people saw John Kerry on Thursday night. They don't need the vice president or the president to tell them what they saw.

They saw a man who was strong, who had conviction, who is resolute, who made it very clear that he will do everything that has to be done to find terrorists, to keep the American people safe.

He laid out his plan for success in Iraq, made it clear that we were committed to success in Iraq. We have to be, because we have troops on the ground there and because they have created a haven for terrorists.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 30 seconds.

CHENEY: Your rhetoric, Senator, would be a lot more credible if there was a record to back it up. There isn't.

And you cannot use "talk tough" during the course of a 90-minute debate in a presidential campaign to obscure a 30-year record in the United States Senate and, prior to that by John Kerry, who has consistently come down on the wrong side of all the major defense issues that he's faced as a public official.

(Back to top)

Question 5 -- Is Cheney saying a Kerry presidency would be dangerous?

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, a new question for you. When the president says that Senator Kerry is emboldening enemies and you say that we could get hit again if voters make the wrong choice in November, are you saying that it would be a dangerous thing to have John Kerry as president?

CHENEY: I'm saying specifically that I don't believe he has the qualities we need in a commander in chief because I don't think, based on his record, that he would pursue the kind of aggressive policies that need to be pursued if we're going to defeat these terrorists. We need to battle them overseas so we don't have to battle them here at home.

I'm not challenging John Kerry's patriotism. I said in my acceptance speech in New York City at the Republican convention that we respected his service in Vietnam, and I got applause for that.

We've never criticized his patriotism. What we've questioned is his judgment.

And his judgment's flawed, and the record's there for anybody who wants to look at it.

In 1984, when he ran for the Senate he opposed, or called for the elimination of a great many major weapons systems that were crucial to winning the Cold War and are important today to our overall forces. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and occupied it in 1990 and '91, he stood up on the floor of the Senate and voted against going in to liberate Kuwait and push Saddam Hussein back to Iraq.

The problem we have is that, if you look at his record, he doesn't display the qualities of somebody who has conviction.

And with respect to this particular operation, we've seen a situation in which, first, they voted to commit the troops, to send them to war, John Edwards and John Kerry, then they came back and when the question was whether or not you provide them with the resources they needed -- body armor, spare parts, ammunition -- they voted against it.

I couldn't figure out why that happened initially. And then I looked and figured out that what was happening was Howard Dean was making major progress in the Democratic primaries, running away with the primaries based on an anti-war record. So they, in effect, decided they would cast an anti-war vote and they voted against the troops.

Now if they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?

IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds to respond.

EDWARDS: One thing that's very clear is that a long resume does not equal good judgment. I mean, we've seen over and over and over the misjudgments made by this administration.

I want to go back to what the vice president just said, because it's a continuation of the things he's been doing, unfortunately, on the campaign trail; it's a continuation of what he began his first answer with tonight. John Kerry has voted for the biggest military appropriations bill in the country's history. John Kerry has voted for the biggest intelligence appropriations in the country's history.

This vice president, when he was secretary of defense, cut over 80 weapons systems, including the very ones he's criticizing John Kerry for voting against. These are weapons systems, a big chunk of which, the vice president himself suggested we get rid of after the Cold War.

The reality is that John Kerry has consistently supported the very men that he served with in Vietnam and led.

On the $87 billion, it was clear at the time of that vote that they had no plan to win the peace. We're seeing the consequences of that every day on the ground right now. We stood up and said: For our troops, we must have a plan to win the peace.

We also thought it was wrong to have a $20 billion fund out of which $7.5 billion was going to go to a no-bid contract for Halliburton, the vice president's former company.

It was wrong then. It's wrong now.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 30 seconds.

CHENEY: Well, Gwen, I think the record speaks for itself. These are two individuals who have been for the war when the headlines were good and against it when their poll ratings were bad.

We have not seen the kind of consistency that a commander in chief has to have in order to be a leader in wartime and in order to be able to see the strategy through to victory. If we want to win the war on terror, it seems to me it's pretty clear the choice is George Bush, not John Kerry.

IFILL: And 30 seconds...

EDWARDS: John Kerry has been absolutely clear and consistent from the beginning that we must stay focused on the people who attacked us; that Saddam Hussein was a threat that needed to be addressed directly; that the weapons inspectors needed to have time to do their job.

Had they had time to do their job, they would have discovered what we now know, that in fact Saddam Hussein had no weapons, that in fact Saddam Hussein has no connection with 9/11, that in fact Saddam Hussein has little or no connection with al Qaeda.

(Back to top)

Question 6 -- Is it naive to try to internationalize Iraq effort?

IFILL: Senator Edwards, new question to you, and you have two minutes to respond.

Part of what you have said and Senator Kerry has said that you are going to do in order to get us out of the problems in Iraq is to internationalize the effort. Yet French and German officials have both said they have no intention even if John Kerry is elected of sending any troops into Iraq for any peacekeeping effort. Does that make your effort or your plan to internationalize this effort seem kind of naive?

EDWARDS: Well, let's start with what we know. What we know is that the president and the vice president have not done the work to build the coalition that we need -- dramatically different than the first Gulf War. We know that they haven't done it, and we know they can't do it.

They didn't, by the way, just reject the allies going into lead- up to the war. They also rejected them in the effort to do the reconstruction in Iraq, and that has consequences.

What we believe is, as part of our entire plan for Iraq -- and we have a plan for Iraq. They have a plan for Iraq too: more of the same.

We have a plan for success. And that plan includes speeding up the training of the military. We have less than half of the staff that we need there to complete that training.

Second, make sure that the reconstruction is sped up in a way that the Iraqis see some tangible benefit for what's happening.

And by the way, if we need to, we can take Iraqis out of Iraq to train them. It is not secure enough. It's so dangerous on the ground that they can't be trained there. We can take them out of Iraq for purposes of training.

We should do whatever has to be done to train the Iraqis and to speed up that process.

That works in conjunction with making sure the elections take place on time.

Right now, the United Nations, which is responsible for the elections in January, has about 35 people there. Now, that's compared with a much smaller country like East Timor, where they had over 200 people on the ground.

You need more than 35 people to hold an election in Cleveland, much less in Iraq. And they keep saying the election's on schedule, this is going to happen.

The reality is we need a new president with credibility with the rest of the world and who has a real plan for success. Success breeds contribution, breeds joining the coalition.

Not only that, I want to go back to what the vice president said. He attacks us about the troops. They sent 40,000 American troops into Iraq without the body armor they needed. They sent them without the armored vehicles they needed. While they were on the ground fighting, they lobbied the Congress to cut their combat pay. This is the height of hypocrisy.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.

CHENEY: Well, Gwen, it's hard to know where to start; there are so many inaccuracies there.

The fact of the matter is the troops wouldn't have what they have today if you guys had had your way.

You talk about internationalizing the effort. They don't have a plan. Basically, it's an echo.

You made the comment that the Gulf War coalition in '91 was far stronger than this. No. We had 34 countries then; we've got 30 today. We've got troops beside us.

It's hard, after John Kerry referred to our allies as a coalition of the coerced and the bribed, to go out and persuade people to send troops and to participate in this process.

You end up with a situation in which -- talk about demeaning. In effect, you demean the sacrifice of our allies when you say it's the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, and oh, by the way, send troops. Makes no sense at all. It's totally inconsistent. There isn't a plan there.

Our most important ally in the war on terror, in Iraq specifically, is Prime Minister Allawi. He came recently and addressed a joint session of Congress that I presided over with the speaker of the House.

And John Kerry rushed out immediately after his speech was over with, where he came and he thanked America for our contributions and our sacrifice and pledged to hold those elections in January, went out and demeaned him, criticized him, challenged his credibility.

That is not the way to win friends and allies. You're never going to add to the coalition with that kind of attitude.

IFILL: Senator Edwards, 30 seconds.

EDWARDS: The vice president suggests that we have the same number of countries involved now that we had in the first Gulf War. The first Gulf War cost the American people $5 billion. And regardless of what the vice president says, we're at $200 billion and counting.

Not only that, 90 percent of the coalition casualties, Mr. Vice President, the coalition casualties, are American casualties. Ninety percent of the cost of this effort are being borne by American taxpayers. It is the direct result of the failures of this administration.

IFILL: Mr. Vice President?

CHENEY: Classic example. He won't count the sacrifice and the contribution of Iraqi allies. It's their country. They're in the fight. They're increasingly the ones out there putting their necks on the line to take back their country from the terrorists and the old regime elements that are still left. They're doing a superb job. And for you to demean their sacrifices strikes me as...

EDWARDS: Oh, I'm not...

CHENEY: ... as beyond...

EDWARDS: I'm not demeaning...

CHENEY: It is indeed. You suggested...

EDWARDS: No, sir, I did not...

CHENEY: ... somehow they shouldn't count, because you want to be able to say that the Americans are taking 90 percent of the sacrifice. You cannot succeed in this effort if you're not willing to recognize the enormous contribution the Iraqis are increasingly making to their own future.

We'll win when they take on responsibility for governance, which they're doing, and when the take on responsibility for their own security, which they increasingly are doing.

Continued: Question 7 -- Can any administration get accurate intelligence on terrorism?


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