September 8, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

From Washington, with us Democratic strategist Victor Kamber. Welcome back, Vic, and good morning to you.


HEMMER: Also Cliff May, former RNC communications director, now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and, Cliff, good morning to you, as well.

Cliff, want to start with you. The comments from Dick Cheney about who fights a better war on terror — if John Kerry wins in January he believes that the pre-9/11 mindset would now start to take over the country yet again.

John Edwards strikes back — said these are scare tactics and un- American. Where do we stand on this debate, Cliff?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Oh, look, I wish that the rhetoric was not so charged. We should have a civil debate over what kind of war we’re involved in and how we should fight it.

That said; there’s a serious question here that both sides do need to address. Are we in a World War, or is this a criminal justice problem that we have to tackle in that way as we did before 9/11 and rather than say oh, that was unfair comment let’s debate the real issues and that’s what the issue really is…

HEMMER: Are the issues then, Victor, are the issues getting muddy then? If the debate is not civil?

KAMBER: Well, no question about it. I mean, it’s interesting for Cliff to say let’s debate the real issues. This issue was raised by Dick Cheney. Ironically, by the way, he really never said that the — voting for the right person was George Bush. I sort of thought he meant when you say voting for the right person, he was talking about John Kerry, and I felt bad for George Bush that he was trashing his own candidate.

Having said that, half-jokingly, obviously the issues need to be addressed, not these scare tactics and that’s all it was. It was trying to, you know, scare the American people into believe there’s only one way to vote.

I’m where Cliff is. Let’s talk issues, and frankly, probably, the first time that’s really going to happen is when the two of them are on stage and confronting each other.

HEMMER: You’re probably exactly right about that on the debates. Let’s talk to the second topic right now. A thousand dead Americans now in battle going back 17 months. Victor, how is this playing now on the trail with John Kerry talking again today about Iraq in about an hour in Cincinnati?

KAMBER: Well, again, you know, I’m not one that really wants to sit here and certainly not gloat. It’s a sad day for America. I don’t care who is president to have lost one life, ten lives, 100 lives and now 1,000 lives. It’s a very sad day.

Seven thousand plus injured and more importantly no end in sight for this. You know hopefully these young men and women haven’t died in vain but at this point we don’t know. There is no plan to get out of Iraq, to stabilize the country in the way that was promised to us.

And it’s a very sad day for America.

HEMMER: Answers, Cliff?

MAY: Yes, it’s terrible but we’ve never fought a war in which there wasn’t loss of life. If we’d gone into Afghanistan in the 1990s we probably would have lost this many lives but we would have prevented 9/11 and we would have killed al Qaeda long before it became the menace it has become. If you believe that this is a real war fighting and that the war on terrorism and the totalitarian ideologies behind terrorism is being fought in Iraq as much as anywhere else then you understand we have to do this and we’ll be there for the duration.

If you don’t think so, if you think that Iraq has nothing to do with it and I disagree with that and I think Senator Kerry disagrees with that view, then obviously you are very skeptical of what we’re doing in Iraq. But what are you saying that it’s 1,000 lives and if we get to 2,000 lives we’re going to surrender, we’re going to give up, we’re going to abandon the Iraqis?

A war is a terrible thing but we’re at war.

KAMBER: No, what I’m really saying is that at one life or 100 or ten lives whatever — or now 1,000 there has to be some accountability on the part of the leadership who called into question. And it’s part of that same debate and you’re right. There has to be a question. Was this worth it? Did it make — accomplish anything and again I guess that will be when they confront each other.

MAY: I’m not sure I know what you mean. After Pearl Harbor six months a year into World War II…

KAMBER: Pearl Harbor, we were attacked…

MAY: Would you say?

KAMBER: We were attacked and lost American lives. We were attacked at 9/11 there’s no question, but there’s no, absolutely no correlation between Iraq and 9/11.

MAY: This is the main debate we’re having. I believe that after 9/11, we had to measure the menace of Saddam Hussein very differently and we had to do something about him before he fulfilled the intentions he clearly stated he had. I wish we had done that in Afghanistan.

KAMBER: Our obligation was the Osama bin Laden and he’s still around. No need to go into Afghanistan — and — well…

MAY: This is the debate. This is the debate. I don’t think we’re at war with — I don’t think we’re at war with Osama bin Laden. I think we’re at war with the totalitarian ideologies that justify and drive terrorism and that Saddam Hussein is part of.

KAMBER: But that’s not the basis we went to war, Cliff. It’s 17 months later; we were promised weapons of mass destruction; we were promised that it was tied in to 9/11. Now we’re redirecting our issues on another — and it may be very valid but another issue.

HEMMER: I’m almost out of time. Cliff, final word.

MAY: Those who favored the intervention in Iraq did so for multiple reasons. Those who opposed it also believed that stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction would be found.

On 9/11, it was box cutters and airplanes, not weapons of mass destruction that did the damage.

HEMMER: All right we’ve got to go. Victor, thanks. Cliff May as well in D.C. Kelly.