The Bush administration will aggressively pursue terrorism in Iraq and on "every other front," Vice President Cheney said Monday, asserting that the United States is now paying the price for two decades of weak responses to terrorist attacks.
Addressing Marines who have just returned from Iraq, Cheney said the failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations to retaliate decisively after terrorism incidents during the 1980s and 1990s led directly to the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying any price. And so they continued to wage those attacks, making the world less safe and eventually striking the United States on 9/11," Cheney said.
The vice president highlighted seven occasions when he said he felt the United States did not hit back strongly enough. The first -- the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans -- resulted in U.S. troops being withdrawn from the city by the Reagan administration. Many of those killed came from Camp Lejeune, members of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
Cheney said the American response was also inadequate after the killing of U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993; the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York the same year; the car bombing at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers, which housed U.S. military personnel in Saudi Arabia, in 1996; the destruction of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998; and the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
"Time and time again, for the remainder of the 20th century, the terrorists hit America and America did not hit back hard enough," he said, rallying the crowd. "As President Bush has said, the only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission."
Cheney was addressing 4,500 Marines from the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marines, many of whom were just back from a seven-month deployment in Iraq. The battalion lost 48 Marines in Iraq, including 14 killed in back-to-back attacks in one week this summer. More than 150 from the battalion were wounded. "Sounds like you're glad to be home," Cheney told them.
He said troops had faced "difficult and perilous" challenges in recent months, but raised the possibility of further deployments by saying there was more hard work ahead. "It is tough and it is dangerous to fight enemies who dwell in the shadows, who target the innocent and plot destruction on a massive scale," the vice president said.
He told the troops that while progress in Iraq had been "superb," an early withdrawal would turn it into a staging area for greater attacks against the United States and its allies. He also said that the U.S. mission would not end with Iraq. "In the broader Middle East and beyond, America will continue to encourage free markets, democracy and tolerance," Cheney said. He said that eventually, "a terrible threat will be removed from the lives of our children and our grandchildren."
Cheney's speech was part of a renewed focus by the Bush administration on Iraq ahead of next week's referendum on a draft constitution. Bush is preparing to give a speech on terrorism Thursday.