Cheney Goes on Offensive over Iraq


Unyielding Speech Is Designed to Regain Support

By Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus

Washington Post
October 11, 2003

Vice President Cheney capped a White House effort to regain its equilibrium over the Iraq occupation by delivering a blistering rebuttal yesterday to critics of the administration's foreign policy and arguing that a consensus-based foreign policy is obsolete. After several weeks of domestic and international criticism of President Bush's policy of attacking potential threats, Cheney struck back forcefully by calling the U.N. Security Council's 50-year tradition of giving permanent members a veto a "policy of doing exactly nothing." The vice president's acerbic speech went well beyond milder versions delivered in the past two days by Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The address, to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, was the last of a trio of speeches designed to rebuild public support for the occupation of Iraq, which has been slipping because of ongoing violence, a lack of international support and a failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

The public-relations offensive came as the administration fought to silence concerns in Congress over its $87 billion request for military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as U.S. diplomats confronted the possibility that they would call off efforts to win a new U.N. resolution backing the occupation. But while Bush asked the nation on Thursday to be more optimistic and look beyond the negative headlines from Iraq, Cheney barely mentioned the hardships in Iraq. Instead, he took aim at Democrats and foreign leaders, such as French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who have raised objections to U.S. "unilateralism."

Cheney blasted the criticism "that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent" -- a clear reference to U.N. procedures, under which "the mere objection of even one foreign government would be sufficient to prevent us from acting. "Though often couched in high-sounding terms of unity and cooperation, it is a prescription for perpetual disunity and obstructionism," Cheney said, adding that this would "confer undue power" on dissenters, "while leaving the rest of us powerless to act in our own defense. Yet we continue to hear this attitude in arguments in our own country -- so often, and so conveniently, it amounts to a policy of doing exactly nothing."

Cheney's speech was an uncompromising argument that far exceeded what other figures in the administration have asserted. Cheney, for example, dismissed a dozen years of inspections, patrolling of no-fly zones and strikes against military targets in Iraq, saying "all of these measures failed." David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, presented a different view in his congressional testimony last week. For example, he said: "Information found to date suggests that Iraq's large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW [chemical weapons] munitions was reduced -- if not entirely destroyed -- during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions and U.N. inspections."

Cheney outlined several findings from the Kay report yesterday that, while finding no actual weapons of mass destruction, found items that could have been used to create such weapons. The vice president cited equipment "suitable for" chemical and biological weapons research; prison laboratories "possibly used" for human testing of biological weapons; a microorganism "which can be used" to make biological weapons; "BW-applicable" materials; "not fully declared" aerial drones; and "design work" for missiles and "attempts" to acquire missile technology. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, each and every one of these findings confirms a material breach by the former Iraqi regime of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441," Cheney said. "Taken together, they constitute a massive breach of that unanimously passed resolution, and provide a compelling case for the use of force against Saddam Hussein."

But some of the items Cheney cited from Kay's report as violations remain unconfirmed. The prison laboratory story was first explored in 1998 by U.N. inspectors. Kay said U.S. inspectors still did not have enough evidence or witnesses "that would indicate that in fact that's what they [the prison facilities] were used for." Similarly, a former U.N. inspector said that in the past, investigators in Iraq were continually discovering technical equipment that had not been declared or tagged "because almost any lab equipment is dual purpose." And experts say the drones Cheney cited probably could not travel far enough to violate U.N. requirements and were not designed to carry weapons.

Cheney made only one mention of evidence that Iraq had a nuclear program. The allegation had been central to the administration's case for going to war, noting that the "smoking gun" from Hussein could be a "mushroom cloud." Before the war, Cheney said Hussein had "reconstituted" his nuclear weapons program. Kay's testimony noted: "Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material." Cheney did not dispute that finding, but noted the discovery of equipment in scientists' homes "that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation." Kay had said that despite interviews with scientists involved, "the evidence does not tie any activity directly to centrifuge research or development."

The vice president's speech had harsh words for Bush's critics. He portrayed those who objected to the president's "preemption" policy as opening the United States to attack. Bush "will not permit gathering threats to become certain tragedies," Cheney said, adding that "weakness and drift and vacillation in the face of danger invite attacks." Still, Cheney's stout defense of preemption struck a different tone even from other top Bush officials. In a speech last month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Bush's strategy is much more than preemption. "Above all, the president's strategy is a strategy of partnerships," he said. "It strongly affirms the vital role of the partnerships that we have throughout the world -- our partnerships with NATO, our partnership with the United Nations and with so many other precious alliances that we have created over the last 50 years." Cheney, predicting that "historians will look back on our time and pay tribute to our 43rd president," told his audience of a videotape that showed Hussein allowing two Doberman pinschers to eat a general alive. "Those who declined to support the liberation of Iraq would not deny the evil of Saddam Hussein's regime," he said. "They must concede, however, that had their own advice been followed, that regime would rule Iraq today."

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