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Cheney Tells Sailors U.S. Committed to Middle East

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2007 – The Middle East is a crucial part of the world, and the United States will remain involved in bringing peace to that troubled area, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said aboard the aircraft carrier USS Stennis today.

The Stennis and its strike group are operating in the Persian Gulf. Cheney visited the carrier during a trip to the Middle East, which included two days in Iraq.

Cheney delivered President Bush’s greetings to the crew and said he has “never been more proud of the United States military than I am today.”

The Stennis has been in the thick of the fight against terrorism and has had repeated deployments to the region. “It’s not easy duty to serve in this part of the world,” Cheney said. “It’s a place of tension and many conflicts. Throughout the region, our country has interests to protect and commitments to honor.”

The Stennis is operating with the USS Nimitz Strike Group. “With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike: we’ll keep the sea lanes open,” the vice president said. “We’ll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats. We’ll disrupt attacks on our own forces. We’ll continue bringing relief to those who suffer and delivering justice to the enemies of freedom.

“And we’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region,” he added.

The fight against terrorism and fundamentalist extremists is unlike any the United States has been involved in. It is not army versus army or fleets taking on other fleets. “The terrorist enemies are hidden and dispersed,” he said. “They view the entire world as a battlefield, and that is why we’re dealing with them systematically, from Afghanistan to Iraq.”

The enemy will murder innocent, unsuspecting men, women, and children, and serve an ideology that rejects tolerance and demands total obedience, he said. “The terrorists who have declared war on America have made Iraq the central front in that war,” he said. “Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants believe they can wear us down, break our will, force us out, and make Iraq a safe haven for terror.”

Cheney said al Qaeda leaders see Iraq as the centerpiece of a new caliphate, or Muslim kingdom, that they will dominate and use as a safe haven to export fear and violence. “The terrorists have stated these ambitions clearly, and they intend to pursue them with ferocity,” the vice president said. “The United States also has made a decision: As the prime target of a global terror campaign, we will take the fight to the enemy. We will not sit back and wait to be hit again.”

Cheney spoke briefly about his meetings in Baghdad with Iraqi and coalition leaders. He said Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said he expects more violence as the enemy tries to destroy the hopes of the Iraqi people. But the coalition and Iraqi forces are making progress.

“The job now is to persevere in every area of operations – from Baghdad to Anbar province to the border areas,” Cheney said. “And I think General Petraeus’s own words put it best: ‘We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our Iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And together we must prevail.’”

Cheney said the United States has learned the lessons of history. “Nearly six years ago, we saw that dangers can accumulate on the far side of the world, yet still find us in our own country,” he said. “We’ve learned, as well, that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength, … they are invited by the perception of weakness. You and every member of our military can be certain that America will stay on the offensive in the war on terror.”

President Bush and all members of the national security team understand the threat, the vice president said. “We know that we’re not dealing with adversaries that will surrender or suddenly come to their senses,” he said. “So we’ll be flexible. We’ll do all we can to adapt to conditions on the ground. We’ll make every change necessary to do the job.

“And I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat,” he continued. “We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor.”

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