By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the administration has achieved "enormous successes" in Iraq but complained that critics and the media "are so eager to write off this effort or declare it a failure" that they are undermining U.S. troops in a war zone, striking a far more combative tone than President Bush did in his State of the Union address the night before.
In a television interview that turned increasingly contentious as it wore on, Cheney rejected the gloomy portrayal of Iraq that has become commonly accepted even among Bush supporters. "There's problems" in Iraq, he said, but it is not a "terrible situation." And congressional opposition "won't stop us" from sending 21,500 more troops, he said, it will only "validate the terrorists' strategy."
The defiant tenor contrasted sharply with Bush's speech Tuesday night, when the president congratulated Democrats on their election victory, offered to work with them on a variety of domestic policies, and told skeptics of his latest Iraq plan that he respects their arguments even as he asked them to give him one more chance to win the war. Bush acknowledged deep troubles in Iraq and made little effort to paint it a success. In a recent interview, Bush said his old policy was heading for "slow failure."
Cheney, on the other hand, rejected the idea that there has been any failure and gave voice to the aggravation many in the White House feel as Democrats step up their attacks on the administration. As leading Democrats lace their rhetoric with words such as "blunder" and "reckless," the White House has tried to calibrate how hard to push back. On a day when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution denouncing Bush's troop increase, Cheney decided not to hold back.
"The pressure is from some quarters to get out of Iraq," he told CNN. "If we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task, that we don't have the stomach for the fight."
Cheney said the administration would disregard the nonbinding resolution opposing the troop increase and suggested it undermines soldiers in a war zone. "It won't stop us," he said. "And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops."
Cheney has been criticized in the past for presenting what some called an overly rosy view of the situation in Iraq, most notably in 2005 when he said the insurgency was in its "last throes." The view he expressed yesterday seemed no less positive, and he sparred repeatedly with "Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer, telling him "you're wrong" and suggesting he was embracing defeat.
When Blitzer asked whether the administration's credibility had been hurt by "the blunders and the failures" in Iraq, Cheney interjected: "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash."
In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. "What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone."
"If he were still there today," Cheney added, "we'd have a terrible situation."
"But there is," Blitzer said.
"No, there is not," Cheney retorted. "There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off." He added: "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes."
Cheney said Blitzer was advocating retreat. "What you're recommending, or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out," the vice president said.
"I'm just asking," Blitzer objected.
"No, you're not asking."
Blitzer has been in the Cheney doghouse since October, when he interviewed the vice president's wife, Lynne, and asked about steamy scenes in a novel she wrote. The subject came up because James Webb, a Democrat then running for Senate from Virginia, had cited her novel in trying to defend explicit scenes he had written. Lynne Cheney angrily rebuffed Blitzer, and her husband later congratulated her for what he called "the slapdown."
Yesterday, the CNN host mentioned that Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, has become pregnant and asked whether he wanted to respond to conservatives who have criticized her.
"I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf," Cheney said. "And obviously, I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question."
Blitzer tried to defend himself: "I think all of us appreciate --" Cheney cut him off: "I think you're out of line."
"We like your daughters," Blitzer replied. "Believe me, I'm very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was a question that's come up, and it's a responsible, fair question."
"I just fundamentally disagree with you," Cheney said.
Cheney was terse, too, about leading Democrats. Asked whether he thinks Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) would make a good president, Cheney said simply, "No, I don't."
"Because she's a Democrat. I don't agree with her philosophically and from a policy standpoint."
And how did it feel to sit next to Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first woman to serve as House speaker?
"I prefer Dennis Hastert."