Speak up or shut up

Posted: Oct 18, 2003 12:00 AM

Vice President Dick Cheney is on the record. “There is only one way to protect ourselves against catastrophic terrorist violence, and that is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks against the United States,” he announced during a speech at The Heritage Foundation on Oct. 10.

Many people, including New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, disagree. “The war in Iraq and its aftermath have proved that Mr. Cheney was wrong to think that a show of brute strength would deter our enemies from attacking us. There are improvements in Iraq, but it is still a morass,” she wrote on Oct. 12. “It’s hard to create security when we are the cause of the insecurity.”

Dowd’s wrong, on several counts.

Our aggressive response to terrorists has deterred, or at least prevented, our enemies from attacking us since Sept. 11. If there’s a distinction between deterrence and prevention, it doesn’t matter -- the bottom line is the homeland hasn’t been attacked.

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq took out a dangerous dictator and was an important step toward a more secure world. And we aren’t the cause of the instability in Iraq that Dowd cites. Saddam was.

“Saddam had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression,” as Cheney said. “He also had an established relationship with Al Qaida, providing training to Al Qaida members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional bombs.” Iraq -- and the entire world -- will be safer without him.

But give Dowd credit for one thing: at least she’s willing to put her name on her work. That’s more than can be said for some of Cheney’s recent critics.

The cover story in the Oct. 13 U.S. News & World Report set out to expose “Dick Cheney, The Man Behind the Curtain.” Author Kenneth T. Walsh attempted to do that while keeping the vice president’s critics safely concealed.

“I love Dick Cheney as a person, but one of the problems for George W. Bush is that Dick is his vice president” Walsh quotes one source, identified as “a former senior official in George H. W. Bush’s administration.” The source continues, “when hard-line advice is filtered through Dick to the president, it always seems to make sense. When he explains it to you, everything seems reasonable and authoritative. But Cheney has an ideological side. Look at his voting record in Congress.”

Also, “if Cheney were not vice president, it would’ve been different,” Walsh quotes “a Bush family insider” as saying. “The Iraq war situation would’ve been handled differently. There was a rush to judgment to go to war, all filtered through Cheney.”

Now, it’s not easy to debate someone who’s hiding behind a curtain, but Cheney did a pretty good job of it with his Oct. 10 address. Why, exactly, is it that Cheney’s so persuasive? Maybe because he says things like this: “Weakness and drift and vacillation in the face of danger invite attacks. Strength and resolve and decisive action defeat attacks before they can arrive on our soil.” Hardline? Sure. But undeniably true, nonetheless.

Another fiction we’ve heard a lot about is the “rush to judgment to go to war.” Dowd and Joe Klein of Time are among the many journalists who’ve joined Walsh’s unnamed “Bush family insider” in leveling this charge.
But Cheney correctly observes there was no real hurry on the part of the world to get rid of Saddam. He ignored “12 years of diplomacy, more than a dozen Security Council resolutions, hundreds of U.N. weapons inspectors, thousands of flights to enforce the no-fly zones and even strikes against military targets in Iraq” before we finally acted to depose him in March.

Twelve years of preparation is hardly a rush to war. It’s barely even a crawl.

One highlight of the 2000 campaign was the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. Many of Cheney’s critics must have watched that and learned he’s capable of destroying their arguments when they go head to head with him. Maybe that’s why they only attack him now with anonymous quotes.

But on the record or off, their arguments fall flat. Of course there will be some bumps, but the administration has us on the right road. We will help the Iraqi people build a democratic government and a secure country. And you can quote Dick Cheney on that.

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