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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 31, 2004 11:08 AM

The New York Times headline this morning reads: “Bush Cites Doubt America Can Win War on Terror.”

John Edwards (who?) yapped: “This is no time to declare defeat.”

Bush did not “declare defeat.” John Kerry’s desperate spinners are selectively seizing on the second sentence in Bush’s answer to NBC Today Show co-host Matt Lauer about how the war on terror will eventually be won.

Here is the relevant portion of Bush’s interview, which aired yesterday:

Lauer: “You said to me a second ago, one of the things you’ll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?”

President Bush: “I have never said we can win it in four years.”

Lauer: “So I’m just saying can we win it? Do you see that?”

President Bush: “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world — let’s put it that way. I have a two pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us, and that’s necessary. I’m telling you it’s necessary. The country must never yield, must never show weakness [and] must continue to lead. To find al-Qaida affiliates who are hiding around the world and … harm us and bring ‘em to justice — we’re doing a good job of it. I mean we are dismantling the al-Qaida as we knew it. The long-term strategy is to spread freedom and liberty, and that’s really kind of an interesting debate. You know there’s some who say well, ‘You know certain people can’t self govern and accept, you know, a former democracy.’ I just strongly disagree with that. I believe that democracy can take hold in parts of the world that are now non-democratic and I think it’s necessary in order to defeat the ideologies of hate. History has shown that it can work, that spreading liberty does work. After all, Japan is our close ally and my dad fought against the Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi, is one of the closest collaborators I have in working to make the world a more peaceful place.”

Lauer: “Your daughters are how old now?”

President Bush: “Twenty-two.”

Lauer: “Twenty-two years old. They’re approaching the age, President Bush, [when] they’re going to have their own children. And when their kids are teenagers are they going to those kids — your grandchildren — be reading about al-Qaida in the newspaper every day?”

President Bush: “I know if steadfast, strong and resolute — and I say those words very seriously — it’s less likely that your kids are going to live under the threat of al-Qaida for a long period of time. I can’t tell you. I don’t have any … definite end. But I tell you this, when we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s the beginning of the end for these extremists. Because freedom is going to have a powerful influence to make sure your kids can grow up in a peaceful world. If we believe, for example, that you can’t win, and the alternative is to retreat … I think that would be a disaster for your children. I’ll tell you why. If al-Qaida and their ideologues were able to secure a nuclear arsenal, then your children would grow up under the threat of nuclear blackmail. I think you would look back and say, ‘Why did George Bush not hold the line?’ We cannot show weakness in this world today, because the enemy will exploit that weakness. It will embolden them and make the world a more dangerous place.”

Could Bush have been clearer? Sure. Terror is a tactic, not the enemy. You can’t win against “it”–and certainly not in four years. That’s what he was getting at when he stressed the word “it” in the interview (the verbal emphasis is not obvious by simply reading the transcript). And, as Bush was obviously arguing, you can’t set a date for when the war against al Qaeda and other Islamic militants is going to be won.

Notwithstanding Edwards’ yelping and the liberal media machinations, and judging from Kerry’s own ramblings on the subject, Kerry and Bush have the exact same position on this point.

Update: David Limbaugh’s take is here. Ramesh and Jonah at The Corner comment here and here. Jeff Jarvis’s thoughts are here. An excerpt from Jeff’s post:

They will hide and they will morph. We will prevail. We will survive. We will succeed. But we won’t “win” against every terrorist and we should not fool ourselves to think that that day at the surrender table will ever come.

That should go in the talking points of both presidential candidates.

Excellent thoughts from dustbury as well here. Snippet:

It is literally impossible to wipe every last terrorist off the face of the earth. And bad ideas have a way of surviving well beyond their sell-by date: despite the implosion of the Soviet Union and the shredding of the Iron Curtain, we still have Communists scattered hither and yon, clinging desperately to their discredited delusions…

…Radical Islam, which is at least as bad an idea as Communism, and in some regards worse, isn’t going away any time soon. Your friendly neighborhood multilateralist thinks it can be bottled up, buried in bureaucracy, bogged down in red tape. He ignores the Islamist disregard for the niceties of civilization and the conventions of contemporary life. And obsessed with al-Qaeda, as though it were a brand name like, um, Heinz®, he overlooks the fact that there is no shortage of Islamic militants who owe no particular allegiance to Osama bin Laden…

Update II: Advantage – Jeff Jarvis! Here’s Bush at the American Legion this morning:

“In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table,” Bush said. “But make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.”

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