Democrats Stay on Offensive

Times Staff Writer

Trying to stay on the offensive during a week dominated by Republican festivities in New York, the Democrats pounced Monday on a comment by President Bush that the war on terrorism was not winnable, calling it pessimistic and defeatist.

Bush’s remark came in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. When asked whether the United States could win the war on terrorism, Bush replied: “I don’t think you can win it, but I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

In a statement released by the Democratic campaign -- and later in a speech in Wilmington, N.C. -- vice presidential candidate John Edwards scolded Bush for the remark.


“This is no time to declare defeat,” Edwards said. “It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but we have a comprehensive long-term plan to make America safer.”

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt accused Democrats of taking the president’s comment out of context.

“It’s another reason why they have a growing credibility problem with the American people,” Schmidt said.

What Bush meant, Schmidt said, was that “this is a war unlike any others. We don’t face an enemy where there will ever be a formal surrender, where the white flag is displayed.”

Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, mostly stayed out of the fray Monday as he vacationed in Nantucket, meeting with campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill to discuss strategy for the final two months of the race and begin preparing for his debates with Bush, aides said.

The Massachusetts senator also spent part of the afternoon windsurfing. When asked by reporters whether the war on terrorism could be won, Kerry -- standing in shallow water along the shore -- replied: “Absolutely.”

Kerry is expected to refrain from campaigning during the Republican convention, except for a speech to the American Legion in Nashville on Wednesday.

But his surrogates did not let up their criticism of Bush.

“To suggest that the war on terrorism is not winnable is absolutely, totally, thoroughly unacceptable,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said in a conference call organized by the Kerry-Edwards campaign. “It’s a little bit like saying that our war against communism directed out of Moscow is not winnable.”

Retired NATO Supreme Commander Wesley K. Clark said the U.S. could stymie the ability of terrorist organizations to recruit members and keep them from accessing weapons of mass destruction, among other measures.

“We are going to crush the people who are out to hurt America,” Clark said.

Last week, the Kerry campaign jumped on the president’s acknowledgment in a New York Times interview that the administration miscalculated the conditions in postwar Iraq.

Since then, the campaign has made that a central theme of its criticism, accusing Bush of “miscalculating” how to deal with healthcare and protect steelworker jobs.

Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, hewed to that theme in his speech Monday, telling an audience in his home state that the administration had miscalculated the need for intelligence reforms and the growing nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran.

He called for a “nuclear whistle-blower initiative” to protect scientists who exposed illegal programs. And he reiterated a proposal Kerry made in June to provide nuclear fuel to countries such as Iran for energy purposes to keep those nations from developing nuclear programs.

“We should call their bluff, and organize a group of states that will offer the nuclear fuel they need for peaceful purposes and take back the spent fuel so they can’t divert it to build a weapon,” Edwards said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.