On Your World, Neil Cavuto responded to retired Gen. Wesley Clark's assertion that President Bush describes "anybody who disagrees with him on ... his attack on Iraq as someone who is soft on terror" by falsely claiming that Bush "is not equating Iraq [to the war on terror] in that sense." In fact, Bush recently claimed that those advocating a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops are "wrong" because it "would be a defeat for the United States in a key battleground in the global war on terror."
Responding to Fox News military analyst and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark's assertion, during the August 29 edition of Fox News' Your World, that President Bush describes "anybody who disagrees with him on ... his attack on Iraq as someone who is soft on terror," host Neil Cavuto falsely claimed that Bush "is not equating Iraq [to the war on terror] in that sense." In fact, Bush has recently claimed that those advocating a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq are "wrong" because it "would be a defeat for the United States in a key battleground in the global war on terror." In addition, Vice President Dick Cheney recently claimed that "[a] precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists," while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently attacked Bush's Iraq war critics as "quitter[s]" who "blame America first" and "cannot stomach a good fight," adding that the war in Iraq is the "epicenter" in the fight against terrorism.
As Media Matters for America recently noted, during a speech at an August 16 fundraiser for Lynn Swann, the Republican challenger in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Bush addressed the debate over the war in Iraq. He recycled the common Republican talking point that proposals to redeploy U.S. troops out of Iraq amount to a "cut and run" strategy and claimed: "The war on terror is fought in many theaters, and the central front in the war on terror now is Iraq":
BUSH: This war on terror is more than just chasing down people hiding in caves, or preventing people from getting on airplanes to blow them up. The war on terror is fought in many theaters, and the central front in the war on terror now is Iraq. I say it's the central front because that's what the enemy themselves have said -- that they want to drive us from the region; that they view it as the central front, as well. They've got objectives in Iraq. They want the United States to suffer a defeat in Iraq. They want us to retreat from Iraq. They want to create such havoc on our TV screens by killing innocent people that the American people finally say, we've had enough -- leaving Iraq before the mission is complete.
And the mission is to have a country, a free country that can sustain itself, and govern itself, and defend itself, and serve as an ally in the war on terror in the heart of the Middle East. That's the mission. And they want us to leave -- they want us to cut and run. And there's some good people in our country who believe we should cut and run. They're not bad people when they say that, they're decent people. I just happen to believe they're wrong. And they're wrong for this reason: This would be a defeat for the United States in a key battleground in the global war on terror. It would create a -- leaving before we complete our mission would create a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, a country with huge oil reserves that the terrorist network would be willing to use to extract economic pain from those of us who believe in freedom.
In an August 28 speech delivered to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, Cheney asserted that American efforts in Iraq were central to the Bush administration's strategy for fighting terrorism, adding that a withdrawal from Iraq "would be a victory for the terrorists":
CHENEY: I realize, as well, that some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone. But the exact opposite is true. Time and again over the last generation, the terrorists have targeted nations whose behavior they believe they can change through violence. In fact such a retreat would convince the terrorists, once again, that free nations will change our policies, forsake our friends, and abandon our interests whenever we are confronted with violence and blackmail. They would simply draw up another set of demands, and instruct Americans to act as they direct or to face other murders. A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further violence against free nations, and a ruinous blow to the future security of the United States.
Cheney also claimed during the speech that "[s]ome in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone," but did not identify a single critic of the Iraq war who argues that withdrawing from Iraq would "get [terrorists] to leave us alone."
Rumsfeld also gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Conference on August 28. Rumsfeld asserted that "[t]he extremists openly call Iraq the 'epicenter' in the war on terror. And they mean it. Yet even today there are many who argue otherwise." Rumsfeld later added that "we must keep a 'Blame America first' mentality from undermining our efforts today in another long war against a determined enemy." The next day, during a speech presented to the 88th annual American Legion National Convention, Rumsfeld again asserted that Iraq is the "epicenter" in the struggle against terrorism, and after discussing those who retreat from the "war on terror" to those who appeased "the rise of fascism and Nazism," he concluded of the Iraq war: "The question is not whether we can win; it's whether we have the will to persevere to win. I'm convinced that Americans do have that determination and that we have learned the lessons of history, of the folly of trying to turn a blind eye to danger."
Earlier in the interview, Cavuto asked Clark if he thought "there are those in the Democratic Party who blame the United States for the evil that has been heaped upon it." Cavuto later noted "the constant pounding against the war, the constant pounding of the president, saying that he is an unfit commander in chief," and then asked Clark, "[W]hat message do you think that sends, when the commander in chief is bludgeoned constantly?"
From the August 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Well, President Bush calling Iran part of that axis of evil, as was Iraq. Today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasting critics of the war on terror, comparing them to those who appeased Adolf Hitler prior to World War II.
RUMSFELD [video clip]: It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies, when those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated.
CAVUTO: All right, reaction now from former presidential candidate, Fox News military analyst General Wesley Clark, author of Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire. General, what did you think of Rumsfeld's remarks?
CLARK: Well, I think they're -- they're overdrawn and misplaced. No one has ignored the threat to the United States. And, certainly, Rumsfeld hasn't been ignored. He led an invasion of a country that actually wasn't a sponsor of terrorism. The invasion's gone very poorly. It's been this administration's contention that it remains the centerpiece of the war on terror.
And what America is increasingly understanding is that the problem of Iraq is not a problem of the war on terror. It's a problem of the Bush administration's own making.
CAVUTO: All right, still, we don't know, unequivocally, whether Iraq was sponsoring terror. That's a whole 'nother point. But let me ask you about what --
CLARK: Well, we do know, Neil, that it had nothing to do with 9-11, and that they may have used terrorism as a method, but they weren't part of the gang of terrorists that Donald Rumsfeld wants us to attack, and that all Americans want to get rid of.
CAVUTO: Well, let's ask to the bigger point, because we could argue that one for a while. But, on this issue that Mr. Rumsfeld raised, General, that we -- can we truly afford a return to the destructive view that America, not the enemy, is the real source of the world's troubles?
CLARK: I don't think anybody has suggested that we have that view.
CAVUTO: You don't think there -- there -- there are those in the Democratic Party --
CLARK: Absolutely not.
CAVUTO: -- who blame the United States for the evil that's been heaped upon it?
CLARK: Absolutely not. I -- that -- that's -- that's absolutely nothing but partisan attack. Look, the United States is the bastion of democracy and freedom. And every Democrat knows that. But the invasion of Iraq was a war we didn't have to fight. This administration took us to Iraq. They took us to Iraq without a real reason for doing so, under some grandiose plan to transform the Middle East and make it all democratic.
CAVUTO: Do you think, then, that, by -- by the constant pounding against the war, the constant pounding of the president, saying that he's an unfit commander in chief, that he hasn't done his job, what message does this send to our troops? And you, of course, a former esteemed general -- what message do you think that sends, when the commander in chief is bludgeoned constantly?
CLARK: I don't think that's the point. I think the point is that the commander in chief went to war, partly for political purposes. He's used the war for political purposes. And I object to anyone using our men and women in -- in uniform for political purposes.
CAVUTO: What political gain -- General, what political gain has this president gotten out of this war?
CLARK: He has gotten control of the Congress in 2002. He won the 2004 election over it. And now he's in a hole in 2006. And, so, once again, he's calling anybody who disagrees with him on his foreign policy and his attack on Iraq as someone who's soft on terror. That's not the case. Democrats are really --
CAVUTO: No, no. He's not equating --
CLARK: Democrats are really strong on -- on winning against terrorism.
CAVUTO: No, no, no. The best I can remember General he wasn't, no, no no no. General, you're a smart man. He's not equating Iraq in that sense. He's talking about the war on terror. Is it possible that your party, the reason why it keeps goofing up at the polls, is because it can't distinguish between the two?
CLARK: No. I think that my party has distinguished between the two.