MS. IFILL: Good evening from Case Western Reserve University's Veale
Center here in Cleveland, Ohio. I'm Gwen Ifill of the NewsHour and Washington
Week on PBS, and I welcome you to the first and the only vice presidential
debate between Vice President Dick Cheney, the Republican nominee, and
Senator John Edwards, the Democratic nominee.
These debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Tonight's will last 90 minutes, following detailed
rules of engagement worked out by representatives of the candidates.
I have agreed to enforce the rules they have devised for themselves
to the best of my ability.
The questions tonight will be divided between foreign and domestic policy,
but the specific topics were chosen by me. The candidates have not been
told what they are.
The rules: For each question, there can be only a two-minutes response,
a 90-second rebuttal and, at my discretion, a discussion extension of
one minute. A green light will come on when 30 seconds remain in any
given answer, yellow at 15, red at five seconds, and then flashing red
means "time's up." There's also a backup buzzer system if
needed. Candidates may not direct questions to one another. There will
be two-minute closing statements, but no opening statements.
There is an audience here in the hall, but they have been instructed
to remain silent throughout.
The order of the first question was determined by the candidates in
advance, and the first one goes to Vice President Cheney.
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 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 the fruit of a report that you requested that you received a week
ago that showed there was no connection between Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi
and Saddam Hussein?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Gwen, I want to thank you and I want to thank
the folks here at Case Western Reserve for hosting this tonight. It's
a very important event, and they've done a superb job of putting it
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 wherever 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
The concern about Iraq specifically focused on the fact that Saddam
Hussein had been for years listed on the state sponsor of terror; that
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, 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 face 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'd recommend exactly the right -- same course
of action. The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in
jail, his government's no longer in power, and we did exactly the right
MS. IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds to respond.
SEN. EDWARDS: Thank you. Thank you, Gwen, for moderating this debate.
Thank you, the folks of Case Western, and all the people in Ohio for
having us here.
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 over the 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.
MS. IFILL: Would you like 30 seconds to respond, Mr. Vice President?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I would. 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've been able to establish a democratic
government. They're well
on their way to doing that. They'll 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.
MS. IFILL: You have 30 seconds --
SEN. EDWARDS: Yes. 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's 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
MS. IFILL: Time for a new question, but the same topic, this time to
you, Senator Edwards.
You and Senator Kerry have said that the war in Iraq was 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?
SEN. EDWARDS: Here's what it means. It means that Saddam Hussein needed
to be confronted -- John Kerry and I have consistently said that, it'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 the 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 we -- 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 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.
MS. IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds to respond.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The senator's 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 terrorist come
together with weapons of mass destruction, the deadly technologies that
Saddam Hussein had developed and used over the years.
The fact of the matter is the big difference here, Gwen, is that 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 force 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 willing 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.
MS. IFILL: We will return to that topic. But first I want to
ask you for two minutes, Senator -- 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?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Gwen, we have -- 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 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 had 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, 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.
There's been 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.
Now 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 the 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've got -- President Karzai is in power. They
have done wonders, writing their own constitution so that 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.
MS. IFILL: Senator Edwards, you have 90 seconds to respond.
SEN. 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 up -- 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 his 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 Iraq. What's
actually happened is, they are now providing 75 percent of the world's
opium. Not only are they providing 75 percent of the world's opium;
large 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 -- one of the hardest places to control and most insecure.
MS. IFILL: Mr. Vice President --
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: (Inaudible) -- Gwen.
MS. IFILL: -- 30 seconds.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in
El Salvador, and 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 and the determination of these people to vote was unbelievable.
And as 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's a whale of
a lot better because we held free elections. The power of that concept
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, let --
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: And it will apply in Afghanistan, and it will
apply as well in Iraq.
MS. IFILL: Senator Edwards.
SEN. EDWARDS: And 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 -- we should not only not lift them, we should strengthen