Cheney: U.S., Coalition Must Stay Course in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2005 To those who advocate a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney posed two questions today.
Would the United States and other free nations be better or worse off with terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi running Iraq? And would the United States be more or less safe with Iraq ruled by extremists intent on its destruction?
Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute here, warned against what he called "self-defeating pessimism" that overlooks solid progress being made in Iraq while advocating a prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops there.
"Coalition forces are making decisive strikes against terrorist strongholds, and more and more they are doing so with Iraqi forces at their side," Cheney said. He noted that nine Iraqi army battalions are fighting alongside U.S. forces.
The vice president cited political progress, as well, with the upcoming election of a new Iraqi government under the new constitution. "Day after day, Iraqis are proving their determination to live in freedom, to chart their own destiny and to defend their own country," he said.
Now, when so much progress is being made, is no time to turn tail and leave Iraq, Cheney said.
"It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone," he said. In fact, such a move would only embolden the terrorists, he said.
"A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further the violence against free nations and a terrible blow to the future security of the United States of America," he said.
The vice president called debate over U.S. operations in Iraq a sign of a healthy democracy and acknowledged that questions of national security evoke strong opinions on both sides of the issue.
"Nobody is saying we should not be having this discussion or that you cannot re-examine a decision made by the president and the Congress some years ago," he said. "To the contrary, I believe it is critical that we continue to remind ourselves why this nation took action and why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror and why we have a duty to persevere."
Cheney said he disagrees with those who think it's in America's best interest to leave Iraq now. But he had harsher terms for those who charge that U.S. leaders intentionally misled the American people about prewar intelligence, calling them "revisionists of the most shameless and corrupt kind."
The United States entered the war in Iraq based on the best information known at the time and with broad-based bipartisan support, Cheney said. With the hindsight of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, waiting for enemies to attack yet again before going on the offensive would have been "suicide," he said.
Those who argue that the United States "stirred up a hornet's nest" by entering Iraq overlook the basic fact that the United States was not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said.
"And the terrorists hit us anyway," he said. "The reality is that terrorists were at war with our country long before the liberation of Iraq and long before the attacks of 9/11."
For too long, the U.S. failure to act gave terrorists the mistaken belief that they attack Americans and get away with it, Cheney said. So now, when the United States is striking back, terrorists are testing U.S. resolve, he said.
The vice president praised U.S. troops who he said overlook political squabbles at home as they fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war on terror.
"They haven't wavered in the slightest, and their conduct should make all Americans proud," Cheney said of the troops. "They are absolutely relentless in their duties and they are carrying out their mission with all the skill and the honor we expect of them."
Cheney affirmed U.S. commitment to its troops and to winning the war on terror.
"The people who serve in uniform and their families can be certain that their cause is right and just and necessary," he said. "And we will stand behind them with pride and without wavering until the day of victory," he said.
Similarly, Cheney said the United States will keep its commitment to the Iraqis.
"Our forces will keep going after the terrorists and continue training the Iraqi military so that Iraqis can eventually take the lead in their country's security and our men and women can come home," he said.
"We will succeed in this mission, and when it is concluded, we will be a safer nation."