Vice President Cheney declared yesterday that the United States "will not relent" in the war in Iraq and will hunt down insurgents there "one at a time if necessary," implicitly rebutting escalating pressure on the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home.
Addressing a friendly audience of combat veterans a day after antiwar candlelight vigils were held around the nation, Cheney cast victory in Iraq as "critical to the future security of the U.S." and said the country should not lose its resolve to defeat the militants.
"They believe that America will lose our nerve and let down our guard," he said at the 73rd national convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart held in Springfield, Mo., according to a transcript provided by the White House. "They are sorely mistaken."
Cheney's speech represented the first high-profile White House response in the past week to gathering antiwar demonstrations galvanized by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. Sheehan has set up camp near President Bush's Texas ranch, demanding to speak with the vacationing Bush to express her opposition to the war. She said yesterday that she is temporarily leaving Texas to care for her mother, who had a stroke.
Some Republicans have concluded that the White House mishandled the Sheehan situation. Bush sent two top aides to talk with her but refused to see her himself, having already met her once last year as part of a larger session with relatives of war casualties.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said yesterday that Bush would have been smarter to see Sheehan. "I do know that he met with her and other families prior, but I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her into the ranch," Hagel said on CNN.
In his speech, Cheney did not mention Sheehan but offered tribute to those killed in Iraq: "That loss is irreplaceable, and no one can take away the sorrow that has come to the families of the fallen."
Two months after declaring that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes," Cheney painted a starker picture yesterday, acknowledging that "there is still tough fighting" to come. Rather than promising quick victory, he reminded Americans that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Bush warned that the broader struggle with terrorism would be "a lengthy campaign."
The vice president cited the darkest days of the American Revolution, when the war was going badly and ragtag rebels were ready to go home until George Washington rallied them. "They stayed in the fight, and America won the war," he said. "From that day to this, our country has always counted on the bravest among us to answer the call of duty."