Democratic vice presidential contender John Edwards said Wednesday morning that the most pressing challenge facing President Bush during the upcoming debate will be whether he can acknowledge the mistakes made in the execution of the Iraq war.
"The question is, is the President finally going to come clean and tell the American people the truth about what's going on in Iraq," he told radio talk show host Don Imus. "It will be interesting to see whether he keeps trying to say everything is going well, because everyone knows that's not true."
In a series of town hall meetings here and in other battleground states over the past several days, Edwards has been focusing in on what he says have been the serious flaws in the nation's war effort. Referring to public assessments by Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate and by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Edwards tells his audiences of the troubling conditions: Americans being kidnapped and beheaded; a chaotic country still under the control of insurgents; terrorists "blowing into the country from all over the world"; over 1,000 American casualties.
"All people have to do is turn their television on to know what's going on," Edwards says. "People know all these things."
During Wednesday morning's radio appearance, Edwards also cited a 1992 interview in which Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to argue against an all-out Iraqi invasion. The Cheney interview, given when he was secretary of defense, was reported Wednesday by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
"When he was asked why they didn't finish the job in Iraq . . . he talked about the enormous danger and risk of getting bogged down," Edwards said, "of having to govern the country. Of the casualties that would be incurred. To use some of the same language these people have used against John, he was against getting bogged down in Iraq before he was for it."
Edwards said his running mate's solution to the Iraq situation would involve reaching out to the nation's traditional allies in a meaningful way.
"To get them involved, they're going to have to believe that they're not just sending troops, or not just sending reconstruction workers, they're going to actually be involved in deciding what's going to happen," Edwards said. "They're going to be in the decision making. They're not just going to be told by America what's going to happen."
Edwards will begin his own debate preparations later this week in upstate New York. He told Imus he had little influence in getting the rules of the debate against Cheney written to favor his speaking style. The two vice presidential candidates will face off for 90 minutes next Tuesday while seated at a round table in Cleveland.
"They got all the things they wanted," Edwards said.
Cheney, appearing in Lake Elmo, Minn., questioned Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's commitment to aggressively pursuing terrorists and those who support them Wednesday, and said the presidential election would be a referendum on the anti-terror fight, the Associated Press said.
As for the war in Iraq, Cheney said the United States needed to address the situation sooner or later, and it would have been worse to wait.
"The idea that somehow we could pull back and simply sit behind our oceans and not aggressively be going after the terrorists and those who sponsor terrorists, I think misreads the situation completely," he said.