Vice President Cheney today repeated his charge that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's approach toward the Iraq war would benefit al-Qaeda, saying that he was not trying to impugn the speaker's patriotism but instead hold her accountable for the consequences of her policies.
Continuing a feud that broke out earlier in the week, Cheney said that Democratic proposals to restrict some Iraq war funding -- what he dubbed the "Pelosi policy" -- would amount to a broad validation of al-Qaeda efforts to undermine America's will to fight.
Cheney initially raised that criticism on Wednesday, prompting Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ask the White House to repudiate remarks she felt were "beneath the dignity of the debate" over how to proceed in Iraq.
But in a new interview with ABC television on Friday, Cheney said that patriotism had nothing to do with his comments. Instead, he charged Democrats were trying to win public support by criticizing the war without taking responsibility for the repercussions.
"She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment," Cheney said during a trip to Australia.
"If you are going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, well we're going to get out and appeal to your constituents on that basis. You have to be accountable for the results. . . .
"The point I made and I'll make it again is that al-Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. . . . That if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. . . . If we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaeda. I said it and I meant it."
Democratic House and Senate leaders are pursuing a number of efforts to change the direction of U.S. policy in Iraq. They include a nonbinding resolution opposing the administration's planned surge in troop levels and tougher measures that would tie funding for the war to stricter troop rotation and training requirements, and a possible rewrite of the initial legislation authorizing the 2003 invasion of the country.
Cheney's comments are part of an increasingly testy effort to counter those Democratic initiatives.
Pelosi's call to the White House was fielded by chief of staff Josh Bolten: the speaker apparently did not get to talk to President Bush about the matter.
Far from a repudiation, the message from the White House is that Cheney was not out of line, but evaluating policy on the merits.
"The Vice President out of line? Absolutely not," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday aboard Air Force One on the way to North Carolina. "He was questioning the merits."