WASHINGTON – Following a week of hasty responses to a congressman's call for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq immediately,Vice President Dick Cheney aimed to settle things down Monday,while reinforcing the administration's plan to stay the course.
Cheney responded to Thursday's request by Rep. Jack Murtha,D-Pa.,by clarifying what is legitimate debate and what isn't.
“I disagree with Jack and believe his proposal would not serve the best interest of this nation,” Cheney said. “He's a good man,a Marine,a patriot.”
Murtha,a decorated Vietnam War veteran who as of last year openly supported America's role in Iraq,changed his stance last week,sparking a divisive debate in the House and Senate. His proposal was soundly defeated on the House floor Friday night.
Although Murtha said on “Meet the Press” Sunday,that his comments reflect the opinion of many Americans,he received little initial support from members of the House and Senate.
Rep. Jean Schmidt,R-Ohio,indirectly called Murtha “a coward” during the House debate while reading a message from a constituent that said,“Cowards cut and run. Marines never do.”
Cheney spoke at the American Enterprise Institute,a conservative think tank,where he formerly served as a senior fellow.
“Nobody is saying we should not be having this discussion,” Cheney said. “What is not legitimate … is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence.”
Admitting the flaws in intelligence were plain in hindsight,Cheney said several times that rumors of purposely “distorted” or “hyped” information by the president are not true.
Cheney posed questions to those who support a withdrawal of troops,asking them to consider every element.
He asked if the U.S. would be better off with al-Qaida leaders Abu Musab Zarqawi,Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri in control of Iraq,and if Americans would be safer with an Iraq ruled by men intent on destroying the United States.
Murtha has said troops should be withdrawn because of the lack of progress and the human cost of the war.
Cheney dismissed criticisms of the war effort,saying it has gone as planned and that it requires time and patience.
“So much self-defeating pessimism about Iraq comes at a time of real progress in that country,” he said. “Every benchmark has been met successfully.”
In the midst of last week's debate,the U.S. death toll in Iraq climbed to nearly 2,100.
Any withdrawal would be a mistake,Cheney said.
“It would be a victory for the terrorists,an invitation to further violence against free nations,and a terrible blow to the future security of the U.S.” he said.
According to a Harris International poll for the Wall Street Journal released last week,President Bush's approval rating has dropped to 34 percent,the lowest rating among the four preceding two-term presidents.
Cheney said the ultimate goal is to have the Iraqis take the lead in their own democracy,allowing U.S. troops to return home.
“Four years ago,President Bush told Congress and the country that the path ahead would be difficult,that we were heading into a long struggle,” he said. “The terrorists' only chance for victory is for us to walk away from the fight.”