Cheney Defends Iraq Mission

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks, Thursday, July 24, 2003, about Iraq and the war on terrorism to members of the American Enterprise Institue in Washington. Ignoring threats posed by Saddam Hussein would have been "irresponsible in the extreme," Cheney said, doing his part to defend the Bush administration's mission in Iraq.(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Ignoring threats posed by Saddam Hussein would have been "irresponsible in the extreme," Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday, doing his part to defend the Bush administration's mission in Iraq.

Had the Bush administration not acted, Saddam and his sons would still be in power, torture chambers would still exist, mass graves would still be undiscovered, terrorists would still have a safe haven in Iraq and Saddam would still have vast wealth to finance weapons programs, he said.

"Knowing these things," Cheney said, "how could we, I ask, have allowed that threat to stand? These judgments were not lightly arrived at. And all who were aware of them bore a heavy responsibility for the security of America."

Soldiers are still dying in Iraq, and the administration is on the defensive about its justification for going to war. So it wasn't surprising that Cheney, in a speech scheduled on short notice, sought to highlight the president's reasons for invading Iraq. He said the White House was acting on intelligence that suggested Iraq was continuing its weapons programs.

Cheney quoted from an intelligence report that said: "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program in defiance of U.N. resolutions and restrictions. Iraq has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

"Those charged with the security of this nation could not read such an assessment and pretend that it did not exist," Cheney said in the speech to about 200 people at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington.

"Ignoring such information or trying to wish it away, would be irresponsible in the extreme and our president did not ignore that information."

Mr. Bush, his top aides and GOP congressional leaders have been aggressively trying to counter embarrassing questions about prewar intelligence and the performance of Mr. Bush's national security team. The administration's campaign has focused on how Iraqis have been liberated — how the war has made the world safer — and away from questions about Iraqi weapons programs and why no weapons of mass destruction have been found.

That effort has been hampered by an ever-changing White House story — from first blaming the CIA and then the British to new revelations by Stephen Hadley, deputy national security adviser, that contradict earlier statements by his boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.