Cheney confronts criticism abroad

Vice president stands firm on Iraq, chides Pelosi

February 25, 2007|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,Chicago Tribune

SYDNEY, Australia -- As he crossed the Pacific Ocean last week courting crucial American friendships and military alliances in Japan and Australia, Vice President Dick Cheney also confronted pointed criticism of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

And near the end of his journey, in Sydney, the vice president was asked by an Australian reporter whether he is concerned about "the growth of anti-Americanism around the world."

"Well, there's a certain amount of that," Cheney allowed. "I think it probably waxes and wanes. Driving through Sydney is, I notice, a lot like driving through New York City. You get some waves - and then you get some other waves."

A small wave of public protest for the war greeted Cheney during his stay in Australia, and in Tokyo he never met with the Japanese defense minister, who called the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq "wrong."

But, with a characteristic bulldog's determination to defend the U.S. war stance and also assert repeatedly that Americans "will not accept a policy of retreat," Cheney pressed his case for confronting enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan and on other fronts - maintaining that terrorists have declared the entire world their battlefield and that Iraq is "the central front."

The combative vice president also managed to open new political rifts back in Washington - warning that the plans of leaders calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq could make the United States more vulnerable to terrorism, and conceding that he includes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among Democrats whom he accuses of making the U.S. weaker.

This drew a rebuke from Pelosi, who telephoned the White House seeking an apology. She didn't reach the president, Cheney said, but found his chief of staff.

"She accused me of questioning her patriotism," Cheney said of Pelosi during two interviews he granted to ABC News during this trip.

"I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment. What happens if we withdraw from Iraq? ... Al-Qaida functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaida. I said it, and I meant it."

And this is what Cheney has devoted his time toward during an international marathon that will carry him home this week.

He has insisted that the terrorism the U.S. encountered Sept. 11, 2001, will threaten the country again if terrorists are not contained abroad.

"The terrorists know they cannot beat us in a stand-up fight," Cheney told hundreds of U.S. airmen and women assembled inside a hangar at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam last week on his way to Australia. "They never have. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission."

Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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