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Cheney defends decisions on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

A day after President Bush struck a conciliatory tone toward critics of the Iraq war, Vice President Dick Cheney did the opposite Wednesday, denouncing as “hogwash” the assertion that the administration had lost credibility because of blunders in Iraq.

Cheney defended the decision to invade Iraq nearly four years ago, and insisted that “there’s been a lot of success” since then. His comments came during a CNN interview, an exception to the vice president’s more common practice of talking to conservative media outlets.

“There’s problems, ongoing problems, but we have, in fact, accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime,” Cheney said, adding that “there is a new regime in place that’s been there for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off.”

In his annual State of the Union address Tuesday, Bush acknowledged a string of setbacks in Iraq over the last year but urged Congress not to give up.

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“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq,” Bush conceded. “But it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won.”

By contrast, Cheney suggested that the administration’s critics were “dead wrong” about the war.

“For the first time, we’ve had elections, and majority rule will prevail there. But the notion that somehow the effort hasn’t been worth it, or that we shouldn’t go ahead and complete the task, is just dead wrong,” he said.

Recent polls show increasing public dissatisfaction with the war, with a majority of Americans saying the war was not worth the effort. A Gallup poll this month showed that 58% of respondents agreed the costs of the war outweighed its benefits, and that roughly the same proportion -- 59% -- said they opposed the president’s plan to send more troops to stabilize Baghdad.

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Cheney long has been a polarizing figure for the administration, which is one reason why he has generally limited his public appearances to conservative groups. But in recent months, Cheney has become an increasingly problematic figure even among stalwart Republicans, in part for how he defended former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld, who drew the wrath of Republicans as well as Democrats for refusing to acknowledge failures or to shift strategy in Iraq, resigned after the GOP’s midterm-election losses put control of Congress in Democrats’ hands for the first time in Bush’s presidency.

Wolf Blitzer, during his CNN interview with Cheney, said Democrats and some Republicans were seriously questioning the administration’s “credibility because of the blunders, of the failures” in Iraq.

“Wolf, I simply don’t accept the premise,” Cheney responded. “I just think it’s hogwash.”

Cheney generally spoke in soothing tones during the interview, which also touched on topics including the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and whether Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would make a good president. But his words were combative.

“No, I don’t,” the vice president replied to the Clinton question.

“Why?” Blitzer asked.

“Because she’s a Democrat. I don’t agree with her philosophically and from a policy standpoint.”

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Cheney’s words became most pointed when Blitzer asked about the pregnancy of his daughter Mary, who is a lesbian.

In his question, Blitzer cited a statement by Focus on the Family, a conservative organization critical of the pregnancy. “Just because it’s possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father, doesn’t mean it’s best for the child,” the group said last month.

“I’m delighted I’m about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously think the world of both of my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you’re out of line with that question,” Cheney said.

Later in the day, White House spokesman Tony Snow defended the vice president’s responses about his daughter.

“People should not be trying to draw family members in,” Snow said on Fox News Channel. “I think that family members ought to be off the limits.”

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maura.reynolds@latimes.com


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