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Cheney defends Bush foreign policy

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

LAKE ELMO, Minn. -- Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing at what was billed as a business leader round-table, spent most of his time defending the Bush administration's foreign policy, saying the November election will be a referendum on that issue.

Cheney criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for "having 10 different positions on Iraq." He said Kerry would not be as resolute a commander-in-chief as Bush is.

"I never challenged his patriotism," Cheney said. "I challenge his judgment."

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The Bush campaign has sought to portray Kerry as constantly shifting his position on Iraq, and Cheney did so again in comments alluding to Thursday's first debate between the candidates, to focus on foreign policy.

"I'm waiting to see what he will say Thursday night," Cheney said with a chuckle. "It'll be interesting."

The hourlong event was held at a country-themed restaurant on the edge of the Twin Cities. A dozen hand-picked small business owners surrounded Cheney and his wife, Lynne.

Only a handful got to ask questions, and they focused mainly on controlling health-care costs for small businesses. Cheney said the administration's proposals to rework malpractice and tort law would help in that effort, but he returned repeatedly to the foreign policy theme.

Ed LeClair, a Woodbury insurance agency owner, said that national security issues are more important to him than his pocketbook this campaign. He said he agrees with the administration's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its hard line on terrorism.

And he said he is concerned with Kerry's ability to lead the war on terror.

"It seems like Kerry is reflecting the pre-9/11 viewpoint that if America is nice and soft and get-along, that people will love us. I don't think that's the reality of the world today."

Cheney said America needed to address Iraq sooner or later, and it would have been worse to wait.

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"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.

Cheney, who was headed to Duluth later in the day for another appearance, was in Minnesota for the second time this month. He and his Democratic counterpart, John Edwards, held dueling events just a few miles and hours apart on Labor Day.

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