Cheney Lashes Out at Bush’s Iraq Critics

Cheney Lashes Out at Bush’s Iraq Critics (AP)

Vice President Dick Cheney charged Monday that some Senate Democrats were “dishonest and reprehensible” for suggesting that President Bush lied to the nation about going to war in Iraq and said he strongly disagrees with a battle-tested congressman who advocates a pullout. Cheney backed away from earlier administration characterizations of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as a coward and instead clled him “a good man, a Marine, a patriot.”

Murtha, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, roiled the nation’s capital last week when he proposed that all of the almost 160,000 U.S. forces in Iraq be withdrawn over six months. Murtha has been one of the biggest Pentagon boosters in Washington. Republicans called Murtha’s position one of abandonment and surrender and suggested that the decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War and like-minded politicians were acting cowardly.

Cheney said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute that there is no problem debating whether the United States and its allies should have gone to war in Iraq, but he lashed out at some in Washington who have aggressively questioned the administration. “What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence,” Cheney said.

I agree on both counts: Criticizing the war and its conduct is legitimate; undermining it for political gain is not.

Cheney again said that “withdrawal would be a victory for terrorists” and an “invitation to further violence.” “It is a dangerous illusion that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of terrorists .. We will not retreat in the face of adversity.”

Right again.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, disagreeing with Murtha, said troop levels in Iraq will remain at 160,000 as Iraqis prepare for elections Dec. 15, and forces will return to a baseline strength of 130,000 when the commanders there determine that conditions on the ground warrant a drawdown. Pentagon policy has long based significant redeployments on the situation at hand.

Rumsfeld, appearing on the Sunday morning news shows, acknowledged that questions about war ought to be debated, but he also warned that words have consequences for both the insurgents in Iraq and the U.S. troops opposing them. “The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder: ‘Maybe all we have to do is wait and we’ll win. We can’t win militarily.’ They know that. The battle is here in the United States,” Rumsfeld said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Arguments over pulling out troops immediately, he added, may lead Americans serving in Iraq to question “whether what they’re doing makes sense.” “We have to all have the willingness to have a free debate, but we also all have to have the willingness to understand what the effects of our words are,” Rumsfeld said on ABC’s “This Week.”

This is more problematic. Rumsfeld is almost certainly right that having high level politicians oppose the war, let alone calling for pulling out before the mission is accomplished, will have a negative impact on the troops. I’m not sure, though, what to do about that fact. Debate is a healthy and vital part of democracy.

Murtha wasn’t backing off Sunday, when the death toll in Iraq climbed past 2,090. “There’s no question we’re going in the wrong direction and we’re not winning,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s nothing that’s happening that shows any sign of success.” The Pennsylvania Democrat predicted that most if not all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the time Americans vote in November 2006. Rumsfeld, however, said that leaving too soon would allow Iraq to be turned into a haven for terrorists. “There’s no doubt in my mind that were we to pull out precipitously, the American people would be in greater danger than they are today,” the defense secretary told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

If the situation allows it, that would be great. Making the pullout decision on the basis on an impending election, however, would be outrageous.

Murtha said he believes Iraqis can take over the battle against the insurgents and allow U.S. troops to move out of danger. “We just have to give them the incentive to take it over,” he said. “They’re going to let us do the fighting as long as we’re there. And, until we turn it over to them, they’re not going to be up to standards.”

One would think defeating terrorists who are murdering them along with innocent civilians would be rather motivating in its own right. Murtha seems to be the only one who thinks the Iraqi military is ready for this task. Not only do General Patreaus and other American experts on the ground disagree, so do the Iraqis themselves.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Alan Cranston says:

    calling for pulling out before the mission is accomplished, will have a negative impact on the troops.

    What exactly is the “mission”? And how will we know when it is accomplished?

    According to Bush in March 2003: “Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament. And in order to disarm, it would mean regime change….Our mission is precisely what I just stated.”

    Ok, this was done even before the war started–since there were no arms in Iraq that posed a threat to the US. The regime has changed.

    The fact that Bush has flip flopped on the issue of what, exactly, is the purpose of the invasion merits scruitny.

  2. Brian says:

    I tend to agree that putting an arbitrary timetable on a pullout is not a good idea. I did not support the war, but I recognize that we can’t just pull out now. That said, I’m not sure how exactly the war dissent in this country is hurting the troops. Aside from a few crazies, the opposition is to the war, not the troops. Adults serving in the military should be able to tell the difference.

  3. DL says:

    Why is it that the left insists upon the right to criticize, but won’t accept the right of others to criticize their critics?

  4. LJD says:

    Brian- Opposition to the war, with an alternative, or with a constructive approach likely does not hurt the troops. The problem is, the status quo is discrediting the war and ultimately the administration at ANY cost. That cost is the morale of our troops, and on the far end of the spectrum, crazies yelling “baby killer” outside of Walter Reed.
    If you haven’t been in those shoes, put yourself in that position. Think what it must be like getting up in the morning, wondering if today your number is up, and while driving around looking for IEDs at every corner, thinking about the folks at home, spewing the kind of crap that they do. Don’t you think that would get you down a bit?
    Free speech aside, those who oppose the war have a DUTY to be responsible in how they express themselves. While I wouldn’t expect as much from the average citizen, the fact that this vile BS comes from elected representatives is truly sad.

  5. Alan Cranston says:

    I’ve been a strong supporter of the war, but I must say, the troops have been pretty miserable in this whole thing. Bush was right to protect the country by getting rid of Saadam, but the troops are really messing the whole operation up.

    I mean, they keep on getting attacked and they’re always complaining about having their tour extended, being short of armor, the bad food and insecure conditions. I mean, come on! Get a life guys!

    Yes, wars are great–its just unfortunate that we have to rely on troops to fight them. Pro-war, anti-troops!

  6. LJD says:

    Alan, I don’t find your comment very humorous, although it’s clear what your agenda is.

    I don;t recall the troops have doing much complaining. Their sense of duty is truly commendable.

    No, it’s been the MSM doing the complaining. Ironically more complaining about the actions of the troops than their lack of gear. Heck, look at all of the “torture”, killing innocent civilians, use of chemical weapons, invading a sovereign country…. Don’t the troops have a DUTY to refuse these UNLAWFUL orders?

  7. Alan Cranston says:

    Alan, I don’t find your comment very humorous, although it’s clear what your agenda is.

    Dude, the comment is sarcastic. It is meant to show how stupid the whole idea is that somehow demanding accountability and competence from the administration has anything to do with the “troops.”

    Anytime these connections are made by the Administration and its political appointees, it is clearly ad hominem and a diversionary tactic from having to answer difficult questions about their own philosophies and competence.

  8. Steven Plunk says:

    The mission is to establish a solid democracy that will adhere to international norms of conduct. Keeping our troops in Iraq while the infrastructure of a democratic government is put in place ensures that a counter-insurgency is unlikely to succeed. Further, the establishment of a democracy in the middle east will serve to encourage other countries to move toward democratic forms of government.

    Jihadists recognize this would weaken their movement toward an Islamic state covering the region and destroying Israel. The insurgency is mostly made up of foreign fighters and Baathist holdouts desiring a return to power. Common Iraqis support the new government. The new government wants the help of the U.S..

    While debate is good for our democracy at home there is a proper time and place for that debate. There is also a proper tone to use in the debate. Many war critics are not debating the issue in a civil manner or at the right time. The most outspoken critics tend to hog the cameras to make a point instead of lobbying their colleagues, our elected representatives, to create change in policy. That is simply because they know they will not sway the majority of our leaders. Instead they pound the table as a show of the power they in reality lack.

    Murtha said something outrageous and proposed a move impossible to really do. It got him a good amount of press so expect others to do the same. He set a poor example of leadership.

  9. Brian says:

    LJD- I guess I would say that I would be much more demoralized by the constant threat of being killed than by the political debate at home. After all, isn’t political debate one of the things we are over there to protect?

    DL- Aside from a few crazies, most people on the left do recognize your right to criticize the critics. We just don’t like being called traitors for disagreeing. It would be one thing if only the extreme right did this, but President Bush’s people were talking like that until Sunday. The President’s new style of criticizing us is much more likely to spur intelligent debate.

  10. Anderson says:

    So, we’re not allowed to suggest that the President misled us into war?

    That’s pretty damn convenient for him if he DID mislead us into war, isn’t it?

    Anything else we’re not allowed to suggest?

  11. Brian says:

    When and where is the proper time and place to debate the war? I think you’ll find plenty of people willing. Right now, it seems like ALL dissent is dismissed as anti-American. And what exactly did Murtha say that was so outrageous? I may not agree that we should pull our troops in six months time, but surely that opinion has a place in the debate.

  12. anjin-san says:


    Careful pal, you are wandering outside of the free speech zone…

  13. LJD says:

    Alan- Still not funny. You still don’t get it. You’re stuck on accountability at any cost. Whether you choose to believe it or not, there IS a connection between dirty tactics in politics, and the effect on troop morale, and even their diminshed safety dut to an encouraged enemy. I’m not surprised you don’t know the difference, YOUR elected representatives don’t either. Irresponsible.

    Brian- Troops train for war and the likelihood of making the ultimate sacrifice. If they didn’t think about that prior to swearing-in, there’s nowhere else to point the blame. The difference is where people cross the line with their criticism. Free speech carries consequences. If the end game is to support the troops, create change, and get them home, why do it in such an ugly manner? It’s not good for anyone: Voters, troops, our country, the world. . Why not use more carefully chosen words? Because there’s another agenda at work. This is a game of politics pure and simple. Most Democrats simply don’t give a crap about the troops if they can find a way to take down the President.

    Anderson- So you say he mislead us? SO what? What does this accomplish in our present situation? You want us some one to say “O.K. You were right, the Neocons were wrong. We’re sorry we tried to pull one over on the American people for our own gain”. You prove my point above. You’re so concerned with being right, you don’t give a crap about our troops safety. But the Dumbo-crats can’t get away with it. Their votes are on record. I’m not buying the “OH we we’re LIED to” arguemnt. So now what? What’s your great plan?

  14. LJD says:

    Murtha was the first, right or wrong, to come up with some sort of solution. That’s what adults do. If you see something you don’t like, you offer an alternative that is prefereable.
    Crying babies scream out, complaining and shouting “It’s not fair! You lied to us! I’m not happy! Waaaahh!”

  15. ALphonse Demato says:

    The mission is to establish a solid democracy that will adhere to international norms of conduct.

    Steven Plunk- You might want to tell this to Bush. He claimed that the mission was to disarm iraq.

    Of course, Bush is a pretty major flip-flopper–your description of the mission sounds a bit like “nation building” to me. Bush & Dick campaigned vigourously against that.

  16. Brian says:

    Murtha wasn’t the first person to offer a solution. Others have, but were denounced as “dumbo-crats” (by the way, way to intelligently and constructively debate the war). The difference with Murtha is that he tends to be more of a hawk, so it’s harder to pull the anti-American argument out on him.

    Most Democrats DO care about the troops. Just because many Democrats oppose the war does not mean Democrats oppose the troops. And how can you say that Republicans haven’t used the war for political gain?

  17. odograph says:

    Bascially this whole thing makes Bush41 look like a genius. And maybe he was, or he had a working relationship with the CIA that gave him the good info.

    Bush43 screwed the pooch. Overlayed on that is all kinds of childish political positioning. Congress and the Administration have not been acting any better than a bunch of jokers making blog comments. Congressional comments read like a flame war.

    The sad thing is, if you haven’t caught my meaning, is that it breaks into two questions:

    1. What is achievable in Iraq?
    2. What is achievable in Washington?

    If Washington can’t get something as simple as their own buget in order, they are going to choose an achievable plan for a forign culture?

    Give me a break.

  18. ken says:

    Cheney again said that “withdrawal would be a victory for terrorists” and an “invitation to further violence.” “It is a dangerous illusion that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of terrorists .. We will not retreat in the face of adversity.”

    Does anyone believe anything that Cheney says anymore?

    Besides Bush he was the person most responsible for deceiving the American people into supporting the war on Iraq.

    Now that the lies are apparent to everyone the American people no longer support the war. It is time to cut our losses and get out. Bush, Cheney and others who claim it would be too dangerous to get out now are just full of shit.

    Three years after we pull out no one will understand what all this nonsense was even about.

  19. LJD says:

    1.) Stabilize Iraq to the point where they get on their own feet, and can finish the long process on their own. A reflection on our progress to date, outside the MSM, is that much has been made and we will not be in Iraq indefinitely. Regardless of when or how we get out, the naysayers will declare a victory and say “I told you so”. Ten or twenty years from now, we’ll see how wrong they were.

    2.) This country is in deep. My only guess is that a life of excess has lead some to lose any ties to reality. Perhaps a rude awakening is in order. This two party system has been crap in/ crap out for way too long, and only getting worse. We all knew congress couldnt get anything positive done, now the voters can’t. The answer doesn’t lie on either side of the aisle but no one gets it. I’m all for firing most of our Reps and starting over. Campaign finance reform is a great idea, but so far, just window dressing.

  20. odograph says:

    Do you need to turn around Murtha’s statistics in order to “stabilize Iraq?”

    insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American causalities have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

    Or do we just keep poking ourselves in the head with a sharp stick?

  21. anjin-san says:


    So you solution is an Iraq brand of “Vietnaminazation” plus a lot of vaguely focused anger at the right’s new all purpose bogyman “the MSM”.

    K, well, Bush has I so throughly screwed in Iraq, that I don’t pretend to have a solution. I am left wishing that GW had possessed a portion of the wisdom that his father showed by not getting us in too deep in Iraq.

    It might have been nice too if he had stayed focused on our real enemy, Bin Laden (still at large), and finished the job in Afghanistan. Now Afghanistan is the world’s leading opium producer and our rebuilding effort there is riddled with corruption and incompetence.

  22. Herb says:

    Some of you anti war holes make me sick to my stomach. I have seen your kind before during the Vietnam war and you not only discredited the country, but you also discredited the troops who were fighting and dying to protect you good for nothing rear ends. You guys are leaches on our society going around citing “Free Speach” while spewing out any and all garbage your weak little minds could think of. The hate that you have amoung you would put OBL and Zarqawi to shame. I doubt that those two guys would want you to be around them. Your problem is that all of you put together wouldn,t make one good Amweican. You all must have went to the PITA and the EV schools to learn that much hate and discontent.In short, all of you are HOLES.

  23. Anderson says:

    Did Bill Gates pledge to put an internet connection in every nursing home in the country? I thought it was schools.

  24. BWE says:


    Our troops joined the military. SOme were coerced, some joined because they were lied to about 9-11 some did it because that was the only way to go to college, some did it because they thought it would be pretty cool to just kill someone. But, my uncle, he was drafted. He wrote me a letter from viet nam when I was 9. He told me that war is about money and selling weapons and oil. He said that there are plenty of things worth dying for but political ambition isn’t one of them. He made me promise my mom that unless we were being invaded by an army, I would never join the military. He was my mom’s twin. His group stayed behind to keep the VC at bay while a bunch of wounded were carried to safety. He was thirty. Go f*ck yourself.

  25. Herb says:


    Does you comment mean that you were and remain a ChickenS*** that is happy to let someone else do your fighting for you?

    Sounds like your Uncle was a Hero and died doing his job while saving others. To bad you will never be as good as he having chosen instead to let others fight and die while you stay at home and sleep in you warm comfy bed and make remarks that are degrading to those who choose to fight and die so that someone doesn’t plant a bomb at your house or the place you work. Like I stated before, guys like you make me sick with your ranting and raving against the fight against terrorism, Your self rightous, self serving and selfish attitude would make your Uncle proud that you have chosen the easy way out by degrading the country and its troops that protect your A**, Now you go F yourself.

  26. BWE says:

    My uncle was conscripted to fight for a corrupt regime that was more concerned with global domination than keeping its citizens alive. He died a hero to those he was trying to save, but rest assured, he would have turned the gun on american politicians who forced him to his death.

    Like he so eloquently said, there are a lot of things worth dying for, foreign wars aint one of them. He and tens of thousands more like him would never have gone if the hadn’t been forced to their death by American politicians.

    Now I would fight and die for a lot of things. Afganistan-they attacked us- I’d go. Not happily, but I’d go. But not for this administration. How much does Halliburton make off this war? Tax cuts and increased war spending? Yee haw pardner, we can straight up steal 80 billion dollars by making Americans borrow it and spending it at our companies. Finders Keepers, losers weep while you figure out a way to pay it back.

    It’s true that we can’t let people run around blowing us up. That’s what police are for. My uncle would have puked if he knew someone would’ve called him a hero for being in vietnam.

  27. LJD says:

    Oh, where to start…

    “SOme were coerced, some joined because they were lied to about 9-11” Oh really, who? Link please.

    “My uncle was conscripted to fight for a corrupt regime that was more concerned with global domination than keeping its citizens alive” We are talking about the U.S. Army, right? Says a lot about YOUR politics.

    “Afganistan-they attacked us- I’d go.” They did? I though it was planeloads of Saudis?

    “…there are a lot of things worth dying for, foreign wars aint one of them”
    “they attacked us- I’d go… …But not for this administration…”
    Should I stay or should I go now…. Sounds like you don’t know what you believe. Stop listening to Sheehan and Moore and you might figure it out.

    Let me add, your uncle was not a hero for fighting in Southeast Asia, he was a hero for answering his country’s call, for contributing to something larger than himself. His actions and those of men and women like him, have secured your right to post stupid comments on blogs.

  28. Herb says:


    I couldn’t said it better. You hit the nail right on the head. It is not up to you, I or BWE to say where, when or why one has to perform his duty and obligation for his country by serving in the Armed Forces. The only thing a solder has to figure out is “How to do his best” in the service. The Sheehans and Moores in this country should be deported to be with those terrorists they adore so much. One thing for sure is that those who desecrate our country and troops do not deserve to be called Americans.

  29. jane says:

    General Odom’s essay is probably one of the best on why cut and run. Quite a few people including Colonel Lang (special forces Vietnam, midest desk DIA) support this rough position.

    It needs to be countered with arguments and facts not claiming every one who wants this is a demented leftist.

    Fallows does a pretty good job of debunking Cheney’s position. One point he makes is that the administration and it’s supporters can’t even grasp that many serious observers including those with a military and intelligence background think the Iraqi effort has hindered our ability to fight terror. The mind set is such that Iraq equal war on terror and any other opinion is appeasement.

    I would remark that by settling for rhetoric and not focusing on problems we now accept a deal we could have got with N. Korea years ago before they’d probably built bombs and set aside more material. Focus on the big event kept us from dealing with the really big nut.

    Similarly our deployment in Iraq weakens us against Iran because their allied militias stand on our supply lines and in other crucial places.

    There is a long list of administration efforts to avoid unwelcome analysis and facts. Fallows Blind Into Baghdad marks the beginning:

    The intelligence distortion is just one aspect of this. The problem is that the testimony of Colonel Wilkerson and so many others does indicate a pattern.

    The story of curveball and the mobile weapons lab is one more example:

    I do not know where full and partial blame and all the rest falls on this, but Cheney’s position is that we must not explore facts that might embarass the administration, that everyone did a heck of a good job and deserves a freedom menu.

    Since I happen to believe that we face real threats I disagree. And I could care less about nutty leftists. What I do note is that the administrations defenders always shift the debate over to them and pretend that such things as the long line of retired generals from A to Zinni which have questioned don’t exist. The right has preferred to set up this debate as decent people versus Jane Fonda and thus avoid the issues.

    It is getting tiresome. And if one used the standards of the right we would call it treason.

  30. Herb says:


    Sounds like your rear end is talking, because your mouth knows better.

    I don’t know where in the US you live, but if you stated things like this in the midwest, they would run you out of town, tared and feathered.