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'It's Not Just About Iraq'

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 23, 2006; 12:40 PM

Vice President Cheney yesterday offered an unusually revealing glimpse of his worldview -- one in which a withdrawal from Iraq may have less to do with Iraq, and more to do with the message it would send to the world about the limits of American power.

In Cheney's view, withdrawal from Iraq would first and foremost make the United States look weak. And that, in turn, would have cataclysmic domino-style effects across the globe: Afghanistan could fall, and so could Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Iranians could get nukes. And the United States itself would become dramatically more vulnerable to attack, not to mention lose its ability to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.

Cheney really loathes weakness. And like his fellow neoconservatives, he is consumed with the conviction that an all-powerful United States is both imperative to American security and the best thing for the world. Moral leadership, multilateralism, containment, human rights -- those are all less crucial than maintaining unquestioned power, at the point of a gun if necessary.

(See, for example, this statement of principles from the Project for the New American Century, of which Cheney is a signatory.)

The problem with Cheney's philosophy, of course, is overreach. In Iraq, as in Vietnam before it, the United States may have started something we can't finish.

Now, if we stay in Iraq, we appear weak, too. In fact, if we withdrew, we might be stronger. (See, for instance, former National Security Agency director Gen. William Odom 's contributions to NiemanWatchdog.org .)

But in Cheney's mindset, American might makes right -- so the invasion of Iraq couldn't have been a mistake. And backing off would be a global disaster.

Cheney on CNN

Here's the transcript of Cheney's interview with John King. Here are some video excerpts .

Shame on King for not asking Cheney any questions about Ron Suskind's new book, full of shocking revelations about Cheney's influence on the White House. (See my Monday and Tuesday columns.)

But King did ask what Cheney thought of a Democratic proposal for a timetable for withdrawal, and the vice president let loose:

"If we were to do that, it would be devastating from the standpoint of the global war on terror. It would affect what happens in Afghanistan. It would make it difficult for us to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations for nuclear weapons. It would threaten the stability of regimes like Musharraf in Pakistan and the Saudis in Saudi Arabia. It is -- absolutely the worst possible thing we could do at this point would be to validate and encourage the terrorists by doing exactly what they want us to do, which is to leave. . . .

"The fact of the matter is that we are in a global conflict. It's not just about Iraq. It's -- we've seen attacks around the world from New York and Washington, all the way around the Jakarta and Indonesia over the course of the last five years. Our strategy that we adopted after 9/11 of progressively going after the terrorists, going after states that sponsor terror, taking the fight to the enemy has been crucial in terms of our being able to defend the United States. I think one of the reasons we have not been struck again in five years -- and nobody can promise we won't -- but it's because we've taken the fight to them.


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