Cheney Lashes Out at Bush’s Iraq Critics
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roiled the nation’s capital last week when he proposed that all of the almost 160,000 U.S. forces in Iraq be withdrawn over six months.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.”
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.