Vice President Cheney told troops Tuesday that terrorists can win in Iraq only "if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission." He rejected calls for a speedy drawdown of armed forces.
"This would be unwise in the extreme," Cheney told the soldiers, some just back from Iraq. Cheney spoke in an aviation hangar on this base in northern New York, addressing an audience that base officials put at around 3,000.
It was the latest installment in the administration's effort to shore up slumping support for the war with a series of speeches ahead of Dec. 15 elections to pick a permanent Iraqi government.
President Bush, who gave a speech last week at the U.S. Naval Academy highlighting progress in training Iraqi army and police forces, was to speak in Washington on Wednesday about Iraq's recovering economy.
Cheney addressed a rally attended by the Army's 10th Mountain Division and the Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division, drawing frequent cheers and shouts.
He later sat down with about two dozen members of the 42nd Infantry Division to discuss their experiences in Iraq, telling them their work was "extraordinarily important . . . and the subject of considerable debate, as it should be."
Cheney praised recent comments by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who was his vice presidential opponent in the 2000 election, suggesting that too hasty a U.S. withdrawal would erase nearly all the progress made by the United States in Iraq and the Middle East.
"He is entirely correct. On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree. The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission," Cheney said.
"Some have suggested by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein we simply stirred up a hornet's nest. They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq in September 2001 and the terrorists hit us anyway."
If the United States suddenly pulled out of Iraq, "that nation would return to the rule of tyrants, become a massive source of instability in the Middle East and be a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations," Cheney said.