About 50 members of the media showed up for the speech, and stories about the vice president's remarks were broadcast and printed far and wide. But as the days have passed, the news has moved on to other speeches, other events, other highlights of the day. In my mind, however, there is a constant replay of Vice President Cheney's remarks.
The speech the vice president gave at the Heritage Foundation on Oct. 10 was the third in a series – President Bush gave the first and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice the second – designed to explain more fully the administration's policy on Iraq. The news reports described the speech here as the most powerful of the three, and it's easy to see why. The vice president's remarks bear repeating over and over again.
As I listened to the vice president, I thought back to when he and President Bush first took office and began to assemble their team. The watchword was "serious." Playtime was over. The adults were back. When the nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, there was a national sense that the right man had made it into the White House. It was a true blessing to have an administration that was seasoned, experienced and ready for the challenge.
You've probably heard people question why we even had to attack Iraq. Certainly, not a day goes by that the media don't question it in some fashion or another. Folks seem to forget that Iraq's evil dictator, Saddam Hussein, had no compunction against setting up rape rooms, torture centers and mass graves in which to bury the hundreds of thousands of his countrymen he had killed. They overlook the fact that he consorted with the worst forces of evil of his region. I shudder to think that, if Israel hadn't the courage to bomb his nuclear reactor in 1982, Iraq almost certainly would've been among the world's nuclear powers by now, wheeling and dealing its nukes and technology to God knows whom.
The mission, as Vice President Cheney explained it here that day, was beyond clear. He talked of how one member of al-Qaida called Sept. 11 "the beginning of the end of America." Everything we've found, from training manuals in caves in Afghanistan to interrogations of captured terrorists, point to the same conclusion: Our enemies seek to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and will use them against us "without the slightest constraint of reason or morality."
In the last attack, he said, 3,000 innocent people died. Next time, it could be 30,000 or 300,000 or 3 million.
"Remembering what we saw on the morning of 9-11, and knowing the nature of these enemies, we have as clear a responsibility as could ever fall to government," he said. "We most do everything in our power to keep terrorists from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction."
That's why we went into Iraq. Anytime you give terrorists an entire country to work in – uninterrupted – you have to expect trouble. That's what happened to Afghanistan. The government allowed itself to be taken over by a terrorist movement. And, like Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar and the government of Afghanistan had a choice – renounce its association with terrorists, clean up its act and survive, or die alongside the terrorists. President Bush gave Afghanistan a clear way out, even after the attacks. It chose wrong … and paid the price.
In about 40 minutes, Vice President Cheney laid out a convincing case for all we've done and all we still have left to do in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. He spoke of the obvious need to remain cautious and the need to reach out, to take advantage of this moment of opportunity to bring freedom to the Middle East.
It was a somber message, yet a message of hope. He read from a prepared text and maintained a serious, sober tone.
And then he was gone. It was not yet 10:30 a.m., and already I felt like I'd put in a full day. I whispered a prayer of thanks for the courage of an administration that continues to fight for America's freedom and safety long after many folks have forgotten the horrific reasons why our nation fell victim to evil on a day now known as 9-11.