Vice President Cheney appeared in public yesterday for the first time since the United States attacked Iraq, just in time to savor the strategy the administration used to take down Saddam Hussein.
Cheney voiced concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction since before Sept. 11, 2001, but he left the talking to others after appearing on Sunday talk shows three weeks ago to give a rosy prediction about the trajectory of the war.
Yesterday's speech in New Orleans to the American Society of Newspaper Editors had long been scheduled. It was by coincidence that he was in the spotlight on the day that U.S. troops overran Baghdad and gleeful Iraqis toppled a statue of Hussein.
"In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios," Cheney said, drawing laughter. "But with every day and every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent."
Cheney has recently lowered his already low profile, meeting privately with visiting foreign ministers and Iraqi exiles hoping for jobs in the postwar government.
Cheney, the former chief executive of a Texas oil-services company, gave what industry analysts consider an optimistic projection for Iraqi oil production -- 2.5 million to 3 million barrels a day by the end of the year, eventually generating "as much as $20 billion a year for the Iraqi people."
Reminding the audience that Bush has promised a long war against terrorism, Cheney suggested that there will be more military initiatives. He said the United States has "a moral duty" to confront terrorists and he reaffirmed the administration doctrine of doing so preemptively, or before they strike.
Cheney, 62, took more than a dozen questions from the editors, reflecting on his career as a congressman from Wyoming, as chief of staff to President Gerald R. Ford and as defense secretary during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, which left Hussein in power.
"Life used to be relatively simple, when I think back to the Cold War days, and sort of gave a structure to your morning when you got up, in terms of what you had to worry about," he said, to chuckles. "That's no longer the case. It's a big, complicated world out there, and we're having to deal with multiple moving parts."
Cheney, who won a court battle with Congress over release of the records of an energy task force he led, told the editors that he thought it was "an unfair perception" that the Bush administration is a foe of openness in government. "Some people may have taken that as 'chilling' the information process," he said. "I don't. I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president to be able to conduct their business."
After the speech he joined his wife, Lynne V. Cheney, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, at the nearby National D-Day Museum as she donated $25,000 from the sales of her most recent book, "America: A Patriotic Primer."
After the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Cheney became almost invisible to outsiders after he began spending much of his time working in what the White House called "a secure, undisclosed location" for security reasons.
During the war, Cheney has spent most of his time in Washington, giving up his weekend hunting trips and getaways to his ranch in Jackson, Wyo. Aides said that, like Bush, Cheney has mostly stuck to his routines during the war. He rises early to work out on a stationary bicycle, then reads newspapers on his way to work about 7 a.m.
Cheney either joins Bush for his morning intelligence briefing or receives his own from a CIA agent if he is away from the White House. Cheney then sits in on the daily National Security Council meeting, either in the Situation Room or by secure video link. He has a weekly lunch with Bush and a weekly joint lunch with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Like Cheney, his staff of about 60 is unusually powerful by historical standards. His aides, who include some of the White House's most ardent conservatives, have been deeply involved in developing Bush's homeland security and smallpox policies. His chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is a regular at war council meetings at Camp David.