Cheney States Case for Pre-Emptive Strike on Iraq
Last Updated: August 26, 2002
By Pat Harris
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday laid out the White House's case for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, citing mortal danger to the United States and labeling critics as guilty of "willful blindness."
Cheney used a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to reject fears, expressed publicly by some senior members of his own Republican Party and others, that pre-emptive military action would undermine the global U.S. war on terrorism and mark a radical new departure for American foreign policy.
Citing what he said was the danger that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorists, Cheney said America could not afford to sit by idly. It would, if necessary, fight a war of liberation, not of conquest.
"The risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action," he said, in remarks clearly designed to win over public opinion at home and address skepticism abroad over military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"And the entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our freedom and our security."
The vice president, who served as secretary of defense during the 1991 Gulf War, said Iraq's development of advanced weaponry, its refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to monitor its weapons programs and its general hostility had produced "an imperative for pre-emptive action."
"What we must not do is in the face of a mortal threat is to give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve."
Cheney's remarks, a strong rebuke to recent words of caution several Republican Party luminaries in recent weeks, came as the administration asserted its legal authority to attack Iraq without advance approval from Congress.
Spokesman Ari Fleischer said White House lawyers had concluded President Bush had authority under the Constitution and subsequent acts of Congress to take military action against Iraq, without special congressional approval.
But he held out the possibility the president would consult Congress all the same. "The president, aware of this determination, if he makes a decision about the use of force, will make the decision about a congressional vote on more than legal factors alone," Fleischer said.
Officials have stressed Bush has made no decisions regarding a possible attack on Iraq, and that he would consult with Congress regarding future steps. The White House has also chastised the media for creating what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called "a frenzy" over a possible Iraq campaign.
Yet, senior administration figures have not been shy about their public demands for "regime change" in Baghdad. Bush, whose father was president during the war with Iraq, himself has talked about it at almost every public appearance.
Spokesman Fleischer, with the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, made it clear Cheney's tough talk reflected Bush administration policy.
Cheney said: "I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein. Some concede that Saddam is evil, power hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons we should rule out any preemptive action.
"That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this: 'Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it,"' he said.
"Yet if we did wait until that moment, Saddam would simply be emboldened and it would become even harder for us to gather friends and allies to oppose him."
In Afghanistan, he said, "the world has seen that America acts not to conquer, but to liberate ... We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq.
"With our help, a liberated Iraq can be a great nation once again," he said.