Tuesday, August 29, 2006

There He Goes Again!

Early Iraq pullout "ruinous" to U.S. security: Cheney
By Patricia Wilson and Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON/RENO, Nevada (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney, seizing on Democratic calls to pull troops out of Iraq, on Monday linked early withdrawal to the possibility of terrorist attacks in the United States.

As Cheney and President George W. Bush try to help Republicans keep control of the U.S. Congress on November 7, polls show public support for the war ebbing. Bush gets better marks for his handling of terrorism.

"Some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone," Cheney told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno. "A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be ... a ruinous blow to the future security of the United States."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pulled from the same playbook on Monday night, telling the veterans group that U.S. foes would view an early withdrawal as American "faintheartedness." He pointed to the Clinton administration's decision to pull troops out of Somalia, a move he said led both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to see U.S. forces as weak.

Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld used the word "Democrats," choosing instead the anonymous "some," but the vice president rejected the argument many have made that by invading Iraq in March 2003, the United States simply "stirred up a hornets' nest."

"They overlook a fundamental fact. We were not in Iraq on September 11, 2001, but the terrorists hit us anyway," he said, in a reference to the hijacked plane attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.


When Bush answered a question about Iraq last week by raising September 11, a reporter asked him, "What did Iraq have to do with that?" The president replied, "Nothing," and added, "Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack."

But prior to the U.S.-led invasion, Cheney suggested that one of the September 11 hijackers met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the attacks. The bipartisan September 11 Commission found no evidence such a meeting took place.

September 11 and its aftermath, as well as the buildup and early successes in the Iraq war, were winning issues for Republicans in 2002 and 2004. With the unpopular war now helping to drag Bush's poll numbers down to the lowest of his presidency, the White House has sought to cast it as part of the broader struggle against terrorism.

Cheney said terrorists wanted to arm themselves with chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons, "to destroy Israel, to intimidate all Western countries and to cause mass death in the United States."

He suggested critics were naive and did not understand the magnitude of the threats.

"Some might look at these ambitions and wave them off as extreme and mad," he said. "Well, these ambitions are extreme and they are mad. They are also real and we must not wave them off, we must take them seriously."

Cheney and Rumsfeld said they welcomed vigorous debate over Iraq, but they drew differences between healthy debate and what the vice president called "self-defeating pessimism."

"We have only two options on Iraq -- victory or defeat -- and this nation will not pursue a policy of retreat," Cheney said.

Rumsfeld said America's enemies had launched a public relations campaign to distort the debate over the war and manipulate the U.S. media to focus on the violence rather than progress being made against terrorism.

"This enemy lies constantly -- almost totally without penalty," he said.

"Today we will not tell 50 million Afghans and Iraqis that because the going is tough -- and it is tough, let there be no doubt -- that we will abandon them to the beheaders, terrorists, assassins and 21st century fascists who seek to attack us abroad and here at home," Rumsfeld said.