WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy Thursday. He said that ignoring or wishing away evidence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein would have been “irresponsible in the extreme.”
He also said a new Iraqi army will soon be formed and the new government will become a model for the Middle East.
Cheney's comments continued the string of administration responses to Democratic presidential candidates and members of Congress questioning how truthful the administration was about what it knew about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the months preceding the war. Many have called for an independent investigation.
“President Bush kept the American people constantly informed of the dangers we faced,” Cheney said to about 200 people at the American Enterprise Institute,a think tank. “There was no need for anyone to speculate what the president was thinking. His words were clear and straightforward and understood by friend and enemy alike.”
Questions have surrounded a claim Bush made in the State of the Union address in January that Iraq tried to obtain uranium in Africa. That claim is now known to have been based on forged documents and the CIA and administration officials admitted they were wary of it.
Cheney rattled off a list of quotes from the October National Intelligence Estimate that supported the speech. He said the intelligence community had high confidence that Iraq had a continuing WMD program and could construct a nuclear weapon in less than a year once it acquired sufficient material. He also quoted the NIE as saying elements of Iraq's biological weapons program were larger and more advanced than they were after the 1991 Gulf War.
Cheney,who spoke for about 20 minutes and did not take questions,did not mention that no such weapons have been found in Iraq.
However,he directly challenged critics of the war,asking them to answer the question,“How could any responsible leader avoid the Iraqi threat?”
He said Saddam and his two deceased sons,Qusay and Uday,would still be in power if the United States had not acted – operating torture chambers,filling prison cells with children,burying people in mass graves and making payments to suicide bombers in Israel. He also said that terror networks would still enjoy the support and protection of the regime.
There has also been criticism of the administration's post-war policies. Forty-four American soldiers have died as a result of enemy fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq May 1,and another 57 have died from non-hostile incidents.
Cheney said holdouts from the regime have been joined by terrorists from outside Iraq. He said a new Iraqi army would soon be formed and that the American armed forces would be given all the resources they need to complete their mission.
He also criticized a passive approach to fighting terrorism.
“Such an enemy can not be deterred,contained,appeased or negotiated with,” Cheney said. “It can only be destroyed,and that is the task at hand. We will act and act decisively.”
Responding to criticism that the United States has not built a broad enough international coalition either before or after the war,Cheney said the international community agreed in September that Iraq was in breech of United Nations resolutions and that 19 other nations have contributed about 13,000 troops for peacekeeping in Iraq.
The latest Gallup poll,conducted July 18 to 20,said 57 percent of Americans support Bush's handling of the Iraq situation. However,that poll was conducted before Qusay and Uday Hussein were killed Tuesday in an ambush in Mosul.