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Cheney Answers Critics of Military Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2003 – Vice President Richard B. Cheney today countered criticism of the administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism.

Critics have charged that pre-emptive military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have served only to stir up anti-American sentiments. Not so, Cheney said during a speech to the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Al Qaeda terrorists, who used Afghanistan for a home base, and the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein have long harbored hostilities against the United States, the vice president pointed out. Avoiding military hostilities hadn't made them friendlier toward the United States, he said, it only served to make them bolder.

"Weakness and drift and vacillation in the face of danger invite attacks," Cheney said. "Strength and resolve and decisive action defeat attacks before they can arrive on our soil."

He also disagreed with those who say the United States should wait for international consent before taking military action against another country. "This view reflects a deep confusion about the requirements of our national security," he said. "Though often crouched in high-sounding terms of unity and cooperation, it is a prescription for perpetual disunity and obstructionism."

Besides, Cheney said, at every turn the United States sought to cooperate with allies and friendly countries. He noted more than 50 countries are contributing to operations in Iraq, while about 70 are helping in Afghanistan.

"The United States is committed to multilateral action wherever possible," he said. "Yet this commitment does not require us to stop everything and neglect our own defense merely on the say-so of a single foreign government.

"Ultimately, America must be in charge of her own national security," he added, to strong applause.

Cheney took the opportunity to affirm President Bush's decision to take the war on terrorism to Iraq. He spoke of revelations by former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who spent four months in Iraq to help activate a new Iraqi police force.

Cheney said Kerik later described a video from Saddam's regime in which an interrogation victim was blown up with a hand grenade, and another in which Saddam watched while a general whose loyalty he doubted was torn apart by two Doberman pinschers.

"President Bush declined a course of inaction, and the results are there for all to see," Cheney said. "The torture chambers are empty; the prisons for children are closed; the murderers of innocents have been exposed; and their mass graves have been uncovered.

"The regime has gone, never to return," he continued. "And despite the difficulties we knew would occur, the Iraqi people prefer liberty and hope to tyranny and fear."

Today, the greatest responsibility facing the U.S. government is keeping terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. American officials know through documents found in Afghanistan and interrogations with terrorist suspects that terror groups have been trying to develop or acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, Cheney explained.

"And if terrorists ever do acquire that capability, on their own or with help from a terror regime, they will use it without the slightest constraint of reason or morality," he said. "That possibility, the ultimate nightmare, could bring devastation to our country on a scale we have never experienced."

The vice president said the United States can't let that happen. "We must do everything in our power to keep terrorists from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction," he said.

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