War's Critics Abetting Terrorists, Cheney Says

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

Vice President Cheney offered a veiled attack yesterday on critics of the administration's Iraq policy, saying the domestic debate over the war is emboldening adversaries who believe they can undermine the resolve of the American people.

"They can't beat us in a stand-up fight -- they never have -- but they're absolutely convinced they can break our will, [that] the American people don't have the stomach for the fight," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The vice president said U.S. allies in Afghanistan and Iraq "have doubts" the United States will finish the job there. "And those doubts are encouraged, obviously, when they see the kind of debate that we've had in the United States," he said. "Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists."

Cheney unapologetically defended the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, saying the administration would have done "exactly the same thing" even if it knew before the war what he acknowledged knowing now -- that Iraq did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Yet he also gave a bit of ground, as he was pressed repeatedly by interviewer Tim Russert about statements that turned out to be wrong or damaging to his credibility.

The vice president acknowledged he had been overly optimistic in predicting a quick demise to the Iraqi insurgency that continues to bedevil U.S. forces. More than a year ago, in May 2005, Cheney proclaimed the insurgency was in its "last throes." Since then, more than 1,000 U.S. troops have died and sectarian violence has intensified.

"I think there's no question . . . that the insurgency's gone on longer and been more difficult [than] I had anticipated," Cheney said. But he added that 2005 will be seen as a "turning point" in Iraq's history because of elections that have led to a democratic government.

He did not mention warnings from the intelligence community and others that the post-invasion Iraq could be consumed by religious violence, and that pacifying the country would require many thousands more troops than those committed by the White House.

Cheney's appearance came on the eve of the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and as the Bush administration ratchets up efforts to convince Americans that the war in Iraq is part of a global struggle against Islamic terrorism and extremism. As it tries to keep GOP majorities in Congress, the White House is hoping to make the elections more about battling terrorism in general than about the unpopular war in Iraq.

In sending out Cheney to do a nearly hour-long interview with Russert, the administration chose one of the principal authors of its national security strategy -- but one whose stature has been eroded, in part, by assertions that Democrats and even some administration allies consider as lacking credibility.

Democrats reacted with scorn to Cheney's latest comments.

"Vice President Cheney's influence over our nation's foreign policy and defense has made America less safe," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.). "The vice president was a chief architect of the effort to manipulate intelligence to build a case for invading Iraq; he ignored the threat of insurgencies, he took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, and today he made clear that he would do nothing different."

Cheney appeared unruffled as Russert asked him again and again about his past remarks or about policies that have lost popularity with Americans.

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