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Cheney: Early Iraq Pullout Would Imperil U.S., Anti-Terror War

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2007 – An early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would endanger the United States and imperil the global war against terrorism, Vice President Richard B. Cheney told members of a pro-Israel advocacy group here today.

The United States and Israel “are the prime targets of a terror movement that is global in nature and, yes, global in its ambitions,” Cheney told American-Israel Public Affairs Committee members at a group conference meeting.

“The leaders of this movement speak openly and specifically of building a totalitarian empire covering the Middle East, extending into Europe and reaching across to the islands of Indonesia, one that would impose a narrow, radical vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, suppresses dissent, brutalizes women and has one of its foremost objectives the destruction of Israel,” Cheney said.

Terrorists “wage war by stealth and murder,” Cheney pointed out, noting their employment of suicide bombers ignores the rules of warfare and targets the innocent.

“Civilized, decent societies will never fully understand the kind of mind-set that drives men to strap on bombs or fly airplanes into buildings, all for the purpose of killing unsuspecting men, women and children who they have never met and who have done them no wrong, but that is the very kind of blind, prideful hatred we're up against,” he said.

The terrorists want to obtain chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction to impose their demands through more spectacular attacks or blackmail, Cheney said. Such an enemy cannot be fought using previous strategies and methods, the vice president said, adding that terrorists aren’t going to sit down at a table for negotiations or be fought to a standoff.

Therefore, terrorism must be confronted “directly, patiently and systematically, until the enemy is destroyed,” he said.

The war on terror also is a battle of ideas, Cheney said, noting that by providing an alternative to the terrorists’ hateful ideologies, “we improve the chances for a lasting peace and we advance our own security interest.”

In recent years, liberty-loving people in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq have risen up against terrorism and its ideology of hatred, Cheney said. However, the terrorists struck back with more killing and violence, he said, noting Hezbollah operatives continued their rocket assaults against innocents in Israel and Lebanon.

“Also, in 2006, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan waged a new offensive against Afghan and NATO forces, and Iraq’s Sunni and Shiia extremists engaged in an escalating sectarian struggle that continues to this day,” Cheney said.

Yet, American and NATO forces in Afghanistan are preparing a new spring offensive against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, Cheney pointed out. And, in Iraq, “our coalition is pursuing a new strategy that brings in reinforcements to help Iraqi forces secure the capital so that nation can move forward in the political process and turn toward reconciliation,” he added.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, and the troops under his command “are in the midst of some extremely tough, intense and dangerous work,” Cheney said.

America’s servicemembers “represent the best that is in our country,” Cheney said. “They're well-trained and professional. Their morale is high. They're giving this mission everything they've got, and they are doing an absolutely brilliant job.”

The war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, Cheney said, noting that fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has often referred to Baghdad as the capital of his vision of a world dominated by radical Islam.

“Obviously, the terrorists have no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq,” Cheney said. “They have not called it a distraction or a diversion from their war against the United States. They know it is the central front in that war, and it’s where they’ve chosen to make a stand.”

Iraq’s relevance to the war on terror couldn’t be more obvious, Cheney said, noting that Iraqi security forces and U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq routinely battle al Qaeda operatives.

“Here at home, that makes one thing above all clear. If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us,” Cheney said.

He added that an early pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq “represents a full validation” of al Qaeda’s strategy, Cheney said.

“The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission, and the terrorists do believe that they can force that outcome. Time after time, they have predicted that the American people do not have the stomach for a long-term fight,” Cheney said. A military withdrawal from Iraq would place the United States in greater jeopardy, he explained, because the terrorists would conclude they could attack America again and again.

“Let me say that a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and the entire Middle East,” Cheney said. “It’s not hard to imagine what could occur if our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves.

Moderate Iraqis would be singled out and eliminated, he said. Meanwhile, Iranian-supported Shiite extremists “could be in an all-out war” with al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein regime-led Sunni extremists, he added.

Such a nightmare scenario would inflame the Middle East, embolden America’s worst enemies and leave the United States measurably weakened, Cheney said.

“We must consider, as well, just what a precipitous withdrawal would mean to our other efforts in the war on terror and to our interests in the broader Middle East,” Cheney said.

After achieving victory in Iraq, the jihadists “would look abroad for new missions,” he said.

“Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban,” the vice president continued. Other terrorists would travel across the Middle East to spread discord and undermine moderate governments, he said.

“What would it say to the world,” Cheney asked rhetorically, “if we left high and dry those millions of people who have counted on the United States to keep its commitment?”

A sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would also “dissipate much of the effort that’s gone into fighting the global war on terror and result in chaos and mounting danger,” he said.

“For the sake of our own security, we will not stand by and let it happen,” Cheney said.

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